12 November 2009

Why do we care if students come to class?

Last week, I wrote about why instructors might want to lecture even though we now have the ability to make good recordings and post them online exists now. One of my colleagues asked how we educate students about how to use recorded lectures to their best advantage, and not use recordings as a reason to miss scheduled class sessions. (Incidentally, Tegrity claims that the fears of students not coming to class are misplaced.)

Students have a very simple strategy, I think, for determining what we instructors think is valuable: Marks. If it's not graded, it's not important. If we want to send a message to students that their presence matters, we have to give them points towards their final grade that they can only earn by being physically present.

That said, I don't suggest points just for attendance. I much prefer giving points that are related in some way to the material and the subject that people are trying to learn. I use in-class clicker questions, so students have to be there to answer clicker questions to get the points for them.

A question worth thinking about is why do we want students to come to class? I hear my colleagues complain about students not showing up, and I’ve done my fair share of it, too. But if students are completing all their assignments, show understanding of the material, can communicate well, why do we want their bums in the seats?

One reason is that showing up to scheduled meetings on time, every time is a mark of professionalism. That’s worth encouraging.

Another line of argument to students goes. “You should show up to class because it’s good for you. Our experience as instructors is that students who show up do learn more and get higher grades.” But this is about as appealing as being told to “Eat your vegetables.”

That’s a short and unappealing list. Anyone have more?

But a nearly empty lecture hall or class room can just be damn depressing to the instructor. I have told students sometimes that if I got upset every time a student missed class, I’d never stop being upset. Which is true... to a certain degree. When there are only a quarter of the students who were there in the first day of class, yeah, it gets to you. I know that I should be trying to make my classes so amazing that people who aren't even registered for the class will just come in and listen.

Note to students: If you miss half your scheduled classes, you lose the right to complain about aloof instructors.

1 comment:

Laura said...

Agreed. You miss class, you miss nuance. You miss the synapse and spark that goes with dialogue.

Consequently, you miss your education.

And, oh yeah, your grade suffers, too.