What do you do when there’s a disruption — illness, inclement weather, public health emergency — and you have to adjust your plan? Plan for disruption!
Montclair State University has long sought to support students and their instructors when illness or other life events cause unanticipated absences from regular attendance.
- As a general rule, if students find themselves in situations that prevent class attendance, they can seek support from the Dean of Students (DOS).
- If a student tests positive for COVID-19, they are expected to report their test results to the University Health Center (UHC). (*And faculty and staff are expected to report to Occupational Health. See COVID-19 Information for most current guidelines.)
- Faculty should not attempt to assess the validity of students’ requests for absence, nor provide health advice. Instructors should direct students to contact University Health Center (UHC) for medical questions, and to call or email the staff at the DOS for all other issues that might be raised as part of an appeal to be exempt from attending class.
The approach to student absences may vary between courses, depending on discipline, instructor pedagogy, and course design. Instructors have a great deal of autonomy in deciding how best to support student success and academic continuity.
With that said, demonstrating empathy while being clear about your expectations is important. Be strategic with developing the tone of your communication to support academic continuity as you may be a student’s first point of contact. That is, your communication can be compassionate and foster a rigorous academic experience.
Much like the classic “praise sandwich” approach to offering feedback on student work — positive, criticism, positive –, we recommend an empathy sandwich. That is, start with understanding and compassion, then provide direction on the specifics of what you will provide and what you expect, and close with a positive, resilience-focused message.
For example, “I am sorry to hear that you will not be able to attend the class for the next 5 days. Health permitting, I recommend that you keep up with the due dates and activities provided in Canvas and that you closely review the class notes [recorded video] I post. Please also keep in touch with your peer group to learn what they experienced and learned in class as I don’t manage to cover everything in my notes. I wish you well and have confidence you’ll be able to catch up and persevere with your studies. Please feel free to be in touch with me by email or attend my Zoom Student Hours; also consider an appointment at the University’s tutoring center, CAST, if you are having trouble with any of the material. Best, Prof. X.”
Assessment and evaluation (grading)
As instructors, our job is to evaluate students on their achievement of the learning objectives of our courses. All the structures we develop — absentee policies, requirements for collaboration and meeting deadlines, etc., — are designed to support student learning of the course objectives. Similarly, our assessments are designed to further learning and evaluate learning. Thus, the extent to which students demonstrate fulfillment of course learning objectives, regardless of their exact achievement of the individual elements of our courses, is what matters. Strong learning objectives and assessments enable us to fulfill our responsibilities as educators, and over-reliance on grading calculators and point systems may undercut our higher purpose. Use your judgment to be equitable, flexible, and focused on the high-level goals you have for learning in your course.
Here are some suggestions:
- If you have an attendance policy, use the “University Excused Absence” option in Canvas to indicate DOS excused absences for the days students are absent.
- Require students to consult with a University tutor at CAST if their attendance becomes a concern. CAST academic coaches can help students figure out what they need to do to keep up. They can assist students in reading your syllabus, notes, and expectations. To require tutoring, go to the Navigate platform via NEST and “Issue an alert.” Select “Tutoring needed.” This will effectively create a case that a tutor will handle directly, ensuring that you receive an update from the tutor by scrolling down your Navigate homepage to see status updates on the cases you’ve opened.
- Post in-class materials on Canvas. This is potentially useful to all students and certainly useful to students who are absent. Materials might include:
- Summaries of the class experience. Tip: Instructors don’t need to write these; individual students can be assigned the task of note-taking, posting notes on a Canvas page
- Instructor notes, presentation materials, and other hand-outs
- If your classes tend to be hands-on, activity-based classes, develop alternative assignments that students can complete alone, without being in class. Your guide is this: how can students achieve similar learning outcomes when they cannot attend class? For example, if students are working collaboratively on a problem set or answering discussion questions, the alternative assignment would be to complete these activities solo. Spend some time now thinking of useful, purposeful alternatives, to avoid last-minute busy work assignments.
- If your classes include collaborative elements that require interacting with others, consider assigning students to virtually attend the Center for Academic Success and Tutoring (CAST), the Center for Writing Excellence (CWE), or even to collaborate with a family member or friend.
- Consider recording your classes and sharing these recordings with students with excused absences. How?
- Create a Zoom meeting.
- When you go to class, set up your laptop and start your Zoom.
- Hit record (!).
- At the end of class, hit stop.
- When your recording is sent to you, arrange to send it to your affected students.
- Provide students with extensions.
- For office hours (often renamed “student hours”), include a Zoom option.
- Don’t change the modality of your course. While some students may request a change, and you may be tempted, modality is not up to faculty discretion. If you have specific concerns about your class, consult your chair. Experience has taught us that instructors may be pressured to change modalities. Resist the pressure! Simply say, “No, the Zoom is just for those with excused absences, and is a less effective way for you to learn in this course.”
- Don’t try to assess the validity of students’ requests for absence when they are health-related; don’t provide health advice.
- Don’t discuss absent students with other students. Health information is private.
More questions? See Teaching FAQs.
Last Modified: Tuesday, April 25, 2023 9:57 am