Skip to main content Skip to secondary navigation

Preparing for Student Absences

Main content start

Designing your course with the expectation that students might miss some class sessions for a wide variety of reasons can make it easier for students and instructors to navigate these situations. These strategies can be helpful in managing student absences.

Remind students to stay home if they are unwell

Talk to your students on the first day and remind students how important it is not to come to class if they are not feeling well. Explain how they can make up class work if they have to miss class due to illness or mental health concerns, referring to course policies in the syllabus. Reassure students that you are available to discuss options if they miss a significant number of class meetings. Respect student privacy by not requiring or disclosing information about their health, disability status, vaccination status, mental health, and so on.

Build flexibility into your course

The degree of flexibility will vary for each class, depending on the kinds of in-class activities and interactions you have planned. By establishing a shared expectation for the amount of flexibility within your course, you also make it easier for students to know when their absences or needs could make it challenging to complete the course successfully. This can help them determine when to seek additional support, such as requesting accommodation with the Office of Accessible Education (OAE) or requesting a leave of absence through Academic Advising.

Consider the following ideas for building flexibility into your course. We recommend establishing these expectations and a process for managing them clearly at the beginning of the course. This makes it easier to re-share the same information when students ask. 

Allow flexibility in attendance and participation

If your course grading policy includes attendance and participation, consider allowing students to miss a number of sessions without penalty. Another option might be to allow students to earn participation grades by completing an alternative activity.

Offer flexible assignments

Consider including some assignments and activities that do not require an in-person format and could be done in an online or remote format, if needed. Some examples are discussion forums, group tasks that can be done online, writing assignments, problem sets, virtual labs, or virtual visits from course guests. You might even offer alternate homework assignments to be completed in lieu of attending class in person. 

Adopt flexible grading policies

You might also adopt course policies such as dropping the lowest score from a set, allowing students to redo assignments, or allowing assignments to be turned in late under certain circumstances. 

Put essential materials on Canvas

Providing supplemental course content in an asynchronous format on the Canvas course site can be helpful. Your choices about what items to share can coordinate with the decisions about allowable absences and Zoom participation. For example, asynchronous materials might allow students to make up for missed in-class work and preclude the need for remote access up to a certain point. Consider some of the following ideas: 

  • Pre-record short instructional videos: Instructional videos can range from informal video messages to supplemental lecture presentations. Consider these strategies for pre-recording instructional videos.
  • Curate supplemental resources: such as additional readings, online videos, and so on. Post them on your Canvas course site.
  • Prepare asynchronous activities: such as discussion forums, practice quizzes, or supplemental writing assignments, that absent students could still take advantage of.
  • Leverage technology to record class sessions: While recording your class sessions is not required, it may be appropriate for your situation. Contact the Learning Technologies and Spaces team for a consultation. If you are in a large technology-enabled classroom, this can be easily achieved. Depending on your situation other solutions such as equipment loans may be suitable.

Find more information on designing and developing your Canvas course at GoCanvas.

Coordinate students to help each other 

You can also empower students to be proactive about continuing their learning through disruptions. Consider these strategies for helping students be independent and resilient learners.

  • Assign student note-takers: These students might rotate posting their class notes to Canvas. Stanford instructors who have done this recommend making this assignment a credited component of coursework, or recognizing the student in some other meaningful way.
  • Foster a learning community: Include activities that encourage students to learn about each other as individuals and to form study groups. Consider these additional strategies for fostering communities

Consider remote attendance carefully

Remind students of the flexibility that is built into your course design and point to the syllabus where this information is available. Refer them to the Office of Accessible Education (OAE) if they require disability-related academic accommodations beyond the flexibility already provided to all students in the course. If you would like to know more about hybrid instruction, please speak with your Dean’s Office, or department leadership, and see "What is a Hybrid course?" for more guidance.

Remote attendance should not broadly replace in-person attendance

Communicate to your students that courses are conducted in person and that remote attendance is only allowed to provide flexibility for students with extenuating circumstances. Remote attendance should not be a replacement for attending class in person. Consider strategies such as in-class learning activities and attendance policies to engage students and encourage attendance.

Consider the impacts on student engagement

For classes with discussion and frequent engagement, having some students on Zoom and others in person can require added planning, both in terms of technology implementation and pedagogic facilitation. See the Tech Support page for details about the various support units across campus that can assist you. 

Check web conferencing capabilities in your classroom

If you would like to use Zoom web conferencing, it is important to confirm that your assigned classroom has the appropriate technology. The Registrar’s Office will reach out to you with your classroom assignment, including information about the room setup and technology before the quarter begins. You can also check classroom capabilities through 25live. If your classroom does not have this capability, visit the Tech Support page to learn about your options.

If using web conferencing, manage student access

If your classroom supports Zoom web conferencing and you decide to use it, consider how you will manage student access. Keep in mind that you may need to be ready to have it available at any time and the impact on student engagement, as discussed above. Similar to allowable absences or dropped assignments, some instructors give students a certain number of no-questions-asked remote attendance days.