Daily Archives: 21/07/2008

âIf I'm not learning, why go?â€

William Hogarth's 1736 engraving, Scholars at...Image via Wikipedia

Why don't students go to class anymore?

This is a constant refrain in faculty lounges around the world. One answer MIT surveyors found was when students didn't feel they were learning, they didn't go.

This is certainly because the penalty to not going to a lecture is reduced by the presence of online learning materials like power point slides and handouts.

However, the old standards still apply--the researchers found students were less likely to go if they thought the lecturer wasn't very good, and if they thought they wouldn't learn much, which makes perfect sense, and, it should be noted, has nothing to do with technology.

Several other interesting articles on this issue have been summarised by Dr. Paul L. Latreille in this article for the economics network. They make for fascinating reading, but re run many of the arguments my colleagues and I have about the relationship between student access to notes online and their attendance. In particular, Dr. Latreille takes attendance in his lectures, and allows access to that lecture's notes using a password system. He found this strategy increased student attendance throughout the term.

My stand on issuing notes, etc, to students is pretty clear from this website. I give students everything I can think of to help them learn---lecture notes, handouts, podcasts, readings, coursepacks, software, solutions to past tests, links to current and past events that I think help them learn, and more. I don't care where they get the information from, I just want to see them learn the material. I happen to think the best place to do that is inside of a lecture hall, but if a student decides to spend their time elsewhere, then so be it.

So I don't take attendance at any lectures, and I won't. Ever. I don't remove bits of power point slides or other reductive strategies like that to make students show up. I'll try to tell a decent story as best I can on the day, and hope most of them make it out of bed on time to hear it.

I will, however, quite cheerfully fail people who don't make the grade, precisely because of this laissez faire policy.

Here are Dr Lattreille's references in his case study, all of which are fascinating.

Barrett, R., Rainer, A. and Marczyk, O. (2007) "Managed Learning Environments and an Attendance Crisis?", The Electronic Journal of e-Learning, 5(1), pp. 1-10

Burd, E. and Hodgson, B. (2006) "Attendance and Attainment: A Five Year Study", Innovation in Teaching And Learning in Information and Computer Sciences, 5(2)

Clay, T. and Breslow, L. (2006) "Why Students Don't Attend Class", MIT Faculty Newsletter, XVIII(4)

Clearly-Holdforth, J. (2007) "Student non-attendance in higher education. A phenomenon of student apathy or poor pedagogy?", DIT Level 3, 5