“If I build it they might not come” – impact of electronic resources on lecture attendance

Empty lecture Theatre

Reused with permission from http://www.sxc.hu/photo/667183

I found myself in a discussion at last week’s learning and teaching conference about whether putting lecture notes and other supporting materials was discouraging students from attending the lectures themselves. There is a wealth of research that suggests that lecture capture does NOT have a significant impact on attendance but I could not point to anything more generally about other resources.

The following paper seems to support the assertion that students are strategic with what they will attend and if the face to face lecture offers no more than other teaching resources (lecture notes, book chapter) then, despite student demands for increased contact time, empty seats may start to appear and spread within the lecture theatre.

Student Decisions about Lecture Attendance: Do Electronic Course Materials Matter? – Billings-Gagliardi, Susan; Mazor, Kathleen M.

While there were a range of factors that impacted students decision to attend lectures, the availability of electronic resources was not one of them. Some of the main factors impacting attendance were:

  • Previous experiences (positive or negative) with particular teacher
    • Do they provide context and explanations?
    • Do they encourage active learning in the session?
    • Do they read from slides / book
  • Predicted outcomes of a lecture (Will I learn anything?)
  • Lecture topic
  • Lecture meets current needs (Have I done enough preparation ?)
  • Personal considerations (conflict with other commitments, 9am lecture…)

Delivering a successful “Blended learning” experience is about fusing online and face to face elements and using each to address areas of learning that they are suitable for. You could be  explicit about the benefits of attending the lecture and differentiate it from other resources which might be delivered through the VLE; if your students feel they can get the same educational value from a static resource such as a set of notes or book chapter, or even a recording of the actual event itself, then perhaps you might want to consider how you can best use the face to face session to add value. Talk around concepts, build in interactivity, follow up on student comments and provide opportunities for students to get involved and shape the lecture content can all help to to make it an unmissable part of their learning, that could not be overshadowed by a set of notes, no matter how detailed.

Alternatively if the aim of the lecture is purely to impart information which can be covered by a set of notes then offering the information in both formats and letting students choose the one that suits their preferred learning style might not be such a bad thing?

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