9- Attendance

Rembrandt's "The Anatomy Lecture of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp"
Maybe students would show up if “lectures” were always like this!

Concerns about student attendance is one of the arguments I’ve heard against flipping.  Why would students bother coming to class if they can get all the content on their own time?  Unfortunately, my lecture attendance did drop in my flipped classes.  Of course, I can’t be sure that attendance decreased solely because of the flip.  Maybe “life happened” more often to students in my flipped classes?  But I don’t think this is the case.  I think that when “life happened” to students in the flipped classes, they were more likely to decide they’d already gotten the content when they watched the video lecture, so attending class simply slipped  to a lower priority.  They assumed that as long as they completed the content acquisition portion of the flip, they had all the tools they needed to succeed in the class.  But these students were missing the part of the flip that moves BEYOND a simple online course.  The flip takes advantage of many benefits of online education (self-pacing, differentiated instruction and scheduling flexibility) but then it ADDS a component (active learning during class time with the benefit of instructor feedback) that makes it BETTER (in my opinion) than either modality by itself.

In the process of brainstorming ways to deal with these attendance issues, I began with this: I must actively demonstrate the value of participating in the activities we do during class time.

So this semester, I will assign a relatively small number of points (5% of the course grade) for in-class clicker activities, which I’m hoping will be meaningful and relatively hassle-free.  I will give students two free passes to accommodate when “life happens”, and will probably offer bonus points for students who do not use the freebies.  They will know the menial consequences of missing class and will see that I value their participation enough to reward them with points.  Couple this with some direct coaching and encouragement, and I think I will have a different experience with lecture attendance. I look forward to relaying any changes I see based on these adjustments.

Next week I will report on a talk I am attending at Humboldt State University’s Institute of Student Success.  The talk will be given by Eric Mazur, a physicist from Harvard who authoritatively advocates lecture-avoidance and provided powerful inspiration for my original decision to flip my class.

7 thoughts on “9- Attendance

  1. I use to stress-out over lecture attendance, and still do to some extent – but students really do NOT NEED to be in class to learn! If they “learn everything” outside of class – then why show up?

    There is a long history to “taking attendance” that goes back to the industrial revolution – one purpose of education / teachers is to condition students to obey clocks – society required workers to “show up” when the assembly line started up at 7AM. But nowadays (that’s one of my favorite words) “workers” do not have to obey clocks so much – “work” gets done today asynchronously and in multiple locations (coffee shops, home offices, etc.) I somewhat believe we want students to show up for our classes to make us feel good – to make us feel more popular and needed.

    But holy smokes, I do indeed think that good and necessary lessons can be taught in group environments – such as “how to engage in a academic discussion,” “how to get along with people different from me.” And for many students in a flipped classroom, they do indeed need to learn “how do I apply the concepts that I learned at home to novel and difficult problems.”

    Developing a flipped classroom is difficult! There will be days that students think “wow – why did I show up for this!” — but as we develop more and more classroom materials that promote, for example, good discussion, higher order thinking, creativity and innovation, etc – students will see the value of going to class. But this is a ton of work! It wont be easy, and we need to share our ideas and materials with each other — and this is where HAPS comes in — as a place to share insights on all sorts of things like “how do you flip your classroom.” I have a few ideas myself, but I know I’m a long way from my goal — still lots of work yet to be done.

    Thanks – great posting!


    • I always appreciate your thoughtful comments, Murray! You describe exactly the internal struggle I feel with attendance. I love the flexibility offered by the flip…but I really wanted students to show up for the activities. And while I totally agree that the students who “get it” already should not HAVE to attend class, I do feel that the activities as a whole are more dynamic and interesting when EVERYONE participates. I had one student last semester (very bright) who took on the job of “fact checker”. He kept his smart phone at the ready and answered all the “application” questions no one else could address. I know he benefited from this, even though his gains were different than most of the other students.
      The number of points earned by attending class will be so minute that perhaps students will realize this and still prioritize class time lower than they otherwise would…but I will feel better about expressing the value of the work done during class time.

  2. I’m really enjoying reading about your experiences. I’m getting very excited about flipping my classroom in the future. Learning from your experiences will get me all the more prepared, though I know there will be a learning curve.

  3. Wendy, thank you so much for discussing the good and the bad about flipped classrooms. I worry about lecture attendance too, but as Murray mentioned, if they are learning everything outside of class, some may not need to come to class. And, as many abysmal lecturers have taught us, attending class doesn’t necessarily mean LEARNING is going on! The ongoing challenge for all of us is to have our students *accurately* gauge their understanding, so some don’t skip class bc they incorrectly believe they know it all….

    • Ahhhh…another fantastic challenge. How can we help our students really know what they know?! There are so many ways we can all become better teachers! Thanks for the support, Valerie—

  4. I use to participate and love the Anatomy quizes some surgeons held during surgery, some surgeons cried, some were elated…despite that surgery goes on and mostly quite well.

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