A few weeks ago, the Spinoff published an article co-written by some of the law lecturers. They applauded Victoria University for making in-person classes compulsory and urged Auckland University to do the same. Like most universities in New Zealand, UoA records in-person lectures, so that students can watch them online. One of my own lecturers this year said a crisis has happened – something changed, and it wasn’t on his end of the table. Students have simply stopped coming to class.

There are valid reasons, of course – some students’ work or family commitments overlap with lectures, students have health issues, parking is expensive and public transport is unreliable, and it’s not safe to assume that everyone can easily make it to class. But it’s startling nevertheless to see how many students are enrolled in a course as opposed to the numbers that attend lectures in person. But let me try to put a few points on why it’s better to come to class than to watch them online, if you have a choice.

The social aspect. Coming to classes in person exposes you to an amazing mix of people, just by rubbing elbows with them. Once you start seeing people regularly, the more likely you end up getting to know each other – especially after first year. People that two years ago I met as strangers in a lecture theatre are now deeply rooted in my life. Then through one person, you become acquainted with their own circles, and something like a domino effect follows. Being in a room full of people has so many possibilities and you never know how things will pan out. Coincidence, not personal choice, are what sets you up with all kinds of people you may not otherwise choose to send a message to on Zoom or Facebook. This is so distinct from the controlled and predictable life you have through remote study. On campus, a day is full of organic encounters and coincidences. I try to avoid algorithms tailoring the world to my preference – coming to class and being prepared to have many unexpected things happen has been one of the best parts of the university experience.

Three years down the track, the shape of my life is completely different because of the friends I’ve made in class.

Getting to know your lecturers. Speaking in class, listening to others participate, or talking to your lecturer after a class cements your knowledge and engagement on a topic and reminds you why you were interested in studying in the first place. University is about a community of people in pursuit of knowledge or a skill – coming to classes puts the people and the community back into the experience. Just listening to their reasoning, speaking to them after class (often leading researchers and experts in the country) is so valuable, beyond just watching the lecture.

You have your whole life to plan your environment. Once you start work, you’re able to stay in one place, with one team, for most of your time. But at university you have the rare opportunity to get to know people, listen to their contributions in class, chat to them as you walk out of the lecture theater, and either nod at them from a distance or get to know them better. Some friendships stick and others don’t, but it’s rare to find other stages in life where you have the opportunity to get to know people from a large pool, a different combination each day.

That said, there are so many barriers beyond a student’s control that can impede them from getting to the classroom, so lecture recordings are an important part of making university accessible to all. The important point is: if you have a choice, please consider coming to class! Student years are few compared to work and family life. Coming to class is a huge part of living this chapter of your life.