Skip to main content

Re. 'Are we just meat in the room?'

I have just read yet another very interesting blog from @PlashingVole (hereafter referred to as PV, which I hope he does not mind) about the issue of attendance at lectures (read the article here:  I started to write a comment back for it, but it got so long-winded I thought I would blog my response instead.

I imagine most places are struggling with this same issue.  PV makes an excellent point about the fact that students do not necessarily recognize the benefit of a course when they feel forced to do it.  We deliver compulsory Study Skills courses on the degrees at NUC which often incur a wide-spread (even aggressive) resentment from students.  Common responses are: ‘Why am I being told how to structure a sentence?’; ‘I have three A-levels, so I already know how to write an essay!’; ‘I hate maths, so why am I having to study quantitative research methods?’; ‘I came to study English – and this unit isn’t English’. Significantly though, by the end of their second year (sometimes even by the beginning of their second semester) many of those same students cite these units as the most important on the course, and some even express the wish that they were longer.  As PV argues, students cannot always be expected to understand the long-term benefits of a unit of study – but this doesn’t mean that such benefits aren’t genuine, and even necessary.

There is a further concern in that when we look across student attendance and progression data, there is a clear and direct correlation between grades and attendance. Those that turn up, get better grades (see my presentation on this below, which I tend to use to kick off my research methods class).


This might be because the stronger students tend to value lectures more anyway rather than because the lectures themselves have such a direct quantitative impact upon grades, but however you interpret the data it is difficult not to come to the conclusion that those students who often fail to attend classes are the very ones who need to. Even the presence in a room where relevant ideas are being discussed, and where students can interact and debate relevant ideas, must be of some benefit to those who (for whatever reason) struggle to give the time and commitment to their studies which they need.

There are problems with compulsory attendance though.  Firstly, as PV points out, the 'we know best, so do what we say' approach seems to go against the idea of 'independent learning' - that golden notion which seemingly distinguishes the graduate from the rest of the herd.  Secondly, there is a question of the increasingly stark practicalities of retention and progression data. Changes to HE funding mean that HEIs are increasingly dependent on being able to keep students and to make them succeed (see HEFCE). The thought of failing a (possibly) significant percentage of students because they only made 75% of lectures might be an effective threat to increase attendance in some students, but I can imagine many institutions expressing some qualms about whether the benefits outweigh the problems in terms of the institutions data. The marketability of an institution is increasingly dependent on this same data too. Many prospective students - particularly mature students - facing the significant costs of higher education are likely to review such data before making decisions on where to study. If you are paying that much money, are you going to go to the place with a 50% achievement rate, or the one with a 70%?

I certainly agree with PV that an attendance requirement would ultimately (if not always comfortably) benefit students, but would question the will of many institutions to enforce any penalties for failing to meet it. One alternative might be, instead of the threat of not accepting work from those with low attendance, to instead provide a greater incentive for attendance. Newham College, for example, gives its FE students with 80% attendance a laptop computer as a reward. I have no idea how effective this strategy has proved, but it might be interesting to see whether attendance at lectures can be better improved with a stick or with a carrot…

Popular posts from this blog

2) Introduction to morphemes

So does language begin with words?

No. Language begins with sounds. It is important to understand this first and foremost. We have already raised this point, but it is worth raising again – language begins with sounds!

If I appear to be emphasizing this with a rather bizarre desperation, it is because it would be easy to think that since we are beginning our exploration of language and linguistics with words that this is where language begins. When you think about it logically though, all words are composed of various sounds grouped together. The word ‘cat’ is composed of three distinct sounds - /c/, /a/ and /t/.

So why aren’t we starting with looking at how sounds create language?

Well, in the not-too-distant past, when European football used to be free on the telly, Manchester United or Arsenal would jet off to Spain for a titanic contest with Barcelona. When the commentators referred to Barcelona, they would pronounce it ‘Bar-se-low-nah’ (bɑ:sɜ:ləʊnæ). After a few years th…

A fond farewell

Every time a new term starts, I find myself wondering what the hell happened to the supposed weeks inbetween?  We leap from teaching, to marking, to assessment boards to enrolments - and after all that, BANG!  Back in the classroom!  At which point we often start wishing there had been at least some time to prepare our classes...

But things have been rather different this time.  About a three months ago I was (admittedly to my own surprise) considered worthy enough to be offered an incredibly exciting job with the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) and the University of East London.  The regular whirlwind of activity over the Summer then, is having something of a more terminal period: Teaching, marking, assessment boards, enrolments and BANG! I'm walking out of Newham College for the last time!

It is now almost exactly 10 years since I joined Newham College.  The plan then was, at heart, very simple: The residents of Newham Borough represented a vast population …

Moodle looks rubbish: The myth that may be costing HE institutions

It was interesting, but not entirely surprising to read Phil Hill's blog on e-Literate suggesting a dramatic slow-down in the take-up of Moodle in HE Institutions.  Not surprising because there seems to be a myth about Moodle that has always flickered in dark corners and is fanned into flame by for-profit LMS providers at the nearest opportunity.

This myth is that Moodle looks rubbish.

Other LMS providers set up a course content page filled with as many html5 gadgets as they can imagine, and compare it to the most basic topic-format Moodle page.  "There we are!" they declare, "Look how rubbish Moodle looks compared to our system!  And in the modern world where students are using tablets and mobile phones more and more, isn't it important that your University LMS looks smart and contemporary?"

And so Universities look at these other LMS systems and think: 'Ooo, it has this, or it has that!  Our Moodle doesn't have them!'  Which in turn prompts a…