Chapter 7: Interacting with Instructors and Classes
- Describe reasons why it is important to attend classes.
- Know what to do if you must miss a class.
- Explain the benefits of participating in class for both students and instructors.
Among the student freedoms in university is the choice not to attend classes. Most university instructors do not “grade” attendance, and some university students soon develop an attitude that if you can get class notes from someone else, or watch a podcast of a lecture, there’s no reason to go to every class at all. What’s wrong with that?
It is in fact true that you don’t have to attend every single class of every course to get a good grade. But thinking only in terms of grades and how much one can get away with is a dangerous attitude toward university education. The real issue is whether you’re trying to get the most out of your education. Let’s compare students with different attitudes toward their classes:
Carla wants to get through university, and she knows she needs the degree to get a decent job, but she’s just not that into it. She’s never thought of herself as a good student, and that hasn’t changed much in university. She has trouble paying attention in those big lecture classes, which mostly seem pretty boring. She’s pretty sure she can pass all her courses, however, as long as she takes the time to study before tests. It doesn’t bother her to skip classes when she’s studying for a test in a different class or finishing a reading assignment she didn’t get around to earlier. She does make it through her freshman year with a passing grade in every class, even those she didn’t go to very often. Then she fails the midterm exam in her first sophomore class. Depressed, she skips the next couple classes, then feels guilty and goes to the next. It’s even harder to stay awake because now she has no idea what they’re talking about. It’s too late to drop the course, and even a hard night of studying before the final isn’t enough to pass the course. In two other classes, she just barely passes. She has no idea what classes to take next term and is starting to think that maybe she’ll drop out for now.
Karen wants to have a good time in university and still do well enough to get a good job in business afterward. Her student group keeps a file of class notes for her big lecture classes, and from talking to others and reviewing these notes, she’s discovered she can skip almost half of those big classes and still get a B or C on the tests. She stays focused on her grades, and because she has a good memory, she’s able to maintain OK grades. She doesn’t worry about talking to her instructors outside of class because she can always find out what she needs from another student. In her sophomore year, she has a quick conversation with her academic advisor and chooses her major. Those classes are smaller, and she goes to most of them, but she feels she’s pretty much figured out how it works and can usually still get the grade. In her senior year, she starts working on her résumé and asks other students in her major which instructors write the best letters of recommendation. She’s sure her university degree will land her a good job.
Alicia enjoys her classes, even when she has to get up early after working or studying late the night before. She sometimes gets so excited by something she learns in class that she rushes up to the instructor after class to ask a question. In class discussions, she’s not usually the first to speak out, but by the time another student has given an opinion, she’s had time to organize her thoughts and enjoys arguing her ideas. Nearing the end of her sophomore year and unsure of what to major in given her many interests, she talks things over with one of her favorite instructors, whom she has gotten to know through office visits. The instructor gives her some insights into careers in that field and helps her explore her interests. She takes two more courses with this instructor over the next year, and she’s comfortable in her senior year going to him to ask for a job reference. When she does, she’s surprised and thrilled when he urges her to apply for a high-level paid internship with a company in the field—that happens to be run by a friend of his.
Think about the differences in the attitudes of these three students and how they approach their classes. One’s attitude toward learning, toward going to class, and toward the whole university experience is a huge factor in how successful a student will be. Make it your goal to attend every class—don’t even think about not going. Going to class is the first step in engaging in your education by interacting with the instructor and other students. Here are some reasons why it’s important to attend every class:
- Miss a class and you’ll miss something, even if you never know it. Even if a friend gives you notes for the class, they cannot contain everything said or shown by the instructor or written on the board for emphasis or questioned or commented on by other students. What you miss might affect your grade or your enthusiasm for the course. Why go to university at all if you’re not going to go to university?
- While some students may say that you don’t have to go to every class to do well on a test, that is very often a myth. Do you want to take that risk?
- Your final grade often reflects how you think about course concepts, and you will think more often and more clearly when engaged in class discussions and hearing the comments of other students. You can’t get this by borrowing class notes from a friend.
- Research shows there is a correlation between absences from class and lower grades. It may be that missing classes causes lower grades or that students with lower grades miss more classes. Either way, missing classes and lower grades can be intertwined in a downward spiral of achievement.
- Your instructor will note your absences—even in a large class. In addition to making a poor impression, you reduce your opportunities for future interactions. You might not ask a question the next class because of the potential embarrassment of the instructor saying that was covered in the last class, which you apparently missed. Nothing is more insulting to an instructor than when you skip a class and then show up to ask, “Did I miss anything important?”
- You might be tempted to skip a class because the instructor is “boring,” but it’s more likely that you found the class boring because you weren’t very attentive or didn’t appreciate how the instructor was teaching.
- You paid a lot of money for your tuition. Get your money’s worth!
Attending the first day of class is especially critical. There you’ll get the syllabus and other handouts, learn the instructor’s policies and preferences for how the class will function, and often take notes in an opening lecture.
If You Must Miss a Class…
- If you know that you will miss a class, take steps in advance. Tell your instructor and ask if he or she teaches another section of the course that you might attend instead. Ask about any handouts or special announcements.
- Ask another student whose judgment you trust if you can copy his or her notes. Then talk to them after you’ve read their notes to go over things that may be unclear to you.
- It may not be necessary to see your instructor after missing a lecture class, and no instructor wants to give you fifty minutes of office time to repeat what was said in class. But if you are having difficulty after the next class because of something you missed earlier, stop and see your instructor and ask what you can do to get caught up. But remember the worst thing you can say to an instructor: “I missed class—did you talk about anything important?”
The Value of Interaction in Class
As noted earlier, there are many good reasons to attend every class. But it’s not enough just to be there—you need to interact with the the instructor and other students to enjoy a full educational experience:
- Participating in class discussions is a good way to start meeting other students with whom you share an interest. You may form a study group, borrow class notes if you miss a class, or team up with other students on a group project. You may meet students with whom you form a lasting relationship, developing your network of contacts for other benefits in the future, such as learning about internships or jobs.
- Asking the instructor questions, answering the instructor’s questions in class, and responding to other students’ comments is a good way to make an impression on your instructor. The instructor will remember you as an engaged student—and this matters if you later need extra help or even a potential mentor.
- Paying close attention and thinking critically about what an instructor is saying can dramatically improve your enjoyment of the class. You’ll notice things you’d miss if you’re feeling bored and may discover your instructor is much more interesting than you first thought.
- Students actively engaged in their class learn more and thus get better grades. When you speak out in class and answer the instructor’s questions, you are more likely to remember the discussion.
Are Podcasts and Recordings an Effective Alternative to Attending Class?
Why not just listen to a recording of the lecture—or a video podcast, if available—instead of going to class? After all, you hear and perhaps see the lecture just as if you were there, and you can sleep late and “go” to this class whenever it’s convenient for you. What could be wrong with that?
This issue has received considerable discussion in recent years because many universities and universities began videotaping class lectures and making them available for students online or in podcasts. There was a lot of debate about whether students would stop coming to class and simply watch the podcasts instead. In fact, some students do cut class, as some always have, but most students use podcasts and recordings as a way to review material they do not feel they grasp completely. A video podcast doesn’t offer the opportunity to ask questions or participate, and even if you pay close attention to watching a video, it’s still a passive experience from which you’re likely to learn much less.
- The benefits of attending every class include not missing important material, thinking more clearly about course topics, developing a better relationship with the instructor, and being better prepared for tests.
- When possible, prepare in advance for missing a class by speaking with your instructor and arranging to borrow and discuss someone’s notes.
- Students benefit in many ways from class interaction, including more actively engaging in learning, developing a network with other students, and forming a relationship with the instructor.
- Podcasts, lecture recordings, and similar learning methods can supplement lectures but cannot replace all the benefits of attending class in person.
Why is it more important to interact with your instructors in university than it was in high school?
Give an example of something important you may miss in a class from which you are absent—even if you read a friend’s notes and hear a recording of the lecture.
List at least three potential benefits of forming a network with other students.
What can you do as a student to be more engaged during a lecture if you are finding it boring?