We are trying to gather some information about policies for excused absences for students especially in introductory laboratories. We had students this semester that missed half the labs but since they were all excused still made them up. One issue we are findings is that since most of the work is group which results in frustration between members and equal contribution. Some of our group work will last four to six weeks so students might only be missing part of it.
What is your policy for excused absences? Do you only allow so many excused absences? Do you have a policy about when group work becomes individual work due to excused absences?
Our Biology department policy (which was established long before my arrival), is that students are allowed a maximum of 2 absences in the majors' labs. If students miss more than two labs for any reason (we do not parse excused vs. unexcused), then they have to withdraw from the course. This has worked well because we have many student commuters who encounter traffic/car issues. . I like that I don't have to evaluate whether a reason is legitimate to be 'excused.' We have not generally seen issues with students skipping two labs 'just because they can' because they miss participation and lab notebook points if they are absent, in addition to missing the learning experience.
My department is planning to have a faculty dialogue at our next workshop to review system policy and discuss the different ways faculty approach absences and make up work.
We know there is a huge spectrum of how individual faculty interpret the excused absence policy: some only excuse absences for things explicitly spelled out in the university system policy, some have a system of tokens for absences and do not differentiate between excused/unexcused. The most common practice I have seen for lab courses is a maximum of two unexcused labs results in failure of the course. Our curriculum is highly collaborative and project based, so we encounter many of the same difficulties you have elaborated. We also do not generally provide make up labs in which students replicate the actual laboratory activities, because it is neigh impossible to replicate what the student learning experience would have been had they been present to carry out the laboratory activities as planned in their lab team. Clearly not ideal for student learning. Students are, however, able to complete the associated practice problems, writing, or other individual-based components of the labs for their assessment, if such components were a part of the original lab.
For absences in general (not lab specific) I have elaborated a set of guidelines on my syllabus to help students and co-instructors understand my practices:
8. Attendance Requirements
Students are expected to attend all class and laboratory meeting times for the section(s) in which they are enrolled. It is not permissible for a student to attend a lecture or laboratory section in which that student is not registered, except in the case of advance explicit instructor permission under appropriate circumstances.
In the case of excused absences, students should consult with the instructors prior to the planned absence.
10. Policy for making up missed exams and grading late work
Students are expected to attend all class and laboratory sections in which they are enrolled. Excused absences and make up work should be arranged with the instructors prior to any absence.
Students will not be penalized for absence during the semester due to unavoidable or legitimate circumstances (refer to University Policy “Makeup Work for Legitimate Absences” available at http://policy.umn.edu/Policies/Education/Education/MAKEUPWORK.html for full details.) See p. 11-15 of this document for more information on Excused Absence considerations in this course.
Late work or makeup work for unexcused absences will generally not be accepted, and no make up exams for unexcused absences will be given.
The only exception to this is as follows:
Each student may request to submit up to one late graded assignment per semester, if and only if:
The request for late submission is provided in writing via email to ALL instructors in the course
The request and submission of the late grade requirement occur within one week of the originally specified deadline for the grade requirement.
Failure to comply with any of the above specifications will result in non-acceptance of a late grade requirement submission. This exception applies to both lecture and lab combined, not separately (i.e. a student may submit one late grade requirement for BIOL2311 lecture and lab, not one for both). This exception does NOT apply to exams missed due to unexcused absences.
Makeup Work for Legitimate Absences
Students will not be penalized for absence during the semester due to unavoidable or legitimate circumstances. Such circumstances include verified illness, participation in intercollegiate athletic events, subpoenas, jury duty, military service, bereavement, and religious observances. Such circumstances do not include voting in local, state, or national elections. For complete information, please see: http://policy.umn.edu/Policies/Education/Education/MAKEUPWORK.html
Instructors may determine that other circumstances not specifically enumerated in the policy are consistent with the definition of “legitimate and unavoidable”. Such circumstances that may be considered excused or have previously been considered excused are:
Transportation limitations including inclement weather, mechanical failure (e.g. gas tank leak, not starting due to cold weather, unidentified problems) collisions, or going off the road
Certain significant or unique life events (weddings, births, graduation, etc) involving an immediate family member The definition of an immediate family member would include "a person's parents, spouses, siblings and children. Immediate family can contain others connected by birth, adoption, marriage, civil partnership, or cohabitation, such as grandparents, grandchildren, siblings-in-law, half-siblings, adopted children and step-parents/step-children, and cohabiting partners."
Professional development opportunities such as attendance or presentation at a professional conference
Professional or university meetings for which the student has an official responsibility (such as an elected representative of the class/campus/organization)
Significant personal injury
The granting or denial of an excused absence may be related to the course content being presented that day and the ability of the individual to make up content on their own (either because of the importance of participation to understand the content or the academic ability of the student).
No one is authorized to excuse a student from class except the faculty of record for the course. Faculty may make reasonable exceptions to their stated attendance policies as appropriate for the specific class or student circumstance.
Such circumstances that would not be considered legitimate and unavoidable would be:
Conflicts with employment
Participation in student organization activities or events
Participation in hunting or fishing events (e.g. opening weekend, tournament)
Oversleeping/alarm didn’t go off
High school events (band concert, student organization)
non-emergency (scheduled) appointments with health providers (e.g. well-checks, immunizations, dental appointments, etc.)
Makeup Work for Legitimate Absences FAQ
What is appropriate “verification for absences”?
The instructor "has the right to request verification of absences." That verification can take many different forms (e.g., accident report, note from a doctor, dentist, or other health care provider, jury service notice, obituary notice). The instructor does not have to request verification of absence.
How does this policy address students who participate in team events that are not intercollegiate athletic events?
Teams that wish to be officially excused from class can seek permission from the Provost. Students who have not been officially excused from class must get permission, in advance, from the instructor to miss class and make up the work. Instructors are not compelled to accommodate students who miss class for participation in athletic events or other university- sponsored events that are not intercollegiate events.
How does this policy address students participating in educational experiences, such as a student government conference, where the student is representing the University of Minnesota?
Under these circumstances, the instructor has the discretion about whether to allow a student to miss a class session and to make arrangements for any makeup work. The instructor is permitted to do so, but is not obligated to do so.
What if course requirements that have an impact on the course grade (such as participation in classroom discussions) cannot be made up?
If a student has a legitimate absence and has missed a component of the course (e.g., small group discussion, in-class participation) that cannot be made up in exactly the same manner, the instructor may substitute another activity or assignment for the missed components. For example, some instructors have substituted participation in a blog or on-line discussion for class participation, or assigned a reflective essay. It would be up to the instructor to determine an appropriate substitution, based upon the nature of the course. If no substitution can be devised for a student who has a legitimate absence, the missing component(s) cannot be factored into determining that student's final grade for the course.
Can the format of a makeup exam be different than that of the regular exam (e.g., open-ended vs. closed-ended questions)?
Yes. The structure of makeup exams may differ from the format of the regularly scheduled exam, and is at the instructor's discretion. The instructor has flexibility with the nature of makeup exams. The key point is that an instructor has provided the opportunity for makeup work due to legitimate excuses.
Can a makeup assignment be different than the original assignment?
Yes. The course instructor may determine that the nature of the makeup assignment will differ from the original assignment. In some cases, it would not be possible for a student to complete the original assignment (e.g., to review a theatre production which the student was unable to attend), and the instructor may determine an acceptable substitute assignment. The key point is that the instructor has provided an opportunity for makeup work due to legitimate excuses.
How many excused absences is too many for one course?
This is at the instructor's discretion. Instructors are most knowledgeable about the needs of the course and how much time away is too much for a student to be able to complete the course successfully. Instructors are not obligated to accommodate a student who has missed so much of a course that making arrangements for makeup work would not be reasonable.
The policy mentions "bereavement." For what relationships would bereavement apply in this policy?
This is also at the instructor's discretion. The death of a close family member is usually included in the absences related to bereavement circumstances. In addition, there may be other circumstances when a student is affected by the death of a person who was close to the student, and was not a relative (for example, the death of a roommate or friend). The student is responsible for explaining the circumstances and requesting to be able to make up the work.
Is attending wedding, particularly an out-of-town wedding, considered as an excused absence?
Attending a wedding is not in itself an automatically excused absence. Being part of a wedding party, or you yourself getting married, is not automatically an excused absence. The consideration of wedding attendance as a legitimate absence for which makeup work would be accommodated is at the instructor’s discretion.
What options does a student have if the student believes he or she has been wrongly denied the opportunity to make up work due to disagreement with the instructor about the legitimacy or unavoidability of an absence?
The student can seek advice from his or her academic adviser about options. As one option, students may bring their concerns to the appropriate department head or director of undergraduate studies. Students may also choose to consult with the Student Conflict Resolution Center (SCRC) for advice and guidance. The SCRC assists students with resolving problems, and an ombudsperson in the SCRC can provide confidential guidance about possible options.
Is there an official list of religious observance related to legitimate absences?
For questions about religious observances in general, as well as questions related to religious observances around bereavement or weddings or other events, the Office for Equity and Diversity can provide helpful guidance.
Specifically re: how many excused absences is too many, when it significantly changes the learning experience:
our system policy (the safest fall back) specifically addresses this thus:
So, my recommendation would be to go to your system policy and work from there. If your policy includes language similar to the example above, you can reasonably make the case that the student has missed a substantial portion of the class such that make up work is not reasonable (and your chair would back you up if a student appealed), then set your number of labs (based on sound rationale re: student learning - both content and skills, including team/project-based goals) and stick to it.