One might assume more students on campus would mean more students would attend in-person classes. But that just has not been the case. For the University of Michigan, students flocked to campus after over a year of virtual learning during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic with mixed reactions to the transition to in-person learning.
When it comes to classroom and zoom attendance, different colleges at the University have varied the leniency of their policies over the past few years due to the pandemic. Multiple instructors told The Michigan Daily they have been experimenting with new class attendance policies during the pandemic — and the transition back — to maximize the benefits of in-person teaching and minimize COVID-19 cases.
According to an email from Kim Broekhuizen, Associate Director of U-M Public Affairs, there has not been a blanket University-level attendance policy to address COVID-19-related absences. Instead, the University has asked instructors to be accommodating when students cannot attend class due to illnesses, including COVID-19.
In an effort to keep classes in-person this semester, despite the rise of Omicron cases in Jan. 2022, the University held booster vaccine clinics, made testing accessible across campus through the Community Sampling and Tracking Program (CSTP) and offered free N95 masks
If students test positive for COVID-19 and have to miss class, they can submit their positive result online, so the University has a record and can trace contacts. The University has also clarified other instructions for students who test positive, including asking students to remain in their dorm or rooms and following the isolation process after testing positive.
In the classroom, many instructors told The Daily they are working to accommodate students with hybrid options or temporarily converting class to online instruction. In an email to The Daily, Broekhuizen said the University has been open to accommodations due to concerns caused by the ongoing pandemic.
“Accommodation for illness can include activating video or Zoom in equipped classrooms so that students who are out sick can see and hear the class,” Broekhuizen wrote. “Provost Susan M. Collins and I also recognize that in some cases, absences of instructors or large numbers of students due to illness and quarantine and isolation may temporarily warrant remote teaching.”
In the midst of uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, Broekhuizen also said the University gave individual instructors the ability to decide their attendance policies.
“There is no University limit to the number of virtual classes, but this is an in-person semester with the majority of classes being residential, while utilizing technology and some remote experiences… to remain flexible,” Broekhuizen wrote.
Ryan Hendrickson, course coordinator for first-year French courses at U-M, said his team chose to relax attendance policies during the Fall 2021 semester before returning to a less lenient policy. Hendrickson said his classes are held four times a week, with two days online and two in person each week. Instead of allowing for 16 penalty-free absences, Hendrickson now only permits eight such absences.
“I think the majority of us would like to be fully in person,” Hendrickson said. “But I think there were logistical errors or logistical difficulties that just made that not possible with maintaining any sort of distance in the classroom and whatnot. So we’re still on that hybrid schedule”
Hendrickson said instructors are responsible for creating the attendance policy in his department because the University has been flexible with departments in terms of attendance requirements and mode of instruction.
“I know there were a few cases last semester of lecturers and GSIs petitioning to teach fully remote, and I had one GSI teaching a section of my course fully remote. And I believe that’s still an option this semester,” Hendrickson said. “Otherwise, we do have the flexibility of deciding if it makes the most sense to keep our course going, either because we’re aware that over half the class is going to be out because they’re quarantined, or waiting on the tests or if we, ourselves, are quarantined or waiting on a test or whatever. But if we’re still well enough to teach, then we can shift one of those in-person days online.”
Hendrickson said he prefers to teach in-person classes and felt safe teaching in a classroom despite the pandemic.
“The majority of students seem to be very responsible. I always tell my students that communication is key,” Hendrickson said. “So if you’re missing (class) because you are quarantining, waiting on a test, et cetera, let me know. We can keep you up with the material.”
Cindee Giffen is a lecturer in the Comprehensive Studies Program and teaches Introductory Biology. She said her courses have incentives for students to come to class and there is an expectation that students are always attending class.
“In the fall of 2020, (attendance) was totally flexible,” Giffen said. “You could come asynchronously or (synchronously)… it’s really easy to get into a bad habit or not go do something that you should do because you don’t have to do it. This past semester, because I was totally back in person for all classes, I have what I think is a pretty reasonable or flexible attendance policy, but it still incentivizes attendance, which I think is helpful.”
Giffen, like other lecturers, has been using iClicker to take short quizzes to boost a student’s attendance grade. In addition, some teachers have been holding classes in a hybrid format to accommodate immunocompromised instructors.
“I think there were a couple of people who were teaching partially online and partially in person,” Giffen said. “And I think a couple of people who are older or immunocompromised are teaching two days a week in-person and two days a week online, or something like that … I do know that or at least have heard that, for some cases where there was a lot of medical documentation people were allowed to teach fully online, but I don’t think that happened a lot.”
LSA junior Rachel Luo said she prefers attendance policies that require her to come into the classroom for better learning and to meet people in her classes.
“I definitely prefer when (lecturers) say to come in person because I think it helps me to be more engaged; I find for the classes that have optional attendance, it’s difficult to get there if I really don’t want to,” Luo said. “But I think having other people in the class, and knowing they’ll show up, definitely helps. Because the lack of a strict attendance policy definitely doesn’t motivate me to go to class.”
LSA junior Vidya Silai said she learns better in-person, but she enjoys the flexibility of classes that do not require students to attend class in-person.
“I like the option of flexibility, but I personally learned more from going in person,” Silai said. “I think by going in person, you obviously get to meet people and stuff like that. To an extent if you can attend in person, obviously barring that you’re not sick, I think you should be able to (go in person), just because it fosters that community.”
Daily Staff Reporter Rachel Mintz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.