USC can hire some of the most intelligent, accomplished and admired professors in the nation, but if students fail to show up for classes, the net benefit to both faculty and students remains zero.
The Center for Excellence in Teaching held a panel discussion recently about how to improve student attendance overall by identifying why students choose not to attend class and giving suggestions as to how professors can improve the situation.
As a student, it seems a feeling of personal relavance could increase classroom attendance and enjoyment.
In classes in which attendance and participation do not factor into the final grade, the number of students populating the classroom always seems to decrease steadily week by week. A lecture section with 200 registered students might only host 50 by the middle of the semester.
Many experts agree attending class is crucial for doing well in a class. A 2005 study by the University of Illinois showed a significant negative correlation between grades and attendance, and other studies have produced similar results.
But the usefulness of lectures really hinges on whether or not the lecture is effective in supplementing textbook material and not merely a rehashing the required reading.
Why should I spend an hour listening to a lethargic reiteration of what I could power through in twenty minutes? I could use the other forty minutes for something truly valuable, like a nap.
Students might choose to skip class not completely out of laziness, but because they feel nothing occurs during class that is important enough to merit attendance.
On days with midterms, I suddenly discover an additional 10-20 or so people I never knew were part of my class before.
We clearly have lecture sections for a reason, however. Lectures are a time for the professor to nuance the textbook with different perspectives, to offer his or her own angle on the subjects and to contextualize the information.
Lectures can also add a more visual or discussion-oriented setting for students to supplement reading. Class should not be designed as an an optional review session or a convenient place to nap or study for another class.
Of course, while we students are reasonably willing to sleepily wander to class if we feel it will honestly help us for the exams, it becomes much easier to drag our eyelids open at 9 a.m. if we actually enjoy the class.
We are much more likely to attend classes that we find personally relevant to our interests or particularly important to current affairs will usually have better attendance rates than classes that feature powerpoints taken word-for-word from the textbook.
For professors, there are two general methods for increasing student attendance.
Professors who allocate points for attendance usually find a consistent number of students in the classroom each time. Other techniques include giving small pop quizzes, having homework assignments due at the beginning of class, or using in-class assignments and clicker questions.
Additionally, instead of basing exams solely on required reading material, and thereby rendering any additional information covered in lecture irrelevant, professors could design midterms to afford better holistic coverage of the course material.
Professors could also try to engage the students in more active participation through student discussions. Through discussion, students gain additional perspectives from their peers while examining the course material from alternative angles.
Increased student attendance does not only benefit students, but faculty as well.
Professors and teaching assistants receive feedback on their teaching abilities and often learn new things about their area of research by cultivating a student audience and engaging their students in critical discussions. But if they are teaching to a deserted classroom, it becomes a waste of everyone’s time.
The professor might as well return home and take a nap, too.
Rebecca Gao is a freshman majoring in global health and biological sciences. Her column, “Trojan Grounds,” runs Mondays.