Guide To Teaching and Learning

Supporting Absent Students and Providing Alternate Means of Participation

All New School community members are encouraged, if they feel unwell, to stay home. Recognizing that we will always have absent students, there are some ways to think about attendance and participation that allow even absent students to ‘attend’ and ‘participate’.

Faculty are encouraged to think about framing student attendance and responsibility within a student-centered and inclusive framework: promoting a variety of means of participation provides a strong alternative to in-person attendance that goes beyond ‘Zooming in’, which some students believe they can expect.

Here are some ways to support absent students by thinking about alternative means of participation:

  • Regular (and sometimes required) use of canvas discussion board
  • Regular posts to Mural, Slack, Miro
  • Using shared Google docs
  • Promote robust rigorous collaboration within student teams
  • Invite classes to brainstorm ways of participating outside of in-person class time
  • Support student reporting on participation in alternative events, e.g., public programming, exhibits,  online events and defining how it’s appropriate to the class content
  • Encourage individual students to write short reflection papers, create brief videos, or complete other creative assignments related to the content discussed
  • Allow individual students themselves, within instructor-defined parameters, to determine how to ‘fill the gap’ created by their absences based on extenuating circumstances.
  • Designate ‘study buddies’ who are accountable to each other to support their learning.

Other suggestions for promoting attendance

  • Make assignments due well before the next class meeting (stress about not doing the assignment may lead to absences). Faculty hold themselves to high standards by reviewing the work before the class.
  • Consider having students work in small groups that foster community and share responsibility; when a student is absent, the group will share responsibility for getting them up to speed.

As we learned in teaching online, online asynchronous discussion promotes equity for those students who, for whatever reason, may find live, in-class participation challenging. Many New School students are English language learners and the additional time afforded to write and revise written responses promotes their active participation. Using the Canvas discussion board also allows absent students to fully participate, whether or not they also join in-person classes via Zoom.

This Chronicle of Higher Education essay by James Lang argues against using in-class participation in grading rubrics, noting that the assessment of participation is subject to all kinds of biases and the difficulty in assessing the quality of participation vs the quantity. If faculty do include class participation in grading, they are encouraged to provide a variety of means by which students may participate:

  • Canvas discussion board
  • Small group discussions
  • Paired discussions
  • Think-Write-Share, in which students have to time formulate a response, write and edit the response and then share it orally with the class
  • And consider these suggestions from education developer Katy Farber, as reported in Edutopia: “During brainstorming sessions, consider supplementing classroom conversations with a Padlet where students can post ideas and everyone’s contributions are visible to the group. For reflection exercises, try giving students some choice in how they share their thoughts—they might doodle their reflection in Google Draw, or record their voices on VoiceThread or Flipgrid.”

More examples of how to promote student participation is available in this article from Edutopia.

Students should understand what they gain through attendance and participation. Students can also be asked to rank themselves on their attendance and participation. 

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