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

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.

“I expect that students enrolling in my courses do so because they wish to gain knowledge, not mere information,” he wrote. “They are there to learn, not memorize. They show up because they want to understand, not because they need to fulfill a requirement or need a grade. … Thus, the best time to skip my class is never.”

Briggs said he hoped the web site wouldn’t catch on—although, in an eMail message to eCampus News, he said he expects the service would resonate with students.

“I hope it fails, and, while doing so, that it causes you to lose money,” he wrote, directing his blog post to Filbert. “It would be a good lesson for you. If you choose to attend to it.”

Filbert said he follows his detractors closely on Twitter and Facebook, and he doesn’t take the personal jabs from higher education personally.

“The negative stuff, I love it,” he said with a laugh. “What people don’t realize is that people who see those comments, they’re more likely to go to that link.”

In creating the checklist of questions from Skip Class, Filbert said he was careful not to include factors such as, “Are you hung over?” or “What’s the weather like today?”—both of which have been suggested by hundreds of students.

“It doesn’t matter what the weather is,” he said. “If you skip class, it’s the same amount of risk. It’s not about your wants for skipping class.”

Skip Class Calculator’s Facebook page is sprinkled with negative reviews among mostly positive remarks from people—some students and faculty members among them—who stumbled across the online calculator.

“Can you do one of these for faculty, too?” David Ritterskamp, a math professor at the University of Southern Indiana, asked on the Facebook page.

A Colorado State University student described Skip Class as a “funny tool” and wrote on the Facebook page: “Sure makes you feel proud of yourself when you go to a class.”

The Facebook page includes warnings from Facebook users, including one from Lucie Johnson, an instructional technology consultant at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minn.

Skip Class “will give you a mistaken sense of security… Watch out!” Johnson wrote.

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