There are 125 students in my Primary Science Education course. This morning’s lecture would have been lucky to have 50 students attending it. The faces were familiar – the faithful few are faithful.
This is a relatively recent phenomenon in the past couple of weeks – most of the semester there were 90-100 students in attendance each week. But it’s the ‘pointy end’ of the semester, and they have a lot of assessment tasks in this course and their other courses. They have presentations to give in the tutes are after the lecture today and some of them will be preparing for those.
The story with the tutes has been similar, but without the tail off at the end: there are about 26 enrolled for my tute and there have been a faithful 18-20 students in attendance each week, and a few who have turned up never or rarely.
I think I do a decent job on the lectures and tutes, try to make them interesting, relevant, focused and as interactive as I can. But students also have other commitments – many have children and have jobs while they’re studying and so on. I think our courses have tended to be overstuffed with assessment tasks, too, though we’re taking steps to address that.
The tutor in the course is more worried about the no-shows than I am, and would like to either make attendance compulsory or include more questions on the exam that would require tutorial attendance to answer, to motivate students to attend the tutes.
The approach in the lecture is almost the opposite, in some ways – while I do think there’s no substitute for the ‘David live!’ experience, all the lectures are recorded and made available on the web an hour or so after the lecture takes place, and I post my lecture PowerPoint shows and other resources a couple of days before the lecture. The point is, the fact that a student is not in the lecture theatre at 8 am on Tuesday morning (what have I done to the timetablers!) doesn’t mean s/he misses the lecture, because there are other ways to gain access to the information included.
I have to admit that my own impulse is to simply teach those who turn up. Our students are all adults, and get to make their own choices. Sure, it’s a bit frustrating to put in a lot of work preparing for a tute and then have a less than full class, but I think putting our energy into chasing the students who don’t want to be there can shortchange those who do.
I did a quick literature review, and there is good evidence of a strong correlation between turning up and getting better grades. It may sound a bit harsh and Darwinian, but there is more of a glut than a shortage of primary teachers in this state at the moment. The ones who turn up will be the ones who get good grades, and can give sophisticated professional answers at interviews, and will get jobs. And the ones who don’t… well, they’ll be less likely to end up with teaching jobs.
Maybe it’s oversimple, and maybe there are good grounds for requiring attendance, but as I say, my own impulse is simply to let the issue take care of itself – and to keep trying to make the lectures and tutes as valuable as I can.