Back flip doesn’t help students who miss class

In my Theoretical Mechanics course the other day we were talking about noninertial forces (like centrifugal and coriolis forces) on the surface of the earth. We did all kinds of examples related to weather, cannons, and cars driving. However, we didn’t finish any of them. Instead I did my usual back flip trick and said that I’d be happy to finish the details in a video after class.

However, at the end of class, the students made it clear that they didn’t want me to finish any of them. They each had a different example they had in mind that they were intrigued by and they wanted to see if they could finish it to submit as an assessment of the day’s standard (“I can do an interesting problem involving noninertial forces on the earth”). So instead we all decided that I should do a totally different example and leave all the rest unfinished.

I really like how they’re taking ownership of the material, and how they’re being honest with me and with each other about what they understand and what they’re willing to work at to see where it goes. I say each other because they sometimes argue about whether it would be worth it for me to fill in the blanks. Usually the people asking for me to do it are saying something like “… but I’m confused about where that comes from …” or “… I don’t even know what the first step should be …” or similar sentiments. So I like how it makes the videos I do meaningful to the students. I’m no longer guessing what they’ll struggle with and providing vids ahead of time. Now I wait to see what they struggle with in class (when they first are hearing about the concepts) and we work together to make the (now pretty short) list of screencasts that I should go make.

So, to be clear, I’m pretty happy with all of that. However, it hit me the other day that students who miss class are missing out on more than they used to when I did a regular flipped format. In the old days, I could say “don’t worry, just watch the vids and work some practice problems” because my scasts usually covered what I thought were the missing or mysterious steps from the book. But now the vids are very personal to the students who were in class that day. I personalize them by saying things like “as xxxxx said in class, this is where it gets weird” or “remember, what yyyyy suggested is another way to do it, but it takes longer.” What do the students get out of that if they’re not there in the first place?

I thought of all this as I got an email from a student apologizing for missing class. I don’t feel like suggesting that he watch the vids is going to be overly useful, but they and the book are all there are. Of course he can come to my office to get caught up, but that’s still a far cry from the inquiry atmosphere that I’m trying to build in class.

Anyways, I just wanted to put this out there to see what you guys think. Here’s some starters for you:

  • I’m in this class and I hate it when I miss class for just this reason. I like that class is super useful.
  • I’m in this class and I hate it when I miss class for just this reason. Could you please just do a normal flipped class?
  • Why do you sometimes write vids, sometimes scasts, and sometimes videos?
  • If you personalize the vids, does that mean that you do a whole new set of scasts every time you teach the course? (yes)
  • Of course you must have an arbitrary attendance policy to give the students all kinds of extra credit for showing up, right?
  • For me, if the students miss class, I figure it’s their own fault and I lie about what went on. You should do that too.
  • For me, if the students miss class, I take it as a personal failure and I vow to entertain them better so they’ll show up more. You should do that too.
  • If you taught at 8 o’clock you’d have all kinds of problems with this. (Actually I teach at 8 all the time and I rarely have any skips)

About Andy Rundquist

Professor of physics at Hamline University in St. Paul, MN
This entry was posted in sbar, sbg, syllabus creation. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Back flip doesn’t help students who miss class

  1. jg says:

    It’s a double-edged sword – I want to make class time meaningful, but that means that it’s a big hit to those who are absent. Don’t know any other way to do it, though.

    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      For unavoidable misses, I think I’m willing to put in the work necessary to make sure the students don’t get left behind. For skips, I’m not really inclined to help out as much. I suppose if I did go the extra mile for skips, I could get a better bond with the students who would then want to come to class more. Or, I suppose, I could just be taken advantage of.

  2. A basic video of class (i.e. set up the camera at the beginning, don’t worry about moving it during class) isn’t great, but it might be way better than nothing here.

    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      I think the response to this sort of idea is really interesting. People seem to be afraid that then no one would come to class. But surely students would see a difference between participating and watching.

      • Rob Ryan says:

        I’m employed full-time as President of a mid-size company while enrolled in a M.Sc. program in Applied Mathematics at the University of Washington, living in Southern California. The method is video of the lectures, Skype, GoToMeeting, or what have you for office hours, vetted proctor for midterms and finals. There are discussion boards, online study groups, etc. Nevertheless, there is a HUGE difference between watching videos, etc. and being in class. I’m grateful every single day that UW has made it possible for me to remotely pursue a (very) legitimate graduate degree in a technical field, but not being able to ask and answer questions, interact with classmates, etc. is a significant disadvantage. Your students would absolutely see a major difference between participating and watching.

  3. bretbenesh says:

    If every professor’s class carried no (natural) penalty for missing, then we would be in greater danger of being replaced by MOOCs.

    By making attending classes useful, you are helping keep your job—and mine. Thanks!

  4. ProfeJMarie (Janet Rundquist) says:

    If you’re going to vary your jargon between vids and scasts, then I think you should add “skivs” to complement “skips”. #BritTalkAlwaysSoundsCooler

  5. Pingback: In class versus screencast | SuperFly Physics

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