Students often enter college with the idea that the days of roll call are finally over and in higher education your grade is based on more concrete requirements, like two or three exams or papers each semester.
These students might be surprised when many Fairfield University attendance and participation policies are introduced in the beginning of the semester.
Take a look at many syllabi and you will probably notice the different policies: attendance and participation is often 10 percent of your final grade, if you miss more than three classes the final grade will drop and participation will be counted with a written record of the amount of times you answer questions in class.
“If you’re missing class and still pulling off good grades then it shouldn’t matter,” said Dave Muccino ’07. “In theory understanding the subject should matter the most but students need to be encouraged to go to class.”
Another student said he was able to learn one course’s material more effectively by not going to class.
“If I really don’t feel like going to class then it [the policies] doesn’t matter…I had a teacher once who really sucked, and I didn’t go and did better learning the stuff on my own then putting up with the teacher,” said Chris Jangl ’05. Other students see the policies as an added bonus designed to help their grade instead of hurt it.
“It can help students on the fringe of getting a good grade get knocked up over the top,” said Chris Anastasi ’07.
One professor explained his rationale for the inclusion of class participation in the final grade.
“We want 100 percent attendance and 100 percent participation,” said Dr. Curtis Naser of the philosophy department. “The policies are partly there to motivate students to come to class and can be used for when a student fails. I have a written record so when they complain I can say, ‘You missed one-third of the classes.'”
Naser, who uses a 10-percent attendance and participation policy in his classes, believes because learning is an activity it is necessary for students to play an active role. For him the real importance is placed on the other 90 percent and the attendance and participation policies are only a small part of the entire grade.
“Grades, in general, are an abstraction. They are a numeric value based on a professor’s judgment of a student’s performance but they are not the whole story,” Naser said.
According to Orin Grossman, academic vice president, the university has no official position on this matter.
“A faculty member has the right, within reason, to construct a set of requirements and evaluations that he or she considers lead to the best student learning outcomes,” he said.
According to Grossman, “Some faculty members think that participation and attendance requirements, in addition to helping the learning process, prepares students for the real world. In many work situations, you may be doing a pretty good job, but if you don’t show up for meetings or working group sessions, you won’t get very far.”
“In college you’re supposed to be responsible for your own grades and your own life and it makes you feel like you’re still in high school when teachers are counting how many times you said stuff in class … if you don’t go to class you will know when you get your grades,” said Deanna DiPaolo ’05.
One student was penalized for his unsatisfactory attendance record.
“All my grades were negatively affected by the policies. Even when I got As on every assignment I would still get a B at the end of the semester on the grounds that I had missed so many classes or hadn’t helped out enough in class,” said Matthew Smylie ’03.
“I don’t think the teachers realized that if the class was worth attending and participating in then students would do so regardless of a policy,” Smylie added.
Smylie graduated Fairfield University at the top of his class, on the Dean’s List, and with a double major in physics and German. He is currently a Fulbright Scholar working on the development of a Junction-Regulated Photoconductor in Germany.
“I understand the rationale behind the policies but I always got the feeling that maybe they were designed for some students to help bring along other students,” he said.
Many current students, like Sean Gleason ’07, believe tests and assignments are better indicators of student’s mastery of the subject and using attendance and participation can hurt a lot of students unnecessarily.
“Some very smart people who understand the stuff well are affected by distractions that keep them out of the classroom like early morning classes or being part of a sports team and can be hurt by these policies,” he said.
For those students who challenge attendance and participation Grossman said, “You are not in charge of the course. I would say that in general part of the learning process is learning how to prepare for life, not just the course material. You should get used to the idea that you are not the judge of whether you are making a satisfactory contribution to the overall experience.”