I give lectures to postgraduate students. The number of students in this batch is very low (< 20). The lectures are foundation lectures for the course. We are only into the basics of the course.

A few (maybe 4) students of this batch are requesting to cancel two lectures as they won't be available for personal reasons. In fact, they are going to attend a workshop. In my university, attending workshops that are not fully recommended by the department is considered 'personal interest'.

One option is to ignore their request and ask them to study the topics covered during the lectures or with the help of students present during the lectures. If they could study these topics themselves or with friends, they wouldn't have requested me to cancel these lectures.

What should I do in this case?

I could ask this question to my head of the department, but, I don't know how this will turn out for students. They should not feel that they were not allowed by the head to attend this workshop.

I do understand that there will be variations of opinions on my question as per the different academic rules of universities but I still want some insights from experienced academicians.

  • 14
    "If that was the case, they wouldn't have requested me to cancel." - could you clarify that sentence, please? Do you mean "If that's what they are going to do, ..."? If so, are you sure the situation is as absolute as you present it? That is, are you sure your cancelling of the lectures wouldn't just be the (possible) path of least resistance to them, but the lecture taking place and them making the effort of asking students present during the lecture for help being a possible, if more cumbersome, alternative? – O. R. Mapper Jan 15 '20 at 11:52
  • 3
    We have an option to record our lectures. – Prof. Santa Claus Jan 15 '20 at 22:15
  • 2
    Is attendance of the lectures mandatory? – Mast Jan 16 '20 at 9:41
  • 17
    In my college days, we would have called you a "push-over". There are countless things in life which will coincide with other things. The students signed up for your class so they have implicitly agreed that the time slot works for them. They are adults, if they choose to skip your lecture then that is their choice and should weigh the consequences of doing so. – MonkeyZeus Jan 16 '20 at 14:17
  • 4
    And by the way, the title "for personal reasons" seems very dismissive, without knowing what the workship is about and how relevant it is to their course (interviewing? learning Japanese? folk dancing lessons?) If they're collectively spending their time and money on something that your dept isn't providing, that suggests it's more than personal reasons. Clearly this isn't "officially sanctioned", but I've had heads of dept invoke that excuse for all sorts of reasons, often dubious, and often turf wars. – smci Jan 16 '20 at 14:18

If you do this for a minority, then you will have to do it every time a few students have some excuse.

I suggest that you don’t consider this and make it clear that if they miss lectures then it is up to them to catch up on material.

Providing double or triple repeats of lectures due to a few absences, especially if unpaid, is not a good use of your time.

Some students will want to rationalize their choices and make sure which they attend - some workshops can be valuable. If you think one workshop is very worthwhile then you could consider re-scheduling for all, but that depends on your schedule, and yes, I have done this for similar reasons involving the majority.

Based on a comment> I always provide the material used in class - notes & worked example on Moodle as well as further practice problems (some 10 to 20 for each topic with solutions) for those who attend as well as those who do not.

  • 3
    +1. Yes, I fully understand. I am thinking too much from the student's side. – Coder Jan 15 '20 at 11:59
  • 22
    @Coder: Don't let it stop you from encouraging students to attend non-mandatory classes/workshops, even if you cannot make any accommodations for them in your own class. (From your statement "They should not feel that they were not allowed by the head to attend this workshop.", I gather that you are generally in favour of their wanting to attend the workshop, if it weren't for the schedule collision with your class.) – O. R. Mapper Jan 15 '20 at 12:04
  • 2
    @Bee I provide the notes, worked example and further practice questions on Moodle for those who do, and do not, attend without fear or favour. – Solar Mike Jan 15 '20 at 13:14
  • 2
    I don't know how OP stands with technology, but providing a video capture of the lecture is quite common at my Uni, that way they'd have literally everything available that the attending students have – Hobbamok Jan 16 '20 at 10:14
  • 1
    @Hobbamok that is not standard practise everywhere... some do, some don’t. However, I have seen that videos cannot spot simple errors on a student’s file and if you made a video containg every possible error it would be hours and hours long which may defeat the point. Students say that they look at youtub videos and find them good or bad... And, following a bad video can affect them for a long time... – Solar Mike Jan 16 '20 at 10:19

There is really no need to do this. Lecture is an efficient way for a single person to help a group to learn, but it isn't the most effective way for an individual to learn material. There are other ways to learn the material and they need to become familiar with them. Books, notes, discussions, but most important, exercises to make the material part of their deep learning.

Point them to alternative sources if you like. And maybe some exercises, also. It is very unlikely that such sources don't exist. But learning is their responsibility. Your responsibility is to provide the environment in which learning can occur.

Moreover the request shouldn't result in impeding the learning of the rest of the class.

  • 5
    It's fine as well to encourage the students to attend their workshop—that's probably a great use of their time. But that choice comes with some consequences to their other obligations (your course for example), and they're the ones that need to accomodate the choice, not you (the OP). – Greg Martin Jan 15 '20 at 20:02
  • 1
    "Lecture is an efficient way for a single person to help a group to learn" False. – Anonymous Physicist Jan 16 '20 at 1:20
  • 8
    @anonymous physicist Quite obviously true. – John B Jan 16 '20 at 9:44

From the comments:

I provide the notes, worked example and further practice questions on Moodle for those who do, and do not, attend without fear or favour.

If they choose to attend a workshop instead of your class, they are still receiving the material so are not at a disadvantage (other than missing out on what I'm sure is a superb lecture).

They are making the choice to go to this workshop, it's not compulsory. I think that you therefore have no ethical obligation to provide them anything more. When I was at university many lecturers would only provide notes to those who attended or didn't provide notes at all, regardless of your reasons.

You sound like a fair lecturer who wants the best for their students, but don't let them take advantage of your kind nature. I would respond with:

All material covered in the lecture will be available in the lecture notes in the usual format, I will therefore not be cancelling or repeating the lecture, but understand your decision to not attend on this occasion. Please feel free to ask next class if there is anything from the notes which you did not understand.


I'm assuming these are not frivolous workshops. In a large university, often one department doesn't really know what the others are doing and schedules are difficult if you want to learn stuff from multiple departments. So if these are "serious" workshops, you can be a bit accommodating. Especially since this is not an overly full class.

You don't want this to be a "bad example" though, that leads to many other people requesting to miss lectures with mandatory attendance.

So what you could so is give them a reading list that should cover the material you'll be doing in that lecture, that they'll have to do in their own time. It shouldn't be any less work than just attending your lecture. Encourage them to stop by during your office hours if they have questions, but only if they've done the reading first.

  • 1
    These are the workshops not explicitly recommended by department. But, students are interested to attend. That's good. – Coder Jan 16 '20 at 5:57

Two thoughts:

(1) You may be under contractual obligation to hold scheduled classes. (If so, you may want to point this out to the students if they become insistent that you cancel.)

(2) It may not be fair to other students in the class to let a few students get to, in effect, cancel a class.

I would tell the students that it is fine for them to attend the workshop, but they are responsible for the material they missed.

  • I am not in the category of (1). As most answers suggest here: I will go with (2). – Coder Jan 16 '20 at 5:55

An easy way around the problem is to record the lecture on camera.

  • 1
    This is a good idea. One caveat, though: the OP should make sure that everyone who might appear in the recording consents to being recorded. – EJoshuaS - Reinstate Monica Jan 16 '20 at 6:21
  • 2
    Maybe easy, but maybe not. And maybe more or less valuable depending on how the lecture is run. Harder for interactive work as the "focus" needs to change and the sound quality becomes critical (and hard to track). – Buffy Jan 16 '20 at 13:28
  • @Buffy In my university we had an extra camera team for that. The professors could order it when necessary. Usually that was don for the largest lectures. – yar Jan 16 '20 at 13:30
  • 2
    So, easy for you in some situations, but not for all. – Buffy Jan 16 '20 at 13:34
  • 2
    @yar We don't have a proper team for recording lectures. – Coder Jan 17 '20 at 11:44

Workshops are shorter and therefore can be opened more frequently. Main lectures for a class are more important. I see this as a lack of or correct prioritization and/or time administration; young people tend to be impulsive, comfortable childish and kind of wild, demand that they make sure the workshop is higher priority and can't be opened some other time. Edit: discuss with them how/why is important that workshop and the lecture, I think a common solution is better than a unilateral one.

  • 4
    On the other hand, workshops sometimes offer a rare opportunity to work with an expert or on things that, while important, don't warrant a full course. – Buffy Jan 16 '20 at 13:24
  • That is covered in my previous post: "demand that they make sure the workshop is higher priority and can't be opened some other time." – saultube28 Jan 16 '20 at 15:27
  • 3
    "Workshops are shorter and therefore can be be opened more frequently" - the second part of this is definitely not true for what is referred to as a "workshop" in my field. – Bryan Krause Jan 16 '20 at 20:54

A good teacher should be more concerned about conveying knowledge than feeding their own ego. In this case the fact that you are considering moving your lectures for them makes you sound like a good teacher. I'd say 4/20 is a pretty significant number. Maybe check with the other 16 students for their availability before you decide to move it.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.