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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Technology and Class Attendance

Guess what? If you lower the cost of missing class, less students show up. This article notes that when more material is posted for classes, attendance is lower. I've noticed the same thing. There is a very clear association between how much I post and class attendance and because of this, I have stopped posting as much review material. I thought it gave students a false sense of security. They would skip class thinking they could make up what was lost with web-based material later, then find out when the test time arrives that the posted material is not an effective substitute for coming to class, or that they have waited too long to get started making up missed material. That's when I start getting frantic email. It appears to me that it is the students on the margin who most easily fall victim to this temptation.

On the other side, though, are the students who make effective use of the posted material. They show up to class as always, and use what I post as a complement, not a substitute, to lectures. I am reluctant to allow class policy to be dictated by the students who are more interested in obtaining a piece of paper than learning, so I am rethinking my policy about posting material. I don't think my classes should be less effective for the best students just because other students cannot resist the temptation to sleep in on a cold and rainy morning knowing that lecture materials will be posted to make the sleep less costly. This isn't high school where it's the state's job to make sure every student is educated. In college, students must begin learning to take responsibility for their own education and I should not let some students to be held back in an attempt to force those at the other end of the spectrum to come to class, read, ask questions, and learn the material. Still, it's hard not to structure incentives so as to get the most out of every student rather than just the subset who are most interested in learning the course material:

Skip class? You've got online pal, Detroit Free News/LA Times, by Stuart Silverstein:  Skipping classes, particularly big lectures where an absence can go undetected, is a tradition among college undergraduates who party late or swap notes with friends. These days, professors are witnessing a spurt in absenteeism as an unintended consequence of adopting technologies originally envisioned as learning aids.


One of Azevedo's Classes

Last semester, Americ Azevedo's class on "Introduction to Computers" at the University of California, Berkeley, featured some of the hottest options in educational technology. By visiting the course's Web sites, the 200 students could download audio recordings or watch digital videos of the lectures, as well as read the instructor's lecture notes and participate in online discussions.

But there was one problem: So many of the undergraduates relied on the technology that, at times, only 20 or so actually showed up for class. "It was demoralizing," Azevedo said. "Getting students out of their media bubble to be here is getting progressively harder."

Even as many academics embrace electronic innovations, others are pushing back. To deter no-shows, professors are reverting to low-tech tactics such as giving more surprise quizzes or slashing online offerings.

"Too much online instruction is a bad thing," said Terre Allen, a communication studies scholar at California State University, Long Beach.

Last term, Allen posted extensive lecture notes online for her undergraduate course, "Language and Behavior." One goal was to relieve students of the burden of scribbling notes, freeing them to focus on the lectures' substance. Yet the result, Allen said, was that only about one-third of her 154 students showed up for most of the lectures. In the past, when Allen put less material online, 60 percent to 70 percent of students typically would attend. ...

Kelly A. Rocca, an assistant professor of communication at St. John's University in New York and one of the few scholars who has recently studied American college absenteeism, said she suspects that skipping class has reached an all-time high because of off-campus jobs and reliance on technology. To combat ditching in her own classes, Rocca refuses to post notes online. With undergraduates, she said, "the more reasons you give them not to come to class, the less likely they are to come." ...

Other research supports the common-sense belief that skipping class hurts a student's grades. Lee Ohanian, a UCLA economics professor, said he notices that frequent skippers often "are the ones who are doing just enough to get by. The ones who are getting the A's are in the front row at every lecture." Ohanian said "too much technology really leads to a passive learning environment" and spurs absenteeism. He has cut back on posting lecture materials online and now provides extensive notes only for the most complicated topics.

Despite concerns about absenteeism, schools increasingly are experimenting with ways to let students watch or listen to lectures on their computers or digital music players, ... Likewise, online, or "distance," education programs -- premised on students' not needing to be in class -- are growing.

Advocates of the new technologies say they give schools an effective, low-cost way to deliver instruction while freeing students to review material at their own pace. The online options also let students participate in discussions electronically and allow instructors the flexibility to make quick changes.

Update: Brief follow up at iLecture.

    Posted by on Thursday, January 26, 2006 at 09:56 AM in Economics, Universities | Permalink  TrackBack (1)  Comments (21)

          

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