It is clear that many students don’t go to class.
And that feels quite oxymoronic: after all, aren’t we students because we go to class? One of the primary complaints of the 2020-2021 school year was online instruction and its accompanying Zoom fatigue, with many calling for a return to the traditional in-person instruction of the pre-Covid era. Yet, despite the return of in-person courses, some students still don’t attend their classes. What does that say about the value of our Duke education, and what are Duke students really paying for?
Complaints about the lack of classroom attendance seem to overlook the fact that not all classes are created equal. A 101-level lecture may be far less enriching than a 200- or 300-level seminar with mandatory attendance and lively discussions. Students enrolled in the former courses may find their time better spent watching the lecture online at 2x speed or pausing and rewinding to review material they didn’t understand. And because these are introductory courses, the material is not necessarily specialized knowledge – students may be able to learn just as well by reading a textbook. In these cases, the benefits of recorded lectures may outweigh the attendance of an enormous in-person class, where students may not experience enough quality interactions with the instructor or their peers.
In addition, some courses feature a flipped classroom experience, where students complete readings or watch lectures on their own and practice solving problems in class. Such courses may be beneficial for some while superfluous to others, depending on their learning style and familiarity with the topic.
When thinking about the Duke experience, specifically the value of our tuition, in-class instruction is only a subset of the qualities that make Duke, Duke.
One unique aspect of Duke is the abundance of quality connections that students can make. Duke is special because some of the most passionate, knowledgeable and intellectual students in the country are centralized on this campus and have so much to offer. Every interaction can be the beginning of an invaluable connection unattainable anywhere else. These connections are so valuable that some students even pay for them through dues to pre-professional organizations or identity-driven Greek organizations. Duke also emphasizes its massive and versatile alumni network, including resources like Ask a Blue Devil that allow students to learn from professionals and leaders. However, quality connections aren’t limited to past and present students; programs like Flunch and Grunch make it easy to build long-lasting relationships with professors and graduate students. Many “Why Duke” essays list legendary professors that invented PolitiFact and have won almost 40 Tony Awards.
Another distinctive facet of Duke is its emphasis on interdisciplinary study. In addition to the Office of Interdisciplinary Studies, Duke offers unique opportunities ranging from specialized programs and mentored research to hands-on community-based learning and international studies. Furthermore, flexible major, minor and certificate requirements; IDMs (interdepartmental majors) and Program II degrees allow students to pursue an in-depth analysis across many different fields. Exposing students to this breadth of study alongside accomplished classmates and professors is reason enough to come to Duke, regardless of whether students attend every class or watch recorded lectures.
Indeed, students can take some Duke courses for free on Coursera. Coursera has around 100 courses offered by Duke University for non-Duke students, ranging from finance to computer science and English. The website also has more than 70 courses offered for Duke students, taught by instructors based on their on-campus classes. If students can take courses offered by Duke for free without gaining admission to the school or being on campus, it is clear that there is much more to Duke than its classes.
Perhaps there is a misconception about what we expect from Duke, including the value of each class and its influence on the student experience. There is much more to the Duke experience than their core education that might be surprisingly influential. Students come to Duke because of the peer connections, interdisciplinary studies and school culture, not only for the classes.
In the end, the question remains: should we go to class?
Undoubtedly, attending class is part of being a student. Students should go to class to enrich their learning and get every dollar’s worth of their tuition. However, ultimately, an essential part of being a college student is the newfound freedom to decide how to spend free time. As adults, Duke students can choose the most productive ways to spend their time, whether that means going to class or not.
At the end of the day, the burden of learning and retaining knowledge lies on the student, not the professor. Each student is responsible for recouping the learning lost by not attending a class, or attending but not paying attention. But Duke is so much more than its classes; it’s a community of passionate and ambitious students, bolstered by academic resources and tied together by love for the school we call home.
So grab a friend and head to class. Just know it’s not the end of the world if you don’t make it to that 8:30.
The Community Editorial Board is independent from the editorial staff of the Chronicle. Their column usually runs on Tuesdays.
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