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Class participation and attendance

So, about attendance.

What was your experience as a high school student? As an undergraduate? Did professors care whether people showed up?

Does it matter? Should we just assume every college student has adult responsibilities and treat them accordingly?

Do recorded lectures available on the web (e.g., Tegrity recordings) help more or hurt things more?

My take on attendance

We can't assume they read, because clearly people skim or blow off reading outright when they get busy. So, lectures are important. In that regard, Tegrity both helps (by making sure people don't just flake out entirely) and hurts (by cushioning the consequences of skipping class).

I don't believe that "truancy" is really a university professor's job to prevent, but I think we need to hold students accountable for keeping up and participating in a class, not just as a passive audience but as active members who ask questions and offer insights. If the presumption is that all that lecture consists of is delivery of canned slides and book chapters, no wonder people are bored! For a class to come alive, there has to be some mutual input. IMO, other students should be able to depend on an environment and an esprit de corps beyond the lonely doctor at the lectern.

A side rant on cell phones and other technology

In some ways, I'm a little discontented with the downhill slide in attendance and class participation. We have technology, but it's there to assist and facilitate study, not slacking. When people are having to phone their roommate's cell phones in class on the Wednesday before fall break (which starts on Friday afternoon, mind you), because their car broke down, things have gotten out of hand. I'm certainly nostalgic for the simpler age before notebook computers and mobile phones became an acceptable thing to use in the classroom for anything other than note-taking.

Just my $0.02 worth.

In other news: Wei Wu took me and several of her other friends to go see the 2006 U.S. Army Soldier Show at McCain. It was surprisingly good: the choreography was fairly well done (in some cases they had to make do with the less-trained talent that they had, though one or two of the performers were excellent) and the singing was consistently very good. Thanks for the invite, Wei!



( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 22nd, 2006 01:04 pm (UTC)
I think attendance is very important and unless someone has a doctor's appointment or something of that nature, they ought to be in class, taking notes and paying attention. They ought to read required material because, hey...this is college. I don't want a doctor near me who only listened to lectures. I mean, come on!

I don't understand what the point of being in college is if you're going to skive off classes. And please to be turning off the cell phone. I am the only person on the planet who doesn't regularly carry one. Nobody's so important that I have to interrupt someone else's learning to take a call. I also do not like laptops in class because from personal experience I can tell you the person behind it is more likely to be playing Minesweeper than paying attention to the lecture.
Oct. 22nd, 2006 03:42 pm (UTC)
This is kind of strange. Neither in Hungary or in Norway (two completely different countries) do I see people regularly use laptops in class, even those who have them (in Norway pretty much everyone has one - or more, as I was shocked to find out). The people who use a computer in class are mostly disabled - blind or dysgraphic, or something of the sort. Are laptops widespread in US classrooms?
Oct. 23rd, 2006 05:21 am (UTC)
I don't even own a cell phone, so make that two people. I promised my husband I would lose it or forget to turn it on if he got me one. I just don't feel the need to have one on my person at all times. I do borrow his if I travel out of town.
Oct. 22nd, 2006 02:00 pm (UTC)
I've taught classes where I take attendance, and you miss more than three classes means you fail, unless you bring a doctor's note/police report/death certificate. I've also taught classes where attendance isn't an issue. It should go without saying that more students show up in the attendance-required classes... but even when attendance isn't required, my "lectures" tend to be pretty high-participation, which I think helps. Yeah, they're adults... but in most cases, they're not very GOOD at being adults yet.

The other thing is, I'll give lecture slides or notes online... but when I have the freedom to make up my own lecture materials, what's given online is an outline. (When I'm trying to keep consistent with other sections of a class, I still try to do this as much as possible.) So students can print them out, bring them to lecture, and use them to take notes on... or they can get them after lecture and use them to help organize the notes they took in class... but skipping class because the notes are online doesn't give you more than a vague idea of what's going on.

We don't have the option to just record lectures and put them online here, and I'd be uncomfortable given that option... I know that for some students in some classes, skipping wouldn't hurt anything. I've *been* that student for some classes. But when students are skipping classes, even if they're getting the lecture in another format, not only does the student not get to ask questions if she's kind of lost on a topic, but I as the instructor don't get that feedback of being able to spot-check, "as I look at your faces I can see that I've managed to confuse you. Let me try this again another way." In cognitive psych, too, so much of the learning comes from doing in-class demonstrations and getting to see first-hand some perceptual phenomenon or memory function or language processing thing that listening to it passively later isn't going to come close.

As far as cell phones go, I hate having them go off in the classroom: it's inconsiderate and irresponsible and other things starting with the letter I. My approach to dealing with this is basically to explain at the beginning of the semester "If your cell phone goes off during class, everything will stop and we will stare at you. We are also allowed to make fun of your ringtone. Please to be turning it off or making it silent." The stop-everything-and-stare is my natural response to that kind of a disruption, but it's actually reasonably effective... and I don't get repeat offenders.
Oct. 22nd, 2006 02:43 pm (UTC)
The whole attendance thing ..
unfortunatley just because a person is classed an adult by age doesn't always mean they act like one and hence why guidlines are still required for some. I personally think having a rule about missing so many classes can affect your grades is good ... any course i ever did had that ruling. One particular distance learning course required students to attend 4 tutorials over the duration of the course .. you were only permitted to miss one if need be, otherwise you would not be allowed sit the final exam. Same with evening classes .. your attendence often made up 10% of the final mark so another incentive to attend ..

as for someone using their cellphone whilst in class ..
are you serious? it wouldnt be permitted here .. you'd be stared at and asked to leave the room. I think its very inconsiderate of a student to both the lecturer and fellow students. I'd make a point of telling all students that when they enter class that their phones should be turned off / on silent ... (and that doesnt include setting it to vibrate).

Oct. 22nd, 2006 02:55 pm (UTC)
As a music student, we have a pretty much school wide attendance policy- I have to be at every class, or I get five percent taken off my grade. Simple as that.

Because our classes are essentially cumulative, and if you miss one day you're screwed- the professors kind of universally enacted that just to make sure we were all getting what we could out of it.

I don't like it sometimes, but I think it's a grand idea. I'm paying money after all to get the best education that I can.

We do get a certain amount of "free skips" though (it's usually only one or two) and there's the whole excused absence for doctors appointments. But you're at class, otherwise your ass is grass.
Oct. 22nd, 2006 03:02 pm (UTC)
IMHO sometimes a student may have a genuine reason to miss class. Don't be too harsh. Give the benefit of doubt to them.

Despite the potential for "abuse", Tegrity has a great use as a supplement to in-class notes when you're studying for the exams.

You could set aside a certain portion of the grade for class participation if lack of attendence bothers you so much.
Oct. 22nd, 2006 03:33 pm (UTC)
In Hungary, you have courses of 2 different types: one where attendance is required and one where it isn't. This is included in the course listings so you know what to expect.

Personally, I attend the first 3 occasions of every course, and if the lectures are boring with no hope of improvement and attendance is not required, then I just skip. I'm doing two majors and I have two part-time jobs, I don't want to sit in class if I don't hear anything new, or anything I couldn't find in the textbook in a more accessible form (I'm very visual and the mere fact of sitting and listening to something as a main activity kind of annoys me). I do read all of the required material, though; I read fast so it's not a problem of time even if there is nothing new in there, plus it helps my conscience.
Oct. 22nd, 2006 06:03 pm (UTC)
I always went to class, but that's because of my learning style. I never really got the hang of "studying" and my reading and remembering level is pretty crap. I need to be in a lecture hall, away from distractions, taking notes - then I'll remember! I think most of the classes at UMBC had an attendance policy. You were allotted 3 missed classes before you had to really explain yourself. Some of the professors provided a little extra points if you had perfect attendance (I think it was pretty small, but if you were on the cusp of a grade, it was enough to bump you up)

I hate cell phones. I don't know why having a cell phone suddenly gave people the right to drop everything when it rings no matter where they are. I answer my phone when I want to answer my phone. If I'm out and it rings, I probably won't answer, because if I only had a land line and the phone rang, I wouldn't be able to answer. I despire cell phones. And I REALLY hate push-to-talk. I want to find that guy and beat him with a push-to-talk phone while it's making that annoying ringing sound!!!
Oct. 22nd, 2006 08:25 pm (UTC)
IMO, the only way to *really* learn the material is to read the book before hand, go to lecture, ask questions, then do the homework (Which if you have done all that is usually surprisingly easy).

However, I am also a slow reader. I LOVE books with lots of little sections so I can say "I read 8 sections today!". Psychological? Totally, but every little bit helps.

Clearly students don't do that though. The only classes I ever skipped regularly were classes that I *knew* just the read would be enough (Into to Psych comes to mind...).

I agree totally that students need to me more engaged, the big question is how to get them to be. I've been very disappointed with my grad program because the other students aren't in engaged. Why on earth would you be in grad school if you didn't love it?

Recorded lectures are like any other tool--they can be abused. However, they really do help the students who really do want to learn. (Studying for a test? Re-watch confusing bits, or parts where your notes aren't quite clear. Forced to miss class? You can catch up.)

In the end it is up to the students how much they will learn. Too bad so many of them aren't interested. : /
Oct. 22nd, 2006 09:30 pm (UTC)
They cared deeply about attendance in high school - but then, I was in a private high in the middle of the woods, so if there was a kid missing, there was a PROBLEM.

College - they didn't seem to care, but then there were classes where you were supposed to just shut up and take notes. (Art history, for example, was two classes of slides and one of discussion a week. I only went to about 5 of the slide classes... and stayed awake through only one.) I was crap attending those.

The ones where we were allowed to interact, those I went to, those being the ones where the professors were paying enough attention to *know* if you were skiving or not!
Oct. 23rd, 2006 04:01 am (UTC)
doesn't Wei Wu mean something like "go with the flow" or "accept things as they are" ?
Oct. 23rd, 2006 05:47 am (UTC)
Attendance: College isn't just reading a book. It is bouncing ideas off of other students, delving into the instructor's experience, and interacting in a academic atmosphere. Attendance is important. Some of my children's instructors give extra credit for attendance. I think that is valid. In the real working world, we get extra credit for showing up to the job: it's called keeping our jobs.

Participation is a whole 'nuther critter. My son says some of his classes are a one-on-one with his instructor, because other students: 1. didn't read the assignment, 2. didn't understand the assignment, 3. are too hung over to care about the assignment, or 4. just don't want to participate.

I would hate to be an instructor who has a class that sits unresponsively staring at me. I would give extra credit for participation.

As for reading, it would probably be mind-blowing to know how little students do read. One of my son's instructors saw him reading the assignment after class and told him she was giving him ten extra points for following her instructions. He was elated, as she doesn't give extra credit and ten points is big in that class.

Cell Phones: RUDE, RUDER, and RUDEST describe people who keep their cell phone ringers on during class, theater, church, restaurants, and meetings. Unless one is the President of the United States, I don't think he/she needs to take that call at a Broadway show. GRR! If a student interrupts your class for a phone call, one episode is annoying. Another episode should have consequences for disrupting the class. An essay on courtesy would be in order.
Oct. 23rd, 2006 07:37 am (UTC)
Some of my undergraduate courses (like foreign language, for instance) had attendance policies, but some did not. I always thought my classmates should be mature enough to come to class, especially since they (or someone) was spending good money on the courses.
Oct. 23rd, 2006 07:39 am (UTC)
In HS, there was a very strict attendance policy, but there were ways around it. We had to scan our IDs when we came into the building and a rooster crowing noise would occur if we had skipped class the day before.
In college, I was really crappy with attendance. My freshman year, I slept. All the time. I would wake up, go to the bathroom, check my email, and go back to bed. I went to very few classes. I slowly got better at this going to class thing as I continued on. Classes freak me out (this sounds weird, I know, let me try and explain....) It would feel like everyone in the class was staring at me. If I raised my hand, or asked a question, or responded to a question asked by the prof, I would freeze up, sound like I was stupid, and blush very badly and that would perpetuate the whole "everyone is staring at me" thing. Just freaks me out.
I hate talking in class. I absolutely cannot stand it. In grad school now, I'm working on FORCING myself to talk. Otherwise, I just won't. I'm currently up to raising my hand once a class. :-/

As far as laptops and cell phones are concerned...I'm kind of ambivalent. In college, no one brought laptops to class. It just wasn't done. In grad school now, it seems as if EVERYONE has a laptop. I am not a fan of laptops personally (the all flat keyboard things bother me). Cell phones? People need to learn respect with regards to them. It's not that hard to put them on silent or vibrate or just turn the damn things off. I've gotten emergency calls in class before, but the phone has been on silent (I leave it on my bag so I can check the time, don't wear a watch) and I took the call outside the classroom so as to not disturb anyone.
Oct. 24th, 2006 01:24 am (UTC)
In college, no one brought laptops to class. It just wasn't done. In grad school now, it seems as if EVERYONE has a laptop.

Definately true for me as well. The only people who brought laptops to class were the ones who sat as far away from the point of learning as possible, and generally browsed the web or otherwise distracted themselves from lecture. I always felt these people were trying to have their cake and eat it: if you don't want to attend a lecture, then don't. Attending and then not paying attention seems like a waste of effort. I never brought a laptop, because I never owned one, and several people were in my position as well.

Now in grad school, I've not only had one professor who expressed disbelief that I didn't own a laptop ("How can you get anything done?"), but TWO courses with open laptop exams. After that, I decided the cost of a laptop was a worthwhile investment. I do bring it to class, but it comes with a productive excuse: its a tablet PC and I could be taking notes on it. Honestly, I find myself more engaged in learning on partner projects than in lecture itself, perhaps partly because I'm not fully prepared (average reading assignments are boring/remedial, but occasionally lecture assumes you read, and you find yourself racing to catch up, both in the reading and in lectures that went over your head), partly because a sense of obligation to a partner compels me to put forth more time and effort than I would normally.
Oct. 25th, 2006 03:09 am (UTC)
On Attendance
I have had but one instructor that left attendance to the student. He acknowledged that some of his very best students attended nearly not at all (actually I remember him mentioning one that received the very best grade in the class, but why not generalize?). His principle was that attendance was up to the student, but essentially the responsibility falls harder on the student who fails to attend. If you don't attend and suffer, it is no ones fault but the student's. All other instructors insisted that students attend, whether they actually enforced attendance or not.

Personally I'm divided on the attendance issue. It seems to be somewhat of a formalism at times. Students attend a university to learn, not necessarily to attend classes. If a student is, in fact, able to learn better outside of class, wouldn't it defeat the goals of the learning institution to drag them to class? Oh, but they need to attend! Now does that make any sense?

In fact, I sometimes wonder about a more liberal educational system. An educational system where the student is able to learn and explore and research what they will and at their own pace (at least to some degree), under the guidance of one or more mentors of course. A system in which classes would be optional for those who might be interested in something more specific or under more guidance. Is it possible that they might learn more or better in this way? Why 'motivate' the already motivated. In fact, you may run the risk of turning someone the wrong way, or discourage them by pushing where they needn't be pushed. If they are so motivated, then let them lose on the world. Society may some day benefit from it.
Whether or not such students exist, I leave to the reader.
(I believe they do!)

On the other hand, with land grant universities churning out thousands of students per semester, it may be well advised to give those students a curriculum and follow-up examinations before they become doctors and engineers or what have you. Especially with the poor student/teacher ratios that generally come with these institutions. There are many students out there who will (and do) get away with cheating if they can, students with no intrinsic motivation to learn or students against time, and such a student will almost certainly be incapable of performing in the world after college. These people have the capacity to put others in danger or cost businesses money for time and wages wasted.

I acknowledge the need for seasoned professors and researchers to guide new protege's in an appropriate direction. A student may very well not have the experience necessary to guide their own education. But I'm not certain that classes, labs, and recitations necessarily are the best way to supply this assistance. In an ideal world, we would be able to cater to every students strengths and weaknesses and we deal with them face to face and one on one. But faced with the masses and perpetual resource limitations, we pile them together into classes and treat them as one. Again, I'm divided on the issue. But you have my perspective.

As an aside. This issue seems to fall into a larger class of issues. The class of problems that may very well have better solutions, but the current solutions are adhered to dogmatically and categorically simply because that is the way it has been done for so long or because a great many people are incapable of looking beyond the way things are to they way things could possibly be. Change is tough. When in doubt, we stick with our experience and with the wisdom time has given us.

I think that classes are because that is just the way it is and that is the way it has always been. And classes have their place. But should they be taken so seriously and used exactly the way they are? Since pretty much everyone who is alive today and of any authority or influence over education has been taught in the exact same way forever, I don't think very many people stop to question the system. No one can remember a time when education was any different. I tend to think that nearly all things are relative, and class attendance is no exception.
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )

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