Design by Grace Filbin

No student at the University of Michigan has been untouched by the educational issues of the COVID-19 pandemic, which sparked an increase in virtual learning opportunities for students. Following a return to in-person instruction, many professors still offer a plethora of virtual options such as remote office hours, lecture recordings and zoom class sessions. These options can make it attractive for students to bypass in-person instruction altogether and instead rewatch recorded lectures on their own time. The Michigan Daily sat down with U-M students to discuss the benefits and drawbacks of attending class in-person.

Some students prefer attending class in person based on their own learning style, including Engineering freshman Hajirah Nadeem, who said she prefers attending class in-person rather than through the optional zoom sessions offered by her professors.

“Personally, I think it is worth it (to go to class) but I do think it’s an individual thing,” Nadeem said. “For me, I do have to go to class, I feel like for me to be able to understand (and) I think it’s just my learning style. But I think it really just depends on the person.”

Though some classes offer flexibility when it comes to attendance, others are less lenient.  Nadeem said while her computer science class doesn’t require or check lecture attendance, her physics class uses iClicker, which allows the professor to track attendance and mark off points for those who skip class, which incentivizes students to attend in-person.

Policies also vary among schools. In the Ross School of Business, juniors were only permitted to miss at most three classes during their Ross Integrative Semester (RIS) last fall. The School of Art & Design undergraduate handbook states that students must arrange absences with their professor or they will fail the course. The school also requires that students attend the Penny Stamps Speaker Series, which takes place outside of class hours. Students who don’t attend classes, even if they turn in required projects, will not be able to pass the class.

Art & Design freshman Laila Burke-Graves said the nature of instruction in the Art & Design School means that absences cause students to miss crucial instruction on required techniques and knowledge.

“In (the Art & Design School), when you miss a class … there’s no way to pick it up,” Burke-Graves said. “So you miss a class and that’s it. You can always go to office hours, but missing that in-person instruction and them explaining how to do it is very vital.”

Burke-Graves recounted an instance where students in her class were being taught how to draw circles and change the way they tilt on an axis. She noted that the work was too difficult to figure out on her own, and she would have been unable to complete the task if she had missed in-person instruction.

“We learned how to draw ellipses in two-point perspective, which is essentially just taking a circle and turning it,” Burke-Graves said. “I don’t believe I could pick that up without (my professor) being there. If you walked into our class, then you would have (seen) he was walking around the entire two hours just answering questions, because we were all so confused on how to draw an ellipse in two-point perspective.”

Some students consider the collaborative aspect of in-person classes to be beneficial. LSA sophomore Philip Rentschler said he thinks in-person classes allow students to ask questions in real time and meet with peers, which are not possible when watching lectures online.

“Going into class gives you that (opportunity),” Rentschler said. “It makes it a little bit easier to talk things out with (either) the professor or a classmate. Often it’s a good opportunity to meet people.” 

Burke-Graves said she believes it’s more important to attend classes in college because students are paying tuition costs. She said regardless of how certain professors or classes are, students should still attend class every day.

“You’re investing in yourself financially,” Burke-Graves said. “So you should put in the work to show up, take those steps and be responsible for yourself. I don’t understand how some people lack that discipline … because you’re paying for it. It’s a lot of money, it’s a great school (and) you’re given all these opportunities. I believe it’s always worth it to go to class.”

The cost to attend the University for a year can be as high as nearly $60,000 for a full-time, out-of-state LSA student. This figure only considers the cost of tuition and fees, which rises from year to year. 

Not all students agree on the value of attending classes in-person.LSA freshman Zainab Yousif-Ahmed said she prioritizes her mental health over attending lecture-based classes, which she said she finds to be less engaging.

“When I weigh out going to class versus my mental health state every single day, it’s always not worth it,” Yousif-Ahmed said. “The whole theme of college is learning on your own independently … With some classes, where the professors are really engaged and they base their classes more (on) class participation, then yeah, of course it’s worth it. A lot of time I go to class and come back and it’s really the studying alone … that really impacts the class.”

LSA freshman Juno Nedumaran expressed similar sentiments, saying she often watches her lectures’ recordings so she can pause and work at her own pace.

“I usually don’t go to most of my lectures because, for me, it’s useful to pause and go back and not feel rushed to get everything down within that 50 minutes,” Nedumaran said. “If I watch it later in the day, in my own time, I feel like I retain more information, which is more helpful.”

Nedumaran said this wasn’t something she does with every class, or something she recommends for everyone. Though some of her lectures may contain too much information for her to retain in just one class period, she said it takes discipline to maintain a schedule of watching lectures a few hours after the fact.

“I do think it’s better to go than to not go, just because you’re more focused (and) you’re in that environment (at) a scheduled time,” Nedumaran said. “When you don’t go to lecture … you have to keep up with it. If you don’t watch it the same day, and then you don’t watch the next day’s lecture, it just piles up. So you have to be disciplined if you’re gonna watch a lecture at home.”

Hakem Al-Rustom, professor of anthropology and history, said he doesn’t record his lectures. Instead, his classes are structured for an in-person environment and primarily consist of traditional lectures and group discussions. He said he’s noticed that the students who attend lectures tend to get more out of the class from an academic standpoint. 

“I think the classroom is one of the last remaining utopias of free speech,” Al-Rustom said. “That’s why I don’t record (my lectures), because I don’t want students to feel apprehensive or think twice before they say something because in the back of their mind they’re being recorded. I think we should cherish the fact we still have such a utopia, and we should protect it.”

Though some students disagree on the benefits of large-scale, lecture-based classes, there appears to be more of a consensus on discussion and lab sections, which often meet outside of lecture times in smaller groups. Rentschler said he believes discussions are valuable because they allow students to apply the material learned in lectures and work alongside peers to facilitate learning.

“I feel like the discussions are especially valuable for me,” Rentschler said. “Because that’s where you get to apply those ideas from your class with your peers and the professor. It really drives the points home and (helps you) figure it out.”

Yousif-Ahmed expressed similar sentiments saying the ability to speak with instructors and other students in a smaller setting makes attending the discussion worth it.

“If we’re engaged and I can really ask questions and conversate with the professor and the students, and we’re really making progress, then (attending discussions) is worth it,” Yousif-Ahmed said. “But the lectures, I can just watch (those) on a video.”

Bethany Hughes, professor of American culture, said she understands why students may prefer video lectures to in-person ones and added that she believes there are parts of the learning experience that cannot be replicated in an asynchronous and virtual format. Specifically, she said application-based assignments, discussions and experiments are only effective in the physical classroom. 

“I approach lectures as a space … to model and facilitate development of the skills needed to think deeply about whatever was in the assigned reading,” Hughes said. “If my students don’t come because they’ve already done the reading, they are missing out on the most important part of my classes: how to effectively make connections and use the new things they are learning.”

Hughes encouraged students to look at the issue from a professor’s point of view. She said she relies on in class participation to figure out what concepts students are struggling with the most. When students don’t come to class, she said, it is much harder for her to tailor her lectures to their specific needs.

“I regularly give formative assessments, and these assessments reveal that sometimes students misunderstand assigned readings, or do not effectively apply the analytical skills they have, and various other things that show me where I should focus my instructional attention,” Hughes said, “So I modify what I do in lectures to address the areas I see as needing more development in students.”


Daily Staff Reporter Joshua Nicholson can be reached at joshuni@umich.edu.