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 ;)

6 thoughts on “Is there anybody there?

  1. Hi Rowin,

    I’ve also been following the discussion, and am finding it fascinating – was you say much of the discussion is framed in terms of class attendance without reference to why absenteeism is in itself a problem, why lecture attendance is needed, or any consideration of the possible benefits to students of the extra availability of lecture content.

    It has been really good, however, to see some people contributing with alternative models of teaching enabled by recording lectures (e.g. video lectures built on by classroom discussion/ activity).

    However, the whole discussion thus far (as far as I can tell) is in the context of lectures put into VLEs for access by that cohort/ class. There seems to be a model at work that assumes restricted access and (for some at least) places the value of the course is purely in the lecture content/ transfer of large chunks of information. I’m not suggesting that institutions should necessarily agree with an OER approach but would have hoped for an appreciation of the benefits wider access within institutions, or through iTunesU.

  2. Hmmm…. In response to the student quote regarding listening at faster speeds, even particularly slow speakers are extremely hard to understand at 1.8x speed. At 1.6x speed a slow speaker can be understood but listening to what is essentially a chipmunk for a prolonged period of time whilst attempting to ingest information is definitely a challenge!!

  3. This article is extremely relevant to us at MSU as we begin developing an open-ed model of education. We are offering ALL the material online using a creative-commons license, yet need to generate revenue, so how do we do so? Our answer is that the kinetic information gathered during spontaneous participation is where the added value from class attendance comes into play.

    I always laugh because typically these attendance taking, card-swiping, professors are the econ ones telling us to let the market decide…

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  5. This debate rather gets to the heart of the teaching-or-learning distinction. My father began teaching many years ago and was most impressed by the following, which he passed on to me (paraphrased):

    Lecturer A: How come the students still don’t know about X, I taught it to them last week.
    Lecturer B (a wise one): There is no teaching without learning; you clearly did not teach it last week.

    Attendance is a surrogate for participation from the perspective of delivery. Clearly we need better measures in an age when attendance is not necessary for participation. And participation is only a surrogate for… LEARNING. An adherence to obsolete regulatory requirements such as attendance seems sure to alienate learners and (maybe rather quickly) lead to certain educational institutions becoming irrelevant.

    I also wonder why we have a focus on teaching quality assessment rather than learning quality assessment. This seems to favour orthodox methods rather than outcomes. OK, learning is complex and we will always need surrogates of some kind but maybe its time to move on from conformity to tradition.

  6. In response to faster listen speeds, it does indeed depend on the quality of the recording and the clarity of the lecturers presentation. You would be supprised at the ammount of time wasted on um, ahs and breaks in speech why presenters fiddle with their paperwork or laptops. Listening online allows learners to speed pass their points. Listening to presentations at higher than normal speeds takes a little practice but you can become adapt at it; students with visual impairment who use text-to-speech often listen to material at high speeds (if they have auditory learning preference). I myself often find listening to speakers I want to find the speed-up button! But also the counter option is true as if there are difficult concepts you can go back and play one section as many times as you like until it clicks without embrasement – which can support dyslexic or VI learners.

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