GENERAL COURSE POLICIES
SURVIVAL TIPS FOR FIRST YEAR COLLEGE STUDENTS
You're bound to miss a class. And likely many more than one. Regardless of how solid a student you are, how diligent, how detail-oriented, or how hardworking, you are bound to miss a class at some point in your academic career. There are many reasons for missing classes, ranging from illness, emergencies, and bereavement, to hangovers and a desire to sleep in. Why you miss a class should matter to you. If it was for irresponsible reasons, your absence signals that you need to take a closer look at your obligations and priorities. But regardless of the reasons, the first thing to remember is that you are responsible for missed work and for determining what you missed. This is especially true when assignments or exams are due when you are absent.
Here are some general guidelines to help first-year college students navigate the thorny issue of absences (whether excused or not):
1. It is not necessary to contact your professor to let her or him know you might miss a single class. Professors generally trust your ability to manage your own time along with your ability to make up missed work if you miss a class. However, if you miss a class when a compulsory assignment is due (e.g., exam, paper, presentation, etc.), requesting an extension is rarely permissible. The reason for this is simple: making an exception for you, or anybody else, gives the mistaken impression that deadlines are arbitrary and penalizes those who have met the deadline (technically, everyone who turned in the required assignment on time would have had less time to complete the assignment than you did if you were granted an extension). Short of the sudden onset of illness, the death of someone close, or a similar emergency, treat deadlines as an opportunity to plan far enough ahead to demonstrate your own respect for your time, and that of others.
2. If you miss class or information about what happened in class turn to your classmates and ask that they share their notes. Be sure to read more than one student's notes because students have different perspectives and might miss some points. Read notes from several students and you're more likely to get a more complete picture of what happened in class. Regardless of why you miss a class, or whether it's an excused absence or not, you are not exempted from the work listed on the syllabus or any related work required to meet the course objectives during your absence.
3. Do not ask the professor to "go over what I missed." The professor lectured and discussed the material in class already; it is your responsibility to determine what you missed. Instead, demonstrate that you take intellectual work seriously and respect your time, and everyone else's in the class, by reading the course material, handouts, or anything else that you might have missed after contacting and obtaining missed work from classmates. If anything remains unclear, or you still need help, contact your professor and make an appointment to see her or him during office hours. This is a more productive use of your (and the professor's) time. It also demonstrates initiative.
4. Finally, be aware of attendance, late work, and make-up policies. Did you read the syllabus? All this information is generally listed in your course syllabus. In short, always read the syllabus to ensure that you don't miss class when deadlines for work have been established or, if you have to miss class, that you are not caught off guard when assignments are due.
II. Homework Listed on the Syllabus
College level work presumes a high level of independence. One of the hardest things to navigate in college is how to structure your time when no one is looking over your shoulder. If, for example, you have a reading assignment listed on your syllabus for any given day, it is not enough to simply read it.
What follows are some basic expectations about readings and assignments at the college level.
At the very least you are expected to:
1. outline the reading for greater comprehension and retention,
2. look up words, concepts or phrases that are unfamiliar to you,
3. make connections between readings and link generative ideas and related concepts,
4. be prepared to summarize, in your own words, any readings or assignments that are due for that day while making connections with previous readings, assignments and lectures.
The following links below will give you a sense of how a typical class lecture is structured at top-tier universities. Though the examples below are lecture-style classes (and not the small seminar-style courses we are familiar with at the University of Richmond) they will give you a sense of both the level and intensity of intellectual participation required on the part of both the professor and the learners to make the engagement meaningful. I include these because of my personal interest in literary studies but you will find many more examples in other fields of study if you click on any of the links below.
As you "visit" and virtually "sit-in" on these two courses, imagine what the students likely had to read and process before appreciating and taking advantage of the few precious classroom hours of required attendance for the course. The first linked course is titled "American Puritanism"; a survey literature course by Prof. Cyrus Pattell at New York University. The second is titled "The American Novel Since 1945"; a survey literature course by Prof. Amy Hungerford at Yale University.
III. Class Participation
One of the advantages of a liberal arts education is the individualized attention your ideas receive in the classroom. Indeed, many university students don't have the privilege of such individualized attention; especially at larger institutions. How can you make the most of this? Most humanities courses, and especially courses in literary studies, require active in-class participation in order to meet course objectives (e.g., clarity of expression, evidence of sustained intellectual rigor, ability to creatively connect diverse discourses, etc.). If your class meets once or twice a week you are expected to be prepared to comment on all assigned materials and readings. If a class meets three times a week or more, students are expected to comment on all assigned materials and readings on at least two out of the three meetings. Here are some general guidelines for class participation, grading, and the general attributes of class participation. You should, of course, always refer to your syllabi for specific information on class participation and related requirements.
A Student comments in class on assigned materials and readings during every class meeting. Student always makes connections between and among various readings and assignments. Student comes prepared with written comments or questions and helps motivate class discussions.
B Student comments in class on assigned materials and readings during most class meetings. Student comes prepared with written comments or questions. Student makes connections between and among readings.
C Student often comments in class on assigned materials and readings. Student sometimes comes prepared with written comments or questions.
D Student rarely comments in class on assigned materials and readings. Comments are limited and center on content (e.g., “What does this word mean?,” "What is a sonnet?," etc.) rather than demonstrating the initiative to do preliminary work required to complete the assigned readings for class discussions. Student often appears unprepared when called upon to comment.
F Student does not comment or participate in class. There is no evidence that student has completed the assigned materials and readings.
Commenting in class on assigned materials and readings usually involves writing short summaries in your own words about the texts and assignments in question. From these summaries you should be able to see emerging patterns and connections between readings and assignments. As these broader patterns and connections emerge, you will be able to formulate relevant comments and questions.
Another advantage of the liberal arts setting in that your professor is there to guide you to better refine your reading, your writing and your intellectual development. Always take advantage of office hours in order to reach and meet the course goals as well as your own broader development as an intellectual.
IV. How Do I Study the Material Listed on the Syllabus
The basic guidelines for studying can be found here. The more you follow the simple steps listed, the faster you will process information, retain it, and do well in the course.
V. E-mail or Office Hours?
Wellesley College offers some useful guidelines about e-mail protocol that helps you to be a more effective communicator. Wellesley's e-mail policy will help guide you beyond the communication that you are used to in high school to a greater level of efficiency and professionalism: How to e-mail your professor.
VI. Additional Resources
Princeton University's McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning has compiled one of the most useful online sites related to teaching and learning that you're likely to encounter. The McGraw Center site offers an array of resources ranging from exam preparation strategies to problem solving. Take advantage of it!