I love teaching online. I love the challenge of moving a student from, “I am really nervous about this class!” to “Thank you for your
HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
How to Handle Student Excuses
“My grandmother fell down on her patio and I had to go stay with her for a few days and she does not have internet or a computer and all of my research was in my dorm room …”
When students are unable to comply with some aspect of an academic task (e.g. due date, assignment length, quality of work), there is potential for them to communicate reasons as to why they were unable to complete the task to their instructor. At this point the students have a choice, in which case they can either provide legitimate reasons for not being able to complete or to submit their coursework, or they can communicate something which is a deliberate attempt to deceive the instructor. A student may communicate information designed to deceive or construct a fraudulent claim to an instructor in order to avoid the undesirable consequences (e.g. a bad grade that may hurt the student’s overall standing in a class) of not complying with the academic task. Roig and Caso (2005) found that the frequency of which providing fraudulent claims occurs in an academic environment is approximately equal to, if not greater than, more commonly identified forms of academic dishonesty such as cheating and plagiarism. Ferrari et al. (1998) indicated that fraudulent claim making was utilized by as many as 70% of American college students. However, this phenomenon has received limited empirical attention in recent time in comparison to other forms of academically dishonest behavior.
Hello. My car caught on fire last night after leaving homecoming game. I carry my laptop everywhere I go. I’m in the process of strapping
Student excuses—don’t you feel as though you’ve heard them all? “My Dad’s in the hospital.” “I’ve been sick with the flu.” “My computer hard drive crashed.” How often do students offer truthful excuses? “The assignment turned out to be way harder than I anticipated and I’ve simply run out of time.”
Adjudicating student excuses does take the wisdom of Solomon and more time and creativity than most teachers have. Some years back a faculty member wrote in this newsletter that when students reported they were absent from class or late with a paper because a grandparent had died, she sent a sympathy card to the family. Great idea but time-consuming to implement.
As new teachers very quickly learn, students will come up with all kinds of excuses for missing assignments and other work. Students will never say, “I missed the exam because I was out late last night—it was one dollar taps at the Silver Horse, you know how it goes.” As a result, teachers must have a policy for handling these situations, which invariably involves a decision on trust.
“Grandpa’s heart exploded, but he’s fine now,” one student reported the morning after missing a scheduled exam. “I caught dyslexia from another student last semester,” responded another when his teacher asked him about all the spelling mistakes in his paper. And then there was the pet rabbit that swallowed a needle on the day of the big group presentation. Excuses like these are so preposterous that they can’t help but make us laugh, but dealing with them is no laughing matter.
They’re a hassle. Depending on whether it means constructing a different exam, arranging a time and location to administer the exam, or grading after the fact, a makeup exam can consume a lot of extra time and effort. Unfortunately, such exams are pretty much a necessity. Most of our institutions require faculty to excuse students for certain events and activities such as serious illnesses, court appearances, military duty, and university-sponsored athletics.
Students and excuses seem to go hand in hand. Sometimes the excuses result from real events and personal problems that legitimately prevent a student from being in class, completing an assignment on time, or doing what some other policy or procedure may stipulate. Not having the wisdom of Solomon, most faculty struggle to fairly adjudicate between the real and unreal reasons offered for noncompliance.
Once I passed my 50th semester of introductory biology, I began to regret that my profession doesn’t have a real apprenticeship for teaching—why should every young professor facing his or her first big class…have to make the same mistakes I did and, perhaps more important, why should they not know that everybody…has the same problems?