Gabrielle Friedman: No more mandatory attendance

I’ve seen a disturbing trend in some of my classes this semester: A professor makes class attendance mandatory and students feel required to attend, only to not pay attention.

I’ve seen students polish off a paper, read The Washington Post and spend 50 minutes on Facebook. This is not because students are inherently lazy or easily distracted, but because they seek to maximize their time. Mandatory attendance policies may achieve their surface goal of getting bodies to the classroom, but no attendance policy will force our minds to be there.

The goal of a professor should be to engage a classroom of curious minds, not provide a hub from which students blast Tweets or status updates.

When I think about my current course load, I realize that the classes with the most lax attendance policies have just as high attendance as those with mandatory attendance. Contrary to some professors’ beliefs, students actually want to learn. We want to come to class, take notes and walk away with a better understanding of the material.

But when a professor simply stands in front of the room, reads the PowerPoint word-for-word and tells us what we already learned from nightly readings, students will mentally check out. What good is it to force students to come to class if they are not going to pay attention?

Students will go to class if professors consistently teach material that students did not already learn while reading the textbook. Making class more engaging would get students’ eyes off their laptops and onto the professor without overly policing students.

For those students who may decide that class is not an option, well, then that is their choice to make. Ultimately professors need to trust that those students who genuinely care about their education will be in class, if the professor makes the lecture worth students’ time.

Similarly, sometimes students just need to miss a class, and should be able to do so when necessary. With Thanksgiving just around the corner, many students who live outside of the New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania region need to fly home earlier, or risk spending $1,000 for a 2.5 hour plane ride. We should be able to make these decisions on our own without receiving a grade deduction for missing class. Also, weddings and religious ceremonies may seem optional to some professors, but for students who want to be present at these events, they can manage their own time and workload how they want to.

As for students who believe a participation grade is an important part of class – I agree. However, participation grades can still be calculated without mandatory attendance. Many professors foster debate through Blackboard discussion boards or invite students to take their learning outside the classroom and attend a relevant off-campus event; all of these actions count as participation.

The truth is, sometimes students just can’t make it to class for a variety of reasons. Ultimately, it’s a give-and-take between the professor and the student. If professors give us something valuable during lecture, we’ll be there to take it. Otherwise, students will find other ways to be productive, even if that means using class time to do it.

-The writer, a sophomore majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet columnist.

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