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