Attrition

attrition.jpg
I call this “why it’s not a good idea to assume students will come to a lecture without a grade directly attached to attendance.” (It’s not quite as bad as it looks, but almost :).

Really, this has tugged at me. I deliberately designed the class the way it is assuming that 25% of folks would just not show up. Little did I know that only 25% would show up. I’ve always hated the idea of required attendance at large lectures, but unless there is an immediately observable effect on their grade, they won’t come to class. It seems almost Pavlovian. I don’t want to treat a group of university seniors as though they are in high school, but what do you do if that’s how they approach school?

Of course, it could always be my lectures! I’ll admit, despite the fact that the best students in the class are the ones sitting in that picture, and that having the best of the undergrads in a relatively small class seems ideal, the truth is that it’s a lot harder to get up a momentum with a half-filled room.

More experiments next semester. While random quizzes may insult the free will of the students, at least they will bring more away from the class. The idea of spending four years of your life doing something half-way is beyond my comprehension. I want to tell some of these students “If this isn’t the time for you for school, go find something you are passionate about.” I have a feeling that once they found that passion, they will also find a reason to come back to school. As it is, years of prison (er… school) have convinced them that it is simply a matter of putting in the time and doing as little as possible. A B.A. in doing time. Grumble.

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7 Comments

  1. Posted 11/21/2002 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    The reason the students don’t come to class has nothing to do with the quality of your lectures and in-class activities. I really think it’s a cultural thing. As communication majors (and maybe it’s not just limited to them, but those are the only ones I know), they’re used to sitting through classes where class participation was not evaluated, let alone rewarded. I made an effort this semester to learn the names of my students (the ones who were there regularly) and I think that surprised some of them. They’re accustomed to being nameless and faceless, which is really tragic. They could be learning so much more with a little personal attention.
    Don’t feel bad. They knew what they were getting into.

  2. Posted 11/21/2002 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

    I have never once heard a student in your classes say anything bad about the lectures. When I ask what kids think of you its always the same. ” I like him, he’s very smart, and the quizzes are hard as hell”. You can take that to the bank. In my opinion, the lectures are fun and entertaining, the material is exciting, and most importantly, your attitude is uplifting.

    It’s just like you said though. When I ask kids in the class who don’t attend anymore why they don’t come, the answer is always the same. “I took the test already, there are no other grades other than the Karma board, which I will never be tops on, so why should I come to class?” This is when I ask “What about getting an education?” And this is where they look at me dumbfounded like I have 3 heads. Hmmmm, no consequences, no attendance. Pavlov was a freakin’ genius.

  3. Posted 11/21/2002 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

    Being an I.A. for Dr. Goldhaber this semester, I have seen a lot of people groan over his policy of having assigned seating and required attendance. But, when it comes down to it, the class is always packed because of it. It is unfortunate that such measures are necessary to make students attend lecture, but it sure does work.

  4. Jennifer
    Posted 11/21/2002 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

    I have to say that I never realized how small the crowd in this class was until I just saw that picture, because I sit in the 3rd row. It’s truly sad that students pay so much money to go to this university but yet, they don’t come to class. If I have a kid one day who doesn’t go to a class that I am paying for…nevermind, I don’t want to sound mean :-) But seriously, I feel that this class is not too hard as long as you put the effort into it. Once you get past that exam, the class becomes an interesting discussion and it’s sad that students didn’t stick around to find that out! Alex, I am sorry that no one has enough respect to come anymore but rest assured, Jeff and I will be there till the end :-)

  5. Jennifer
    Posted 11/21/2002 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

    By the way, my boyfriend works at Stereo Advantage on Main Street and is obsessed with electronics. He wants to know what kind of camera you took that picture with! Thanks! :-)

  6. Posted 11/21/2002 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

    Thanks all for the votes of confidence. I wasn’t trying to be self-pitying in the post, though it does seem a bit pathetic on re-reading.

    The thing is, it’s not just the role of the prof to convey information. He or she is supposed to be able to somehow get the students to want to learn stuff. It’s much more like being a coach: setting up the conditions under which students can improve themselves.

    I guess in order to do that you have to get them in the classroom. I can’t think of a coach saying “attend practice whenever you want to,” and that’s kind of what I’ve said this semester to the students. Bad move on my part. Next semester, attendance is more clearly required (and tied to the grade). What Woody Allen said holds up: 70% of success in life is showing up.

    He also said “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve immortality by living forever.” That has no relevance here, but I like the quote.

  7. Posted 11/21/2002 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

    JK: I wanted a decent digital camera for years. I have been waiting for the price on the Elphs to fall, but they’ve remained fairly high. Then a month ago I saw a serious deal on this one at auction. (I paid MUCH less than that). I love it: great pics, great features, great footprint. I actually got it at Ubid, and I was glad they let me have it at that price: the last time I got a good deal there, they claimed that there had been a mistake and they didn’t really have the item :(.

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