Is there anybody there?

There’s an interesting discussion on the INSTTECH list at the moment about the impact of lecture capture technology on physical attendance in the classroom or lecture theatre, sparked by this article which reports that the majority of students prefer to study online.

Various responses are being reported, such as making physical attendance compulsory in order to pass the course or refusing to post the recorded lecture if more than 10% of the class are absent.  I can’t help feeling that this really misses the point of lecture capturing: what is the point of recording this material so that it’s available when students want and need to access it if you then insist that they have it delivered to them in person at a time of your choosing?  If students don’t want to sit through the same lecture twice, it seems a waste of resources to record it if you’re going to make them physically attend it anyway, as they won’t be interested in accessing it again in the future, at a time when they may benefit more from it.

More enlightened (in my opinion) responses place the onus on the lecturer to make students want to attend his classes despite the availability of these resources online.  Some pre-record their lectures and require students to view the recording before attending the scheduled class, which is no longer a traditional lecture but an interactive dialogue between tutor and students.  Others use discussion breakouts, or voting tools like clickers to ‘add value’ to the class through spot quizzes or opinion gathering.  For these educators, there is a recognition that if their classes as they stand don’t make students eager to attend, the classes need to change instead of enforcing presence.

Emily Springfield of the University of Michigan sums the discussion up nicely:

Why is decreased attendance a problem? I overheard two students talking in the elevator yesterday. “So, do you go to class or just listen to the lectures?” “While everyone else is in class, listening at natural speed, I’m in the library listening to two lectures at 1.6-1.8x speed.”

If students can get everything out of class they need by listening to a recording, why should they go to class? I’d say either make class time useful beyond a recitation of information, or don’t sweat attendance.

Just as with ‘presumption of guilt’ approaches to plagiarism, attendance requirements and penalties for absence are based on the assumption that students are fundamentally slackers, lazy chancers who don’t even want to do the bare minimum, and fail to recognise the financial or personal circumstances that may mean they get far more benefit from viewing lectures in their own time rather than having to attend in person at a fixed time.  And simply changing the rules to enforce attendance rather than changing the classes to encourage attendance does itself seem a particularly lazy approach to dealing with the situation ;)