My university has opted for online classes this semester, and I think it is great to be honest for the nature of the course topic, so a 3 hour course has a live section, reading assignments section and practical follow ups. I think it is a far better methodology than the in person classes for this specific class.

A student has emailed me saying his learning style is different so he doesn't attend the live courses because he has difficulty focusing. To be honest, I think he has a point. I was that student but I attended classes out of ..I don't know..respect? because I was not confident (or arrogant?) not to attend? I hoped I would learn from the lecturer? But if the class was boring I would just fall asleep, or study for another class or just keep occupied with something else. It didn't help with the 'respect' as I would sit in the front in hopes of keeping awake but fall asleep anyway, when I tried my best but just couldn't focus. I also figured out while listening educational material online I can keep better on track if I increase the speed. For the courses that really caught my attention -I believe purely thanks to the lecturer I wouldn't have any of these problems.

However, my university still applies pre-covid rules which means the students are expected to follow live courses and it means 'class presence', in pre-covid world a lack of class presence leads to non completion of the course, which again I don't think is ideal, but at the same time I wouldn't be able to keep a list with a missing person's name. What really bothers me is that I receive this email by the first -real- lecture, so the student didn't even try and he wrote that is what he does for all courses. Okay, the pandemic period gives them to opportunity to follow up (recorded courses), but they are supposed to do the assignments in the 3 hour block of the course (not graded). and I really don't want to get a list of names because some might have difficulty with logging in, they might be working (although again this would be an irrelevant excuse in precovid days) and I told them to reach me if they won't be able to attend on a regular basis, and this student contacted me. He didn't mention a history of conditions such as ADD or anything. So as much as he might have a point 1) I am expected to follow up rules 2) It comes off as arrogant. So I conflict my ideals. And two points: The other students express how much they enjoyed my classes, and students in earlier classes even signed up for it after our first week as the students just seem to enjoy it. Even for my electives (which I don't think I am doing my best job), the students have been signing up like crazy (I was told I would get maybe 10 students and I ended up with 54 on an elective course for example). So this bothers me some students won't even try. What would you do in a situation like this? I can't really process because my ideals say he has a point, but on the other hand I don't see the student backing up his claims like following the material later (I can see the numbers of downloads).

  • What field is this? The question might be better in a focused site, such as math educators, for example. What is your position? Are you senior or junior faculty?
    – Buffy
    Oct 25, 2020 at 11:57
  • Computer Science and tenure track.
    – dusa
    Oct 25, 2020 at 11:59
  • 1
    Maybe you should migrate this to CSEducators. Unfortunately a full answer to the question depends on a lot (a LOT) of deep pedagogy and a TT faculty person can be at risk as well.
    – Buffy
    Oct 25, 2020 at 12:07
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    Thanks, good to know CSEducators exists but I don't think this is a CS specific question
    – dusa
    Oct 25, 2020 at 12:10
  • 1
    No, but the options open are different in CS than in, say, Literature. Your call, of course.
    – Buffy
    Oct 25, 2020 at 12:10

1 Answer 1


This is a hard question since it has so many elements to consider. Let me begin, at least, though I may need to add more over time.

First, however, consider your own somewhat precarious position. If you do something that isn't really in accord with the rules, but lack tenure, then you might be at risk if your more senior colleagues object to it. The solution to that is to start a local discussion to see what people in your department see as reasonable exceptions for uncommon times.

The more important question, generally, of course, is what is pedagogically good for the student so that they can master the material. This is much harder.

For this, first note that you have, I hope, set up the course structure so that most, if not all students can learn and be fairly judged. You set lectures, perhaps, readings, exercises, projects, discussions, etc. so that learning is highly likely to occur when students apply the necessary effort.

So, at a minimum, the student wanting an exception, needs to be warned that they may be lessening their likelihood of success by deviating from what has been established and that they are taking on some risk in doing so. There are, of course, people who learn very effectively on their own and can demonstrate it. For them, rigidity has no benefit.

But, beyond that, if you are going to allow exceptions, which you might here, you also need to start to think about the whole structure and how such students will be evaluated fairly. Beyond evaluation, however, is the issue of giving them reasonable feedback in a way that fits whatever scale you need to teach in. If you have appropriate exercises (for reinforcement) and can give proper feedback then such a system of "exceptions" can be successful. But if a student simply disappears and then suddenly reappears for an exam, then it is harder to judge whether they have learned what they need. This is for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that exams are a poor way to judge overall learning.

And, specializing to CS, it may be that some group work is essential to the educational process and this might be more difficult to achieve if students want certain kinds of exceptions.

So, my advice is to think about the entire educational structure and how it might be maintained properly if some part of it has to be modified in some way. Unfortunately this is a long term research issue that is difficult to apply in the short term under pressure of a pandemic.

And don't forget to get buy-in from your local colleagues.

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