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To skip or not to skip? New web site helps students decide

Online calculator designed to help students decide when to miss class produces mixed reactions in higher ed

Skip Class has seen an increase in page views since redoing the web site in August.

Skip Class has seen an increase in page views since being revamped in August.

Jim Filbert considered billing his web site, Skip Class Calculator, as the online tool that enraged every college professor in America. But that wouldn’t be entirely accurate.

Skip Class Calculator, which launched in February and was revamped in August, gives students a 10-question formula that calculates the risk of skipping a class lecture.

The calculator asks how many days a student had already skipped, their current class grade, the date of the class’s next test or quiz, and a host of other questions.

And while Skip Class Calculator has been met with vitriol from many corners of higher education, Filbert—who graduated from Bowling Green State University in Ohio last May—has also seen some positive reviews from educators.

And students, of course. The site received 23,000 page views from February to August, Filbert said, and more than 20,700 calculations have been generated.

“I don’t think there are a lot of professors saying this is the worst thing to ever happen to higher education,” said Filbert, 22, adding that the calculator gives students a “checklist” of factors they might not otherwise consider before missing a lecture. “And if there are [professors] saying that, I’d tell them to get a sense of humor.”

Michael Anderson, a lecturer in statistics courses at the University of Texas San Antonio, doesn’t see Skip Class Calculator as an algorithm-based excuse for students to stay in bed during their 8 a.m. class, but as an objective evaluator that should encourage students to make the early-morning trek to the lecture hall.

Anderson has done what some in academia would consider the unthinkable: He’s added a link to Skip Class Calculator to his course home page.

“If a class is moderately difficult, it could make [a student] think long and hard about making it to class and paying more attention,” said Anderson, one of many educators and students to post reviews on the Skip Class Facebook page. “It’s another way for them to go out and get independent advice. … We can tell them all day long to come to class, but students tend to trust that kind of objective source much more.”

Anderson said Filbert has included enough factors in the calculator—including whether or not the class has an attendance policy—to give college students a reliable evaluation before they miss a lecture.

“By and large, it’s a pretty honest appraisal of where students stand in their class and how many classes they might be able to miss,” he said. “My philosophy is that students have to miss class sometimes. It’s just the way it goes.”

William Briggs, an adjunct professor of statistical science at Cornell University, is among the harshest critics of Skip Class Calculator after he posted an Aug. 20 blog post disparaging the web site and criticizing Filbert for falsely advertising a reliable tool.

“… Anybody earnestly using [the calculator] should not only skip, but should drop out of school altogether,” Briggs wrote in a follow-up blog post about Skip Class Aug. 21. “These people are probably only after a ‘degree’ anyway, an item which can be purchased in various places. This maneuver would save them the tedium of sitting in class, relieve them of the necessity of thinking, and lessen the burdens of the professors forced to endure their (occasional) presence.”

After plugging various combinations into the online calculator, Briggs said the result was the same: Skip Class said it was OK to skip class.

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