Course & Classroom Management FAQs

How do I write a good clear description of the course and its rules to which I can refer students as problems arise?

How do I write a good clear description of the course and its rules to which I can refer students as problems arise?

The syllabus for your course is a contract between you and the students and it should spell out all of your expectations for the course. Information to put into the syllabus includes a description of the course, coordinator / instructor names and contact information, learning objectives, a grading scale, and a schedule.  A template and some model syllabi can be found on this website in the Forms section under the Forms and Policies link. It sometimes takes a couple of iterations of a course to discover common student questions and concerns that can be addressed in a well-written syllabus. Some instructors create a mini-assignment early in the course to give students incentive to read the syllabus. The syllabus should be submitted to Academic and Student Affairs (djt@umn.edu) and posted in your Moodle / Canvas course site. Students should be referred there for information whenever possible, to ensure consistency in how student concerns are handled in your course.

How do I get students to quiet down and otherwise stop distracting their classmates?

How do I get students to quiet down and otherwise stop distracting their classmates?

When students are in your class, you are the person in control of that classroom. If students are not on task and if their activities are distracting to classmates or disruptive to the class in general, it is perfectly okay to stop class and ask them to stop. Usually it is best to start with a kind of broad comment (“Okay, let’s quiet it down here, so everyone can hear”) and sometimes it helps to walk towards the offenders and to look their way so they know you’re aware that they are the source of the disruption. If it continues, more pointed statements may be made (“The group in the back row there, if you need to talk about things, please step outside the room so your classmates and I continue the class”). It is very rare for things to get worse than this. Oftentimes, other students also will step in and ask people to quiet down.

How do I get students off their computers if they’re doing inappropriate things in class (shopping, watching videos, etc)?

How do I get students off their computers if they’re doing inappropriate things in class (shopping, watching videos, etc)?

The first thing you need to do as an instructor is to decide if it bothers you that students are doing other things in your class. Some students do activities as a way of helping manage their stress and to help them focus – many of these are knitters. Even if you do not perceive that it is helping them focus, if whatever the student is doing is not distracting to you or to their classmates, it is their own money they’re wasting by not paying attention in class. If they are doing something distracting to students nearby (watching videos is particularly distracting), you may ask them to close that window and stop distracting their classmates. If you particularly want them to pay attention to something you’re saying or to participate in an activity, it is okay to ask the class to close down or put away their computers.  If you strongly feel that they should not have their computers open in your class, you should put that in the syllabus so it is understood that not having computers is one of the expectations for all students in your course or in that particular session (e.g., for a guest instructor).

How do I handle student requests for absences that are outside of recognized University policy?

How do I handle student requests for absences that are outside of recognized University policy?

The University attendance policy describes legitimate absences and the expectations for students and faculty around those absences. Students may ask to miss a course session or examination, or to hand in work late because of absences for other reasons. The College recognizes the value in some of these requests, for example to attend meetings or to give a scientific presentation. However, the course coordinator knows best the rationale behind decisions about course sessions, outside-of-class work, and examinations, and has the final say regarding whether or not students should be excused. Suggested wording is something like the following: “I understand that you wish to attend [  ]. However, missing these course sessions will prevent you from achieving some of the objectives of this course, including [  ], which you are expected to have accomplished before going on to other courses in the curriculum. For that reason, I cannot give this to you as an excused absence.” If the student tells you that they will choose to miss despite you not having granted an excused absence, they will lose any associated points. Course coordinators are not required to create make-up work for students who choose not to attend class or choose not to complete coursework. If you strongly feel that attendance at every class session is required for your course and desire to hold students responsible for that attendance, that must be in the syllabus.

How do I communicate to students that a decision is final?

How do I communicate to students that a decision is final?

Some faculty members have described difficulty in getting students to accept a final decision. This generally is not due to lack of clarity in communications or course expectations and instead is a personal communications preference. For example, if it states in the syllabus that students have to come to the instructor within 3 days after getting their scores back for review of examination questions to try to gain back points, some students will still try to argue for those points much later. Another example would be students asking for an excused absence and trying to argue repeatedly with a course coordinator who does not grant that absence as excused. Having a good syllabus very much helps ensure that these communications are succinct and clear. Students should be referred to the appropriate section of the syllabus and told that policies are in place to make sure everything is fair for all students in the course. If a student is very, very persistent, assistance should be sought from Drs. Molgaard, Malone or Root, or if the student feels that the College as a whole is being unfair to them, we will refer them to the University Office of Conflict Resolution.

What is the value of taking attendance and how can I do it in a fair and accurate manner?

What is the value of taking attendance and how can I do it in a fair and accurate manner?

Course coordinators and instructors should think hard about why they may or may not require attendance for some or all class sessions. If a course is primarily lecture-based, some students can better access and review the material through lecture capture.  This is a trend not only at the UMN but across the country. As an instructor, it can feel like a waste of time to give a lecture with few students in the room but it is amazing how many students watch those captured lectures and do so repeatedly. Our collegiate policy does not require attendance; if a course coordinator wishes to require attendance that must be stated in the syllabus. All courses in the main lecture halls (125 and 135 AS/VM and 215 Pomeroy) are captured on MediaSite and made available to the students during the presentation and for the remainder of the course. Course coordinators can request that lectures not be captured ahead of time (see Technology tab on this site) but should not turn off lecture capture during a given session. Instructors may choose to require attendance because of activities that will take place within the course session, including discussions, small group work, and clicker questions. University policy requires that instructors provide opportunities to make up work missed doe to legitimate absence.  Attendance can be taken using clickers or students can sign in on hard copy sheets available in the classroom. It may be that professional students should attend required sessions without our having to verify their attendance, but some students do fail to attend for a variety of reasons, and documentation of their presence or absence is valuable in determining their final grade and possible remediation if they are failing the course.

How do I handle requests for last minute changes in the schedule from students?

How do I handle requests for last minute changes in the schedule from students?

The schedule for the veterinary students in the first three years of the curriculum is very dense and there is very little room for movement of course sessions or assignments / assessments. Faculty members must be very cautious when talking to students about moving things as significant effort is put into ensuring students are not overwhelmed with course and out-of-class activities in any given week. Individual students should not approach instructors with these kinds of requests; requests should come through the class reps and should be discussed with Dr. Erin Malone and Joe Maple to determine feasibility before any decisions are made.

When and how should I ask for documentation for disabilities or absences?

When and how should I ask for documentation for disabilities or absences?

Students with a diagnosed disability that may impair their learning must work with the University Disability Resource Center for verification of the disability and creation of reasonable accommodations. The student is required to present every course coordinator with a copy of their accommodation letter at the beginning of each course and to discuss with the course coordinator the ramifications of those accommodations in that specific course, if any.  Regarding absences, a new policy enacted by the University requests that instructors no longer ask for documentation of single-day medical absences. However, the University attendance and make-up work policy does clarify that instructors and course coordinators do have the right to ask for documentation for excused or unexcused absences, especially if there is a concern that student absences may preclude their ability to complete the course in a satisfactory manner. Some students are apprehensive about providing an instructor with documentation of a personal reason for missing class; if they prefer, they can provide that documentation to personnel in Academic and Student Affairs who will then communicate with the instructor to verify the documentation.

If a student misses class participation points, do I have to find a way for them to make up those points?

If a student misses class participation points, do I have to find a way for them to make up those points?

If the student’s absence is legitimate according to University policy, the instructor is required to create a mechanism for that student to achieve those participation points. If the absence is unexcused, the instructor is not required to provide that opportunity.

How do I develop make-up work if a student misses a course meeting or examination?

How do I develop make-up work if a student misses a course meeting or examination?

Instructors are not required to create make-up work for unexcused absences; in other words, if the student chooses to forego completing some aspect of the coursework, it is not the course coordinator’s responsibility to provide new opportunities for them. Similarly, if a student has missed so much of the course that creation of make-up work would be unreasonable, the course coordinator may not be required to re-create enough to permit the student to pass the course and should contact Academic and Student Affairs to discuss alternatives. Course coordinators are not required to create make-up assignments that exactly mimic course activities that would be difficult to re-create such as small group work and laboratories. Course coordinators are required to create make-up work opportunities for legitimate absences as defined by University policy and may create make-up assignments for excused absences outside of the policy that are granted by the instructor or coordinator. The best starting point for identification of appropriate make-up work is evaluation of learning objectives for that course session. Make-up work can be in many forms, including written assignments, face-to-face discussion with the instructor, or demonstration of technical competencies. Make-up examinations may be the same as the primary examination or may use different examination questions and be in a different format, at the course coordinator’s discretion.

Can I give extra credit points or is that simply rewarding students for not doing the original work in the course?

Can I give extra credit points or is that simply rewarding students for not doing the original work in the course?

Relatively few of the courses in the veterinary curriculum at Minnesota provide an opportunity for extra credit questions. Instructors may choose to offer extra credit points to drive desired student behavior (for example, attendance), to permit students to explore topics of interest in greater detail, to increase student motivation by giving them some control over work in the course, or to give struggling students an opportunity to remediate within the course. Best practices for use of extra credit are the following:

  • All opportunities must be made available to all students, not just to those struggling in the course or to those who ask the instructor for the opportunity. Students absent for reasons considered legitimate by University policy must also have an opportunity to earn these points.
  • Students should be required to demonstrate achievement of core learning objectives before being given extra-credit opportunities.
  • Extra-credit points should not be such a large percentage of total points in the course that they alone can significantly increase the student’s grade or change a grade from an F (failing) to a D (passing).
  • Extra credit should complement the curriculum and provide a learning opportunity specific to that course or discipline.

Where is the line between responsibilities of the course coordinator and Academic and Student Affairs?

Where is the line between responsibilities of the course coordinator and Academic and Student Affairs?

The responsibilities of course coordinators and very well described on the Course Coordination tab on this website. The course coordinator has the primary authority for determining how their class will be taught, including rules for attendance, make-up work, etc. All course coordinators are required to function within University policies for attendance and make-up work. The CVM Education Support group (cvmces@umn.edu) is always available to provide assistance with any aspect of teaching, including instructional design; writing learning objectives, syllabi, and examination questions; and instructional technology. If an instructor is having specific problems with a student or if a student is having specific problems with an instructor, assistance should be sought from Drs. Molgaard, Malone or Root, or if the student feels that the College as a whole is being unfair to them, assistance can be sought from the University Office of Conflict Resolution.