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I teach at a top undergraduate college of a highly ranked university in India. We have a centralized system where the syllabus is designed at the Central level (with some input from teachers) and exams are set and evaluated centrally as well. We have an attendance policy, wherein students are required to attend at least two-thirds of the classes to sit for the exam (for all courses).

Some students are engaged in extra-curricular activities and miss a lot of lectures. While a lot of students don't bother, some want me to "teach" the portion they missed, by meeting them separately. Is it reasonable for them to ask me to teach everything from scratch because they couldn't attend the class? I teach a rigorous microeconomics course.

Edited: I forgot to explicitly mention: since it is a centralized system, teachers can't specify their own attendance policies for a course. Moreover, I teach a compulsory course, and it can't be dropped/taken in any other semester. Further, students go for competitions scheduled outside college during lecture hours, and I have no control over that. We are not a residential University, so extra-curricular activities can't be held after class hours.

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    Who is scheduling extra-curriculur activities during lecture time? That's absurd. Also, "attend at least two-thirds of the classes" sounds like a very permissive standard, if it's as rigorous as you say. I would set a very clear expectation on day one "This is a hard course, and you'll need to attend 95+% of lectures, take notes and do homeworks to have a chance of doing well. If that conflicts with your schedule, please drop this class right now." – smci Mar 5 '17 at 10:33
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    @smci That is a pretty ridiculous suggestion. There are people who can learn without attending any classes at all, that sounds discouraging. I would rephrase it as "Attendance greatly improves exam performance on average in this course", without resurging to intimidatory statements. – Lonidard Mar 5 '17 at 11:08
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    @smci It doesn't work in any systematic fashion here. Student groups decide on their own when to meet for practice. Practice times are sometimes scheduled during lecture hrs. There are safety issues in my city, and I teach at a women's college, so students can't practice late into the night. Even if practice times are not scheduled during lecture hours, students often travel to other cities for competitive events and miss at least 2-3 days of lectures (for all courses) for each event they attend. Sometimes students miss as many as 15 out of the 70 scheduled lectures (per course) in a semester. – PGupta Mar 5 '17 at 12:17
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    If one doesn't attend, it is her/his responsibility to make it up. Maybe you can recommend textbooks, notes for people who miss a class, or setup q&a hours for people. Repeating entire lectures seems unrealistic expectation for me. – Greg Mar 5 '17 at 14:12
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    Is it possible to record the lectures? – Kat Mar 6 '17 at 3:23

12 Answers 12

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Is it reasonable for them to ask me to teach everything from scratch because they couldn't attend the class?

No, it's not.

If a student wants to engage in extra-curricular activities during lecture hours, they had better be able to keep up with the course material independently.

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    @Parul I don't know about India, but I was under an impression that it is already specified, or at least implied, in course policies, that students are responsible for material they miss due to extracurricular activities. Where I'm studying, people are responsible for material they miss even if they have a documented health issue. So no, if a students deems an extracurricular activity more worthy of time than lectures, then it's their problem. – Gallifreyan Mar 5 '17 at 10:33
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    Yes, you risk being perceived as unhelpful and unapproachable by students who are used to taking advantage of their instructors. So what? – JeffE Mar 5 '17 at 15:35
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    Students have to learn to prioritise. Extra-curricular activities are fun, and can teach many valuable things, but when all is said and done, you don't get a degree for doing extra-curricular things; that's why they're called "extra-curricular". A student who misses material because of something out of their control, such as poor health, might reasonably expect some consideration. A student who chose to take part in another activity rather than attend the lecture on the material that they hope to earn a degree in has only their own choices to blame. Which is a useful lesson in itself. – anaximander Mar 6 '17 at 10:58
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    As a former student who wasn't a lecture learner, but rather a book learner, I don't think it's a reasonable expectation to have to repeat the lecture. What is reasonable is for you to tell them which topics you covered, and provide access to the reading materials independent of course attendance. – CodeMonkey Mar 7 '17 at 8:53
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    @anaximander: +1, but I want to point out to any students reading this that on the rare occasion, it's okay to prioritize extracurriculars ahead of a lecture. There are some things you just can't learn in a classroom. (But those occasions should be few and far between.) – tonysdg Mar 10 '17 at 20:57
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Have you considered recording your lectures?

Doing so and giving free access to your students allows them maximum agency in trading off attending lectures with other social/academic activities, and obviates the concern of having to repeat yourself -- simply refer students to the video/audio and move on.

(Moreover, personally, I've been through courses where this allowed me to learn more efficiently by skipping familiar units and/or watching lectures at, e.g., 2x speed to save time)

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – eykanal Mar 7 '17 at 13:44
  • I like this idea. OP could even make his course content available as OCW. – codeaviator Mar 11 '17 at 13:48
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    Easier said than done - recording a class requires much more preparation, focus, etc. Although it's a good advice, it is not a solution for most cases. – Zanon Mar 12 '17 at 14:17
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Is it reasonable for them to ask me to teach everything from scratch because they couldn't attend the class?

In most cases, the answer is NO. Furthermore, it would be good if you can find official university policy on this issue, stating something like that students should not participate in too many extra-curricular activities unless they are also able to cope with their work.

Do I risk appearing as "unapproachable" or "unhelpful" if I specify in my class policies that those who miss lectures will be responsible for the course material on their own?

You can avoid this problem by telling your students that you would be glad to answer any specific questions that they may have about the course material (assuming you prepared notes for them). In particular this means that they cannot just ask you to teach all the content, but are expected to go over the material themselves and ask to clarify their understanding about specific points. Doing this has the significant advantage of making students aware of exactly what they know or do not know, and helps you to be aware of and able to address common or serious misconceptions with the rest of the class as well.

Should the same policy apply to students who miss several lectures due to illness or other circumstances?

I would personally be very lenient with students who miss lectures not due to any fault of their own. To accommodate such cases, you could always add to your default policy that students who need any further help are welcome to ask, and you will see what to do about it on a case-by-case basis. This of course requires some subjective judgement on your part to differentiate between the truthfully sick and the pathological liars.


But there may be exceptions, for example if the students are officially required to attend certain training sessions at a level beyond university activities, like say the national level, then they may reasonably request one or two sessions to skim the material. They should still be responsible for going over the material themselves prior to any meeting with you, since after all learning is their responsibility, not yours.

  • I just saw your edit, and yes my last paragraph was specifically to cater for such exceptional cases. – user21820 Mar 5 '17 at 11:25
  • Thank you! Unfortunately, the University/College doesn't have any clear policy on extracurriculur engagement--in fact, our college encourages participation and most students are involved in two or more activities. – PGupta Mar 5 '17 at 11:39
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    @Parul: Well then you have to distinguish between those that are 'optional' (just for fun type) and those that are 'more serious' (like international competitions). You probably should be lenient with the latter type since even going for such contests would be significant achievements for the students. Basically it comes down to whether encouraging students attend all your classes would discourage them from participating in activities that may be of higher value (in the long run). This is subjective, but a simple guideline is whether it is national level or not. – user21820 Mar 5 '17 at 11:44
  • @user21820 At my place (and the places I went to school or did postdoctoral work) those those major competitions are school sponsored activities and their is a framework for participating students to get access to schedules, notes, and other materials. But even then they are suppose to work with those materials first and come to me with requests for clarification afterward. – dmckee Mar 5 '17 at 15:53
  • @dmckee: Indeed, hence my last sentence. I try my best to catch all the cases. =) – user21820 Mar 5 '17 at 16:10
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I would tell them the truth, honestly and openly:

"This is the real world. And as such there are consequences to your actions. You come to a fork in the road and you have two choices. You can take the path of desires, or you can take the path of responsibility. If you take the desires path, the path the what was covered in the lecture (responsibility) is closed. You are not children any more."

Sure you could record your lecture, but that is in essence saying that skipping class time is not important.

My generation (I was born on the leading edge of the Millennial generation) has this idea that everything needs to be made easier for them, if not handed out on a silver platter entirely.

This all started with the notion of "everyone is a winner" in the late 1980s, and has gone downhill since.

  • There is a seed of truth. I would say that the problem is more about how everything is seen as a fault of the teacher. While this may be true in lower levels where the teacher has a part in upbringing, it should be made clear that this does not continue in the university. Telling them that is not. For adults you should not need to tell them that there is consequences for their actions because they are adults; there just is. – user3644640 Mar 6 '17 at 7:19
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    @user3644640 While I agree you should not need to tell students that as adults they are responsible for their actions, it seems that in today's real world, more and more of what are legally considered adults, still have the mindset of children. They still expect mommy and daddy to bail them out of any problem that may arise, and expect whichever path they choose to walk to be free of any obstacles. – NZKshatriya Mar 7 '17 at 16:43
  • Yes, but telling them does not cure this. Failing a course is not a big deal, but will teach them to mature quite quick. I do not know whether that would have negative consequences for you depending where you are and who. But the students will graduate and go to industry. If they are children, it will reflect badly on the university. I guess that paying student are different to government subsidized. – user3644640 Mar 8 '17 at 7:52
  • skipping class time is not important. If i student is given the course material (books,notes recordings, whatever), does not attend a single class, but aces the course, was attending classes important? in the real world companies engage more each year into objective oriented work, instead of "sit here 8 hours pressing keys", and that's an important lesson to teach students, "if you think you can organize your time better than we do, do it, but face failure if you can't.". – CptEric Mar 9 '17 at 10:37
  • With your flawed reasoning, every single quality university degree offered fully online is a failure, because they're not attending classes. – CptEric Mar 9 '17 at 10:39
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You could try what one of my current professors does. He specifically points out that he does not have the time to re-teach his hour long lecture to multiple people when they miss class, and that if someone anticipates missing class then they should read up on their own and ask someone else (another student) to share notes with them. If you say at the beginning of the year that you do not have the time nor the patience to re-teach a lecture you won't appear rude, especially if you also mention that you have no problem answering questions for the people who missed class if they brush up on the subject material in their own time.

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Tell them about the importance of networking, and especially of having contacts in the class who can go over missed material with them. Point out that this is a life skill they will need long after college. Tell them you will not just repeat the lecture.

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Many, many years ago I got my master's degree in CS through an evening class program. Most students had full time jobs as programmers or in related occupations. Many of us had to sometimes travel or work late for our day jobs, so the lecturers expected some missed lectures.

The main accommodation was to provide lecture notes that contained the material covered in the lecture. They were useful for study and review even if I got to the lecture, but really helpful if I missed a lecture. At the time, they were distributed on paper, but now would probably be on-line.

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I would give them an "outline version" of what was discussed that day -- reciting, if my guess is correct, the lecture notes you use yourself to give the lecture. One minute maximum. While not giving them the entire lecture, you are at least telling them what they missed

Once they know that, they know what to look for to find out about the topic themselves; either from books or asking another student for their notes.

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    Why would you give help to anyone who feels that skipping class is fine? – NZKshatriya Mar 6 '17 at 5:59
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    @NZKshatriya I feel a distinction between someone missing lecture due to a scheduling conflict and someone who felt like sleeping in instead. I think the key is when someone is asking - if they ask ahead of time and say "my team has a tournament during next Wednesday's lecture. What can we do about this." versus someone coming into office hours hungover demanding you go over material. – corsiKa Mar 6 '17 at 16:56
  • Yes, but it is the policy of this particular institution that you MAY miss up to 1/3 of the lectures without penalty. This the lecturer cannot change, and may not want to if he could. As to WHY the student didn't come to a particular lecture, that is completely irrelevant. Some accommodation of a student wanting to know what they missed is a good idea. There are two questions here: one is repeating the lecture, the other is simply listing the topics covered. I think the first is not reasonable, the second is. – born2code Mar 7 '17 at 7:27
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    RE: As to WHY the student didn't come to a particular lecture, that is completely irrelevant. I disagree. I have a lot more sympathy for students who miss lectures due to illness, car breakdowns, genuine family emergencies, or military deployments than I do for students who miss because of laziness, sleeping in, or just generally not feeling like coming to class. As such, I'm generally inclined to do more for students in the first category than for those in the second. – J.R. Mar 7 '17 at 18:54
  • "irrelevant. I disagree" The main reason it's irrelevant for this institution is is they already have a policy that the instructor cannot change. Perhaps a major reason beyond the student's control, like a military deployment or a hospitalization could be exceptions, but someone who has the flu and misses lectures can simply see to it that they do come in for most of the lectures they don't have to miss. – born2code Mar 8 '17 at 16:06
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I am a big believer in textbooks. Find an affordable textbook that matches your material reasonably well. One way to ensure affordability is to choose a textbook that is one or two editions old. There are some classics that can be bought for $0.01 plus shipping. Make sure the library has several copies for check-out and a couple for use in the library only ("on reserve").

Create a simple blog where you post basic information for each lecture, stating what portion of the textbook will be (or was) covered, any additional notes that are not in the textbook, and what the homework assignment is. By this means, you will be making it easier for students who have missed a class to keep up.

Let your students know that your office hours are such-and-so or by appointment. Schedule your office hours at a couple of different times. For example, don't schedule them on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the same time.

Encourage the students to help each other. There are a number of ways of doing this. For example, assign a small group project early in the semester. Allow students to form their own small groups, but also assign groupings to those students who have not formed their own. This will encourage the formation of student groups. Also, if a large number of your students come to office hours, you can ask one of the stronger students to work with a small group of students. This delegating wouldn't just give you a break, and wouldn't just enable you to get more students serviced during your office hours; it would also help the students who are in the helping role. They will solidify what they learned; and they will gain experience in teaching and tutoring.

You might also want to organize a walk-in tutoring service on campus.

It is through your efforts, and the efforts of other dedicated professors, that the educational system in your country will improve. You are helping hundreds of today's students to achieve greater rigor. When the best of them are teaching and continuing in your footsteps, they in turn will also reach hundreds of students.

You have to start somewhere. Hopefully, at some point in your lifetime, your university will figure out how to schedule the extracurriculars in such a way as not to interfere with attendance at lectures and labs.

The university I attended in Mexico was so disorganized, at least a third of our classes were canceled, with no advance notice, because of an instructor just not showing up. So -- things could be worse!

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    This rather invalidates the importance of having an instructor there at all. – Wildcard Mar 8 '17 at 2:38
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    @Wildcard - That wasn't my intention! Some people learn best through a combination; once the instructor has facilitated the formation of study groups, students will be free to continue with cooperative learning, or choose to work more independently. – aparente001 Mar 8 '17 at 3:21
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    Well actually, students not attending invalidates the importance of having an instructor there. I suspect that if they had to pay (out of their own personal earnings, in advance) for the privilege of attending the school, attendance problems would evaporate. Those who could learn by self-study would just do so and not bother about the cost of tuition. – Wildcard Mar 8 '17 at 3:46
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    @Wildcard - I'm not in a position to defend the system OP works in. // I have been assuming the absent students do not miss all the classes. – aparente001 Mar 8 '17 at 3:48
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I'm going to disagree with people here.

I assume they are asking during your office hours.

If so, then yes, do explain anything they want to them. But make them your lowest priority.

After all, your office hours are meant for students to take advantage of. Some of them might need entire lectures repeated to them. The reason should be irrelevant. Prioritization is something you can and should do, but your hours are dedicated to the students; you should be helping them.

  • I'm not sure I agree with the assumption of the second sentence. As a college instructor, I didn't even have Office hours. If there were office hours, this answer makes a lot of sense, but I would not say that's a fair assumption (especially in a school that crams extra-curricular activities into school hours because they don't want after-hours activity, which is what I'm understanding from this school's description) – TOOGAM Mar 10 '17 at 11:11
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    If I were to follow this advice, I would be giving a condensed version of the lecture during my office hour. I disagree that “the reason should be irrelevant.” During my teaching career, I’ve seen two ways students skip class. One group does so very flippantly; the other group rarely misses a lecture and often informs me via email if a family emergency comes up and they won’t be able to attend. I’m likely to work more diligently with students in the latter group. – J.R. Mar 12 '17 at 10:13
  • @J.R.: "If I were to follow this advice, I would be giving a condensed version of the lecture during my office hour." OK, and that's wrong because... why exactly? "I’m likely to work more diligently with students in the latter group." Thanks for sharing, but you still haven't given a reason why what I said is bad or wrong. Like I said, they're last priority. So that doesn't contradict what you said. – Mehrdad Mar 12 '17 at 11:05
  • I didn't say it was wrong or bad. I didn't mean to imply either one. I was just making a comment about how I'd implement your guidance. – J.R. Mar 12 '17 at 17:44
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Is it reasonable for them to ask me to teach everything from scratch because they couldn't attend the class?

No. Students need to take responsibility for missing classes. You are required to teach during scheduled days/times, probably hold office hours during the week, and respond to student emails. You are not required to repeat lectures on your own time because students missed your class.

Do you make your course materials available online (e.g. Edmodo)? Do you have teaching assistants who could help these students during recitation hours?

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    Course materials such as syllabus and e-books are available to them through a class Google group. If I use slides in a lecture, I post that online too. So, yes they have access to these materials. We are not provided with teaching assistants for recitation or grading. – PGupta Mar 8 '17 at 15:10
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What if you tell them: " If you want better knowledge then you need to come in time. And if you want to learn something you missed 5 minutes of googling wont kill you." Otherwise you ar letting them use you.

  • the cheap tool comment is not needed. – NZKshatriya Mar 8 '17 at 19:28

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