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Student non-attendance in higher education
A phenomenon of student apathy or poor pedagogy?

Author - Joanne Cleary-Holdforth


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The essence of the problem

It is generally accepted that not all students learn in the same way nor at the same pace and simply ‘spoon-feeding’ information to students does not guarantee that learning will occur (Curzon 2003; Bastable 2003; Reece and Walker 2002; Quinn 2000). Each learner will have individual strengths, limitations and needs. Therefore it is imperative that a variety of teaching and learning strategies are employed that reflect and respond to these diverse needs. However, the main teaching strategy employed in university is the lecture (Gatherer and Manning 1998), which is perceived as a very teacher-centred rather than a student-centred approach to education (O’Neill and McMahon 2005; Bastable 2003; Reece and Walker 2002). A lecture-led approach represents the transmission model of teaching (Quinn 2000) and it is criticised for being a one-way communication process (Curzon 2004) that does not suit all learners and, in fact, may hinder interaction (Ashcroft and Foreman-Peck 1994). By their very nature lectures cannot address the individual learning needs or facilitate the individual learning styles of students. They are designed for delivery of information to the masses and do not lend themselves to interaction, discussion or very much active learning in a way that is meaningful to the students. This approach limits the learning styles and needs that can be addressed to those of a largely behaviourist model or orientation, with the students occupying a more passive dependent role. Students who are more intrinsically motivated and self-directed may find this model of teaching very restrictive, de-motivating and generally quite boring. For students who are less intrinsically motivated and who choose to adopt a more passive, receptive mode, perhaps lectures serve the purpose of knowledge transmission adequately. Perhaps there is some truth in the phrase of Robert G. Ingersoll when he asserted that ‘colleges are places where pebbles are polished and diamonds are dimmed’. This could certainly be said to be true of teacher-led didactic lectures where the familiarity of the lecture hall, the podium, the blackboard, the powerpoint presentations and all other props can and seemingly do breed boredom, if not contempt, at least amongst some of the students. Yet ‘attendance’ continues to be an issue due to the educators’ perception of its academic value and its potential to engender good work etiquette, responsibility and enhance social skills (Gump 2006; Cohn and Johnson 2006; Rodgers 2002; Timmins and Kaliszer 2002; Longhurst 1999). Longhurst (1999) affirms that student absenteeism results in inadequate learning, disruption in class and compromised performance. However, is this faith or confidence in the value of attendance in classes misplaced?

 


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