Discussion: View Thread

“Attendance Is Mandatory” - Should It Be?

  • 1.  “Attendance Is Mandatory” - Should It Be?

    Posted 09-12-2022 01:51 PM

    I was having a discussion recently about certain schools not offering remote access to classes. I am curious as to whether or not people who have experienced it find it to be comparable to being physically present in class. With the availability of tools such as digital tablets and software for sharable screens, I can think of many benefits of remote learning, and maybe a few drawbacks as well.

    I can imagine that certain professors make attendance mandatory for a similar reason that certain people doubt the effectiveness of remote-learning: they believe you need to prove your presence via participation in order to learn.

    I have found that the converse to this belief are students who view college as a transaction of “money for degree.” Some feel that not only should they not have to be an active participant in class, but they should not have to attend class at all – as long as they can pass the tests. (this statement ignores classes with laboratory components)

    I can see the reasoning behind both point of views. On one hand, a professor may explain that everything they want to teach cannot be reasonably expected be added to an exam, and therefore attendance for lecture periods is required. On the other hand, a student may believe that “if it isn’t important enough for you to figure out how to test me on it, then why should I even need to learn it anyway?”

    This same framework of questions and doubts can be applied to professional development courses in the working world as well. For example, I have found that certain webinars I attended from my home were very informative and educational, and conversely have been in the situation where I have spent time, money, and resources to fly across the country for in-person professional development, and have gotten nothing more out of the experience than what I could have gotten if the class had been offered online.

    I believe that these questions touch on a number of different topics about the value of being in person, using an "in-person requirement" as a form of job or cost justification, and the different outlooks on learning in its current forms as a holistic and worthwhile pursuit or just a series of hurdles to jump through with minimal possible friction.

    What do you think about the benefits and drawbacks of in-person vs remote learning, in either academia or the professional engineering world after school?

    Christopher Seigel P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer

  • 2.  RE: "Attendance Is Mandatory" - Should It Be?

    Posted 09-13-2022 02:34 AM
    As a professor, I much preferred in-person classes because eye contact and body language allowed me to detect lack of understanding and brain-numbing boredom. Nevertheless, I never required attendance for upper-level or graduate students, only for 1st and 2nd year students who might need extra motivation. Also, students who took my upper levels classes remotely, both synchronous and asynchronous, did about as well as those who took them in person. With both, students who missed a lot of lectures did poorly on tests.
    Remote learning does require extra effort by the instructor -- maintaining an active web site with handouts, assignments, and discussion forums.

    William McAnally Ph.D., P.E., D.CE, D.NE, F.ASCE
    Columbus MS

  • 3.  RE: "Attendance Is Mandatory" - Should It Be?

    Posted 09-13-2022 10:39 AM
    Hi Chris,
    Great thoughts. I've been both a student and a professor of both in-person and online courses. I prefer to teach in person but I also recognize the advantages of online/asynchronous learning. I love in-person teaching because I genuinely want to hang out with the students. The "hall way conversations" is invaluable in my opinion. I get to know you and you get to know me. When I understand the students lived experiences, I'm more in touch with what that student needs. While I may have certain topics in the syllabus I intend to cover on a given week, I can adjust the depth of complexity based on the interaction and feedback. That element is a little lost in the online courses. On the other hand, online modalities improves access to those that can't make it to an in person setting. I didn't come from a well-to-do family and had to work full time to make ends meet. Night classes and online was the only option for me.

    Towards your "transactional" student ,as you called it, I try to help them achieve what they are looking for via test outs and independent study but in the back of my mind I'm incredibly annoyed and see the real shame in that mindset. It's the same as saying I don't value you! Particularly in engineering, there is a reason your professor got placed in that position. Time spent with others can be a pretty powerful molder especially when the other has seen, done, and spent a lifetime studying a topic. Somethings just take a bit of serendipity while others might be determined by spreadsheet or tests.

    Jesse Kamm PhD, PMP, A.M.ASCE
    Senior Vice President of Construction Management

  • 4.  RE: "Attendance Is Mandatory" - Should It Be?

    Posted 09-15-2022 03:52 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 09-16-2022 11:40 AM
    My masters program was supposed to be in person. Due to the pandemic and then some political strife, campus didn't reopen until I had finished all my courses. Luckily, the school was already launching hybrid and online options when the pandemic hit the country, so the hardware and software were in place already.

    -flexibility for working students and students with families to care for
    -ability for professors to be abroad or in other parts of the country (I had an excellent South African professor for one of my courses)
    -ability for students to be anywhere (I started my first course from the States before my move)
    -saved transportation costs
    -saved time with no commute
    -since I was studying in my 2nd language, no one could see if I looked confused (I could use a translation page or dictionary to confirm word meanings or look up a word I heard or needed to say)

    -difficult to develop close relationships with professors
    -very little collaboration with other students outside of assigned group work since there aren't many organic ways for study groups to form when not in person
    -group projects and breakout discussions can be awkward when you can't see one another (even with video on, it isn't natural body language and there is no eye contact)
    -since I was studying in my 2nd language, no one could see if I looked confused (they couldn't rephrase or slow down by the visual cues)

    I had one in-person session with a classmate and the Maestro that was overseeing our so-called "credit by exam" course which was actually credit by project for us. In that one session at Starbucks at the end of my program, I felt closer to anyone than I had the whole year and a half of my program. From there I went to the celebration of the liberation of our campus, and I almost cried because, for the first time, I really felt like I was a part of the student body and the university as a whole. (I felt dumb when I realized I was getting watery-eyed, but there is something really powerful about a group of people with a shared experience coming together like that.)

    I think there are benefits to being in person. I'm sad I didn't get that option as originally planned. There also also benefits to the option to be hybrid or remote. It all depends on what your priorities are. I got my Masters abroad, so part of what I'd looked forward to in the cultural exchange was lost by being online. I still got to experience it some outside of the university and to a lesser extent in online classrooms, but it wasn't the same.

    For work, I like to predominately be in the office, but I enjoy the flexibility to sometimes work from home. There is so much bonding and collaboration that happens in the day-to-day in the office that doesn't happen online or remote. I enjoy my coworkers, and I wouldn't want a job where they felt as much like strangers as my online classmates and professors did.

    Heidi C. Wallace, P.E., M.ASCE
    Tulsa, OK

  • 5.  RE: "Attendance Is Mandatory" - Should It Be?

    Posted 09-19-2022 05:51 PM
    Thanks Christopher.

    Q. "What do you think about the benefits and drawbacks of in-person vs remote learning,
          in either academia or the professional engineering world after school?"

    A. It depends.
    Engineering educators and those who require or do not require what courses make up the person's education
    for the world of engineering work once graduated do an excellent job with technology within the various disciplines.

    The continued "Missing Link" is the persistent lack of required soft skills that enable graduated engineers "How to play nice with others."

    The continued use of the expression itself, "Soft Skills," in and of itself is a gross misnomer.
    e.g., Give structural engineers a choice between doing indeterminate structural analysis vs. asking a non-civil engineer
    for their opinion in a project. What has their education and experience guided them to do first, and how?

    p.s. Going forward from year 2022, isn't it long overdue to educate engineers why, what, and how to collaborate, communicate, and cooperate
    with other people prior to acting?    "Radical Listening™ " may be a great place to start.

    William M. Hayden Jr., Ph.D., P.E., CMQ/OE, F.ASCE
    Buffalo, N.Y.

    "It is never too late to be what you might have been." -- George Eliot 1819 - 1880

  • 6.  RE: "Attendance Is Mandatory" - Should It Be?

    Posted 09-19-2022 04:50 PM
    Hi, I prefer a hybrid of both, for example, lectures can accommodate those that need a bit of flexibility to learn from home or from work (assuming the school site is far away), and the lab components can be taught live, it also depends how the online instruction is being taught, is it engaging? or are they prerecorded? and how's the student's ability to want to learn? in Spanish we call this GANAS (motivation), watch "Stand and Deliver" and you'll see what motivation is all about, God bless and thanks for the question,

    Humberto Gallegos Ph.D., P.E., M.ASCE
    California Baptist University
    Riverside CA

  • 7.  RE: "Attendance Is Mandatory" - Should It Be?

    Posted 12-21-2022 10:15 AM
    For all 10 of my graduate school classes, I had only one online class (plus an online CodePath class). During the graduate school class, all people involved treated the class like an in-person class (the professor, especially, since he was teaching an in-person section too); I made set times for sitting through the lectures; I completed every assignment on-time; and I studied for every exam. Since for this class, there wasn't much group work to do, I managed to get an A in this course and memorize the material largely on my own.

    The CodePath class was different in context and background. For one, it was a summer class about coding in Python, so it was more isolated in content than the statistical class I took the previous year. From there, since I took the class while working part-time in an unrelated field, I wasn't relating as much to this class at the time. To that end, I think students can give their all in a class, whether it's in-person or remote. It will take devotion to class materials, given the content and environment, for the students to give their all.

    Alexander Granato A.M.ASCE
    Bexley OH

  • 8.  RE: "Attendance Is Mandatory" - Should It Be?

    Posted 12-27-2022 10:08 AM
    As a teacher, of post graduate students in China, I found that class participation in discussions was the most important factor in the success of my class teaching

    John Meek M.ASCE

  • 9.  RE: "Attendance Is Mandatory" - Should It Be?

    Posted 12-27-2022 10:52 AM

    I am a Professor of Engineering and the owner of an engineering consulting firm of 400 people.  The online elephant in the room is that some students (and more than you would estimate when comparing engineering students pre-google) are academically dishonest.  I don't even give credit for homework anymore.  There are too many apps and online resources for every textbook and solution manual on the market.  Too often, I experienced students with perfect homework grades and failing quizzes/tests.  The classroom environment is usually more dynamic and allows active debates and participation, whereas my experience with online learning is that there is not nearly the same level of engagement. Online classes usually have one-way communication, in which the teacher provides required materials and instructions to the students.

    But the undeniable dirty little secret is that there is no reasonable way to proctor online quizzes/tests.  Phone apps like WhatsApp allow instant access to professionals worldwide to provide real-time assistance DURING THE TEST.  Students message each other, have dual monitors and access to the internet and find many different ways to cheat, even with AI technology scanning their behavior.

    Worse yet, while these students may pass the course, they struggle in subsequent advanced classes with prerequisites.  Even if they do pass (presumably in much the same manner as have been used in the past) and receive an engineering degree, they cannot pass their Board exams, rendering them glorified technicians and reflecting poorly on the professors and university.

    Academic dishonesty always has been an inconvenience within the university system, but my experience is that resorting to such methods is on the rise.  At least in the classroom, it can be somewhat controlled.  I allow an index card for notes and provide a page of unit conversions and possible formulas for their use.  Otherwise, they gut it out the old fashion way - with a pencil and calculator.

    Nicholas Albergo P.E., F.ASCE
    Albergo Engineering Solutions, LLC
    Tampa FL

  • 10.  RE: "Attendance Is Mandatory" - Should It Be?

    Posted 12-27-2022 10:53 AM
    Christopher:  I am too far removed from the academic world to comment on benefits and drawbacks of education in a formal vs remote setting, but I directly and indirectly supervise a number of engineers.  IF you are competent, you communicate frequently and well, you are productive, and you are available to collaborate with others, THEN remote engineering can work effectively for the individual and their organization.  Too often individuals lack one of the four above and either impact themselves or their organization.  (FYI, I work a split schedule of 5 hours in the office and 3 hours remotely at my home office, daily on a set schedule.)

    Douglas MannP.E., D.CE, M.ASCE
    Lake WorthFL

  • 11.  RE: "Attendance Is Mandatory" - Should It Be?

    Posted 01-02-2023 11:11 AM
    I am a university professor and have been teaching for decades now. I teach earthquake engineering to a class of 50 to 60 students, over 50% of which are international students from all over the World. My university, in Italy, has turned to distance learning during the pandemic but is requiring class attendance now. Yet, professors have been authorized to lecture also in streaming and/or to supply recordings of lessons. This is left to the professor's decision because it may work well with some courses only. I have chosen this solution explaining to students that distance learning could be used only occasionally when one could not attend in person for an exceptional reason. (Full distance learning could be authorized by the university only in very special conditions, typically for students not or not yet authorized by their country to travel or waiting for visa). In any case I can control who is present online and how frequently it happens. Students have not abused of this possibility, but stayed home when they had some problems, including initial COVID symptoms. Having recordings available has helped students, as they told me they went back to listen parts where they had doubts. In our exam structure there are written tests but there is usually a final oral