The responses to my earlier post on an admittedly nutty idea to get students to come to class seem, so far, to hold that the choice of whether or not to attend class ought to rest solely with the college student, and that he or she ought to live with the consequences of that choice. (Also, there was a fair bit of reminiscing about pointless class meetings that had been attended and about classes aced despite chronic absenteeism.)
I don’t disagree that cultivating a sense of personal responsibility is a good thing (nor that poorly planned or poorly delivered lectures are bad). But how to cultivate that sense of responsibility is the head-scratcher, especially when one’s students seem to have a very different motivation structure than one remembers having when one was a student.
The sad fact is, the course we were talking about last night is one where attendance and learning what one needs to in order to fulfil the requirements of the assignments are strongly correlated. Moreover, it’s a class that one must pass in order to graduate. What this means is that ditching the class is an impediment to graduating. This makes it feel especially urgent to do what one can to help one’s students to see that the correlation is there and take this into consideration when making decisions.
Because trust me, there are always students who profess to be shocked when they discover that the minimal effort they have expended on the class has not been enough to pass. Then there’s the tearful “is there anything else I can do to pass?” conference. And, as big a fan of the cultivation of personal responsibility as we professorial types may be, we’re not made of stone. No, we don’t cave, but it exacts some emotional energy not to cave when a kid who has made some bad choices is crying in your office asking for a do-over.
So, at minimum, we like to make sure there’s very clear signage on the path of doom. And, we’d like to make the path that’s more likely to lead to success more attractive. We just aren’t clear on what precisely would attract our students to it.
One other point that I will toss out there without belaboring: a high absentee rate in a class can really screw up your plans for a class meeting, especially one organized around discussion. If half the students don’t show up, and maybe a third of those who do haven’t done the reading and/or won’t open their mouths, it does not make for a riveting learning experience even for those who do show up. In a situation where instructors can’t cut loose those who don’t want to be in the class in fill those slots with students who are ready to engage in the material, it’s a suboptimal experience for everyone.