Examining attendance policies in the age of online learning

BY CARMEN FANNING

Students all over the world are attending “Zoom University” due to COVID-19. And while FHSU students are taking classes all across the state, country, and world, with this new online learning, it feels as if Zoom is a separate entity. 

Since many classes are now online and accessible, many are asking if attendance with Zoom should even be necessary? Along with that, it can be easy for students to make excuses for missing class online as opposed to in-person learning. Have students been using Zoom as an excuse to simply not attend class because it’s online?

FHSU senior Ariel Ruiz is majoring in Health, Human and Performance. Adjusting to online learning has been difficult when he learns best through hands-on experience.

“I think there shouldn’t be an excuse for you to miss class technically since you can literally do it from the comfort of your home,” Ruiz said. “But I don’t think it should be mandatory, online learning is terrible in my opinion.”

Thousands of college students can relate. One of the most common complaints of online learning from college students has been how online schooling affects their well-being and academics. Most students learn best in a class environment and are missing that interaction. It can be easy to be distracted when you’re learning remotely.

“I think valid excuses are if your laptop isn’t working or if you have no access to wifi or your phone isn’t working. There’s a lot of technical issues that could also arise from it,” Ruiz said. “Yes, I personally have made excuses like saying I have a Doctor appointment or saying my wifi isn’t connecting. You can’t really use a car as an excuse since you’re at home.”

There tends to be a lack of understanding from both students and teachers. Online learning affects both of us. It’s important that during this tough time we work to empathize with our professors and fellow students.

“I wish teachers realized how difficult it is for some students to do online learning. It’s a definite disadvantage if you are a hands-on learner,” Ruiz says.

Associate Professor of Biological Sciences, Dr. Brian Maricle, understands the difficulties online learning can bring, but there is an expectation of students and professors to attend online classes and be present. 

“Something that might not be evident from the student side is the challenge of teaching to a computer – versus teaching to a live audience – and what comes as a result,” Maricle said. “Effective teaching involves a two-way exchange, and this rarely comes through Zoom. It rarely goes well if a student is not engaged, and Zoom offers an easy way to remain unengaged.” 

Dr. Maricle recommends students distance themselves from any distractions during class time to help students stay engaged. 

“Get out of bed, get ready for class, and set up Zoom in a workplace,” he said. “Make sure you are there and thinking about the topic being discussed. This is a new challenge of the times.”

Maricle also tries to treat attendance for online learning as he would for in-person classes

“It is the responsibility of the student to make it to class. I wouldn’t use the word ‘mandatory,’ but it is expected that students attend all classes,” Maricle said. ”Furthermore, it should be easier for students to attend by Zoom, as many of the reasons for missing (car trouble, sick, quarantine) no longer matter. Anyone can attend from anywhere.”

Environmental Geology student Alexa Franks is in her first year of graduate school. She isn’t new to the demands of college, but that doesn’t make online learning any easier.

“I think attendance with Zoom class should be treated just like an in-person class, so it should be mandatory. A valid excuse would be for health reasons or family reasons, just like an in-person class excuse,” Franks said. “I haven’t made an excuse for missing Zoom class, I’m too scared to miss a class.”

Summer Kragel has a different opinion. She is a dual student and athlete majoring in Health Human and Performance with a minor in Psychology. Balancing online learning while being a high jumper in track and field can be difficult.

“I think it shouldn’t be mandatory but I feel like class, in general, shouldn’t because, your grade depends on what you do and how much work you put in, and I feel like 99% of the time Zoom is just a PowerPoint that’s already on blackboard, so maybe it just depends on the class,” Kragel said.

Some classes require hybrid learning where instructors can meet both virtually and in-person for specific lectures and activities. 

Track athletes are still traveling to and from meets and may come in contact with technical difficulties.

“I think valid excuses would be like traveling or anytime you don’t have access to logging on or if you’re really ill,” Kragel said.

There is more that goes into learning than just lecturing. We are missing out on the natural flow of communication and learning that in-person classes breed.

“I wish more teachers made it more of a discussion based or that cameras must be on. It can be awkward but I also feel like college is becoming way less fun and I’m hardly learning by just watching them click through a PowerPoint,” Kragel said. “You can still do Kahoot and stuff like that while on Zoom so I just wish it could be more interactive because then maybe Zoom wouldn’t feel so bleh.”

Teachers are doing their best to keep students engaged and interested in the topics at hand. Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences, Dr. MedhaviI Ambardar, said she definitely noticed that a lot fewer people attend, but understands the struggle students face.

“This might sound weird, but I think what I would change is being able to move around more,” Ambardar said. “Usually, when we are on Zoom, we are sitting at a desk or table and we are kind of just stuck there. Of course, you can join Zoom on your phone and move around, but it’s not the same.”

FHSU faculty and staff have been very understanding throughout learning through the pandemic. Not all teachers require mandatory attendance but appreciate the effort from students.

“I don’t think it should be mandatory. The reason I feel this way is because with the pandemic, I know people’s work schedules may have changed, so I think flexibility is important,” says Dr. Ambardard. “I do think that students should make sure they are keeping up with the material though, whether that be dedicating time each day to watch recorded lectures, or go over notes from class every day.”

Zoom fatigue is a very real thing. It can be easy to lose motivation when you’re staring at a screen for hours on end.

“I’m pretty lenient on attendance just because I know Zoom fatigue is a thing. Thankfully, I feel that students are pretty honest with me if they have missed class. I won’t judge if you overslept or just forgot – it happens!”

Senior Megan Jaminson is an Elementary Education major and understands how online learning can be burdensome from both perspectives of student and teacher. She has her own class of students and is trying to balance both student teaching and personal online classes.

“I think with Zoom classes you have to treat it like a normal class so Zoom class should be mandatory unless excused otherwise,” Jaminson said. “While it’s hard it would make sense. I had to do Zoom classes with elementary students and that was mandatory so why shouldn’t it be mandatory for college kids?”

Not only is Jaminson an Elementary Education major, she’s also a softball player. 

“I haven’t made any excuses to get out of my classes. As an athlete before I started student teaching I attended my meetings and made sure I was paying attention.”

“I wish that teachers understood that we are not perfect. We can miss a couple of classes, we forget, and that our environments aren’t always the best in terms of paying attention or distractions. I think a lot of the time instructors think if your camera is off you’re not there and that’s the case sometimes but other times it is also because you’re not comfortable with having it on and that’s understandable as well.

This has been a difficult year for all of us. The campus’s efforts to ensure a safe and excellent academic experience have paid off. FHSU has in-person learning to look forward to next Fall and an in-person graduation commencement this May. 

FHSU President Tisa Mason recently released a statement that Fort Hays State University has every intention of opening up fully this upcoming Fall semester. Soon we will be with each other in class, cheering at football games and engaging with each other again.

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