Attendance predicts attainment, so we need to encourage attendance

There is a pretty big push at the University of Surrey to record lectures, so students can view them at another time. I think recording lectures is popular among many students, and I plan to do it for one of my courses next year. But another question is: Does it help students learn more? A recent study by Edwards and Clinton suggests that it does not.

Edwards and Clinton suggest that the problem with introducing recording lectures, is that it leads to a drop off in attendance. Attendance is strongly correlated* with doing well in a course. So anything that leads to a drop in attendance is at least at risk** of leading to less learning. I was surprised by their finding that about two thirds of the views by students of the recorded lectures, occurred after the lectures ended, but before the exam, i.e., much of the viewing was for exam revision.

If a student skips a lecture thinking they can catch-up later, but only views it after the lectures end, they could easily end up doing too little during the weeks of lectures, and so have too much to do in the run up the exam. I have been doing a lot of coursework collation over the last couple of weeks, and quite a few students picked up late submission penalties, testament to the fact that many of our students’ time management abilities are a work in progress.

So, what to do? I can do no better than to quote the final paragraph of Edwards and Clinton’s paper in full: “Importantly, there is a strong case for clearly communicating to students the danger of an over-reliance on using recorded content and the potential negative impact that low lecture attendance could have on their attainment. In the majority of cases, students would not be able to use lecture capture to compensate for severe lecture absence using recorded content and the current study can serve as useful evidence to help educate students of the potential impact of low attendance; it is important to clearly communicate that the idea of binge-viewing lecture capture content during revision period can make up for severe absence is likely to be misguided.” I should do this. We should also think if something could be done to help with the broader problem of students who struggle with time management.


* Edwards and Clinton find a Pearson’s correlation coefficient = 0.42 for the correlation between attendance and attainment. This is a pretty strong correlation (r = 0 is no correlation, =1 is absolutely perfect correlation).

** As every scientists should know, correlation (here between attendance and attainment) does not equal causation, however, Edwards and Clinton do some analysis that is at least suggestive that there is some genuine causation here.

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