Taking the Wrong Lessons From Student Absences

Faculty adopted strategies that were new to them during the pandemic, but now some may that they are not effective, or worse, detrimental to students and keep them away from class.

In The Chronicle of Higher Education article, “Why Students Are Skipping Class So Often, and How to Bring them Back,” Carol E. Holstead provides advice based on a survey she did with students in two classes. It appears that Holstead teaches a large class: 175 students out of 245 students from two classes responded to the survey. Holstead also teaches a “Media and Society” course that enrolls 150-400 students. So if you are not teaching such large numbers, some of the advice may not resonate with your experience. Even before the pandemic, attendance had always been a concern in large classes.

While some of the advice, such as having students engage with each other by making the material relevant to them, is solid, the suggestions about providing materials online leaves out some important information. Students on Holstead’s survey said that having too much material available online and flipped classes contributed to their absence from class. Holstead surmises that “our classes were half empty most of the time because we had given students enough online to convince them they didn’t need to attend.”

But let’s unpack this. Students felt “a large portion of work can be completed online.” One had a roommate “who oftentimes does not go to classes because the lectures are recorded and posted on Canvas. So why would she go if she can lie in bed and watch them?” However, in order for flipped learning to be effective, one should use the asynchronous space, i.e. Blackboard or Canvas, to introduce students to topics or concepts and use the time in class to have students do something with those topics or concepts and weight that activity more. Holstead is right about signaling the value of certain activities: “If there’s a clear message that ‘if you do this, then you will get this’–they will do it.” We as instructors grant weight to these activities in class. Students only assign more value to online work if we weight online work more.

We can show students that the in-class activities are worth more to their student learning. I repeatedly explain to students why they are doing all of their activities and what they will get out of them. I also tell them that students tend to do better on assignments when they do the assignment as I suggest. For example, I have one assignment that has three parts. Part one is done in Blackboard, where students submit a topic. It’s a small, necessary step, but it has few points. Part two is done in class and constitutes the bulk of the points for the assignment. The benefit of doing this in class is to allow students to receive peer feedback and use me as a real-time resource. I clearly tell students that they will earn fewer points if they do not take part in the in-class activity. The third part is done in Blackboard and is, again, a small but necessary step that has few points. In this way, students engage the materials I provide online, but the real learning happens in class. They get to make their own decision, but it is clearly better for them to attend class. In other words, there is no incentive to only participate in class through the online materials.

As instructors, we have the ability to shape the learning experiences of students. Rather than disregarding what we learned during the pandemic, let’s adjust these strategies to address the realities we now face.


Carol E. Holstead. “Why Students Are Skipping Class So Often, and How to Bring Them Back.” The Chronicle of Higher Education 1 Sept 2022.

Image by Peter H from Pixabay

Creative Commons License
Taking the Wrong Lessons From Student Absences by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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