Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Students go to college but not to class

By Emma DiLallo

STORRS, Conn.—Sean Andrew, a junior at the University of Connecticut, says he skips about half of his classes every week and even encourages others to do the same.

“The curriculum follows the text books, and I learn more if I teach myself outside class,” said Andrew, who is a chemical engineering major. His schedule is made up of strictly calculus and chemistry classes and taught in lecture halls.

“You can go to class all you want, but unless you put the time and work into the material, it doesn’t matter how much you go,” he said.

Although Andrew’s persuasiveness may not be a leading cause, yet, in attendance drops, it is clear that a high number of students are unmotivated to go to class.

A 2005 report by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles surveyed 38,538 first-year students from 144 colleges and universities.
They found that 33 percent of students said they skipped class frequently or occasionally, and 63 percent of students said they showed up late for class frequently or occasionally.

The survey gives some possible insight into these statistics, with 48 percent of students saying they felt their social life interfered with their school work, and 44 percent of students saying they felt bored in class.
Harrison Smalbach, a sophomore, makes his social life a priority over classes.

“I’ve mainly missed class this year to go to the UConn basketball games or when the Yankees are playing [on TV],” said Smalbach.

Joe Locke, an English major at UConn, often attends class but does not pay attention; he has even fallen asleep in his lecture classes before.

“I usually play around on my computer in class. I know that seems pointless to go at all, but I feel bad if I don’t go,” said Locke.

Medora Barnes, who teaches a 75-person sociology class at UConn, is an instructor who understands that, “straight lecture every class gets boring for everyone,” she said. “I think it’s important to try to do multiple things each class period.” She mentions free writing and group work as a means of adding variety to teaching.

Barnes also recognizes Andrew’s frustration with repetitive readings and class lectures.

“I believe that instructors should cover material in class that is not just in the textbook. Whether or not this is giving background information, class exercises, or a movie, the instructor should be able to provide something beyond simple clarification during class time,” said Barnes.

This could be a start in increasing attendance in big lecture halls—the classes that usually receive the lowest attendance rates.

InsideHigherEd.com, an online source for higher education news and opinions, deduce that it is “the size of the class that is a likely predictor of attendance. So to the extent that large public universities are most likely to offer lecture hall-filling courses, the issue of class skipping is most pronounced there.”

Jeff Farrar, who teaches a communication processes course to about 300 UConn students, says that he has loosely kept attendance in his lectures with a sign-in sheet, but that the university policy prevents assigning grades based solely on attendance.

“I was more interested in correlating test scores with attendance, but didn’t find anything too interesting,” said Farrar, explaining that students’ grades did not tend to be higher with higher attendance.

Students have a multitude of reasons that dissuade them from attending class, and there is no single solution to increase attendance. There are solutions to combat the problematic lecture-style classes and keep students attentive, but it is up to both the students and the professors, as David Cox, a physics professor at UConn, explains:

“Power point presentations are problematic; an invitation for a nap if not handled right,” he said. But, as far as the students are concerned, “if you feel that your professor is wasting your time, it's worth finding out if your classmates feel the same way. If so, form a mob and approach the professor with your grievances,” said Cox.

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