Let’s use attendance points to our benefit

Kimberlyn Bailey '15, Opinion Editor

When I hear a professor announce that course credit is given for attendance, I have always felt ambivalent. Since I go to class anyways, one side of me thinks, “Woohoo! Free points!” At the same time, the other side of me rolls her eyes, annoyed with the suspicion that the professor thinks of us as children who need to be bribed.

But maybe the issue is more complicated than that. What, really, are the pros and cons of attendance points? Let’s consider some answers.

The strongest argument made in support of attendance points is that they serve as an incentive to go to class. What’s especially great about this is that the benefits apply to both those that tend to go to class regardless and those who don’t.

For those that are prone to skip class, attendance points might get them into their seats, and once there, they might end up learning something. For those that generally go to class, attendance points might be what pulls them in when life hits them with a bad day and fogs up their better judgment.

One downside is that they send the wrong message to students. Let’s face it. Attendance points incentivize nothing more than warming chairs in a classroom. When attendance is graded, we get the message that as long as we’re physically present, then we’re doing our jobs in class, even though the whole point of going to class is actually to learn. I’ve also wondered, “do professors think that we need to be bribed because their class isn’t otherwise worth attending, or do they think that their classes are valuable, but we’re too stupid to realize it?”

If professors don’t make their classes valuable enough for us to show up, they shouldn’t punish self-learners for not wasting time. Personally, I’ve had one too many professors dock points from my grade when I don’t show up to watch them read out the notes they already posted online.

Taken together, we can say attendance points are both good and bad. Wouldn’t it be great, then, if there were a policy that could reap the benefits while avoiding the downsides? I think just this sort of policy is possible: let’s give credit for attendance, but only for the first few weeks.

I think this plan makes sense. Let’s admit that we’re not always smart enough to figure out which classes are valuable to attend. We need to sit through a few weeks before it becomes clear. In those weeks, attendance points would provide the incentive to show up long enough to gauge whether our time is best spent in class, or off learning on our own.

The most important advantage of my proposal is that it would treat us students like the adults that we are. When we want to master a subject, we have more choices than ever before. We can download lecture outlines, watch free videos of professors from MIT, Yale and Berkeley teaching the same material, get help from the Khan Academy or just read the textbook.

I go to class because I learn more in those hours than if I tried to teach myself. I don’t think I’m unusual in this. If our professors had the courage to abandon attendance grades after the start of the semester, I don’t think we would all start missing class. What would change is that professors would know that they’re helping us succeed, and we would know that they see us as adults whose judgment can be trusted.

Ultimately, our grades should be based on our mastery of the material, not where we acquired it.