Your Professor Knows Your Dog Didn’t Eat Your Homework

By Abby Zofchak

Students have flocked back to campus and classes are underway. Everyone has started the semester well rested and ready to do things again. However, many of us know that this enthusiasm starts to fade as responsibilities and schoolwork pile up throughout the semester. Students start to complain that they have too much to do and not enough time, and even showing up to class can seem like a major effort. While we all seem to understand that going to class is important (see Note 1), we are not entirely sure how much students are actually missing class. Until now, we have not had data to show what attendance really looks like at Denison and how people think about it.

This post is part of a larger project of mine from last semester that looked into how pervasive missing class is, why students skip, and if faculty attendance policies affect student behavior. The study involved two surveys. The first was given to faculty members to understand the institutional framework Denison currently has for attendance. The second survey asked students a series of questions related to campus life, their classes, and how much they miss class and why. In part 1, I review student and faculty beliefs and attitudes about attendance. In part 2, coming next week, I will document how much students are missing and explore why.

What do we think about attendance – how do faculty members and students perceive behavior related to skipping class, and is it a problem? I looked at data collected from the faculty survey in October, 2016. The survey asked faculty members if they thought course attendance was a serious problem on campus. Responses were given on a 5-point scale from strongly agree to strongly disagree. Most of the faculty reported the middle value, which often signals not having sufficient information to choose otherwise. However, Figure 1 shows that more disagreed than agreed that it’s a serious problem.

 Figure 1: Do Faculty and Students Think Missing Class is a Serious Issue?

figure-1-faculty-student-attendance-serious-issue

The variance in responses from faculty could be the result of a few different things. Some faculty might think attendance is more important and have higher expectations for students. There is some evidence to support this – those who say it is extremely important that students go to class were more likely to agree that attendance is a serious issue (see Note 2).  However, the difference in perception could exist because no one has really looked into how much students actually miss class before. It is hard to be certain that a problem exists if there is no systematic evidence of it.

What do students think? In November, 2016, about 600 students were asked the same question. Generally, students perceive attendance in the same way that the faculty does. Only 4% strongly disagree that it is a serious issue, while 10% strongly agree, which leave most students somewhere in the middle without strong feelings either way (see Figure 1). Moreover, these results reveal that the student population does not agree on whether or not missing class is a problem. More students than faculty seem to think Denison does not have an attendance problem. However, I suspect that individuals who are likely to take a survey are probably more attentive and more likely to show up to class, which may limit the perspective of the sample. Again, this could also just mean that they do not know much about the issue, making it hard to be sure one way or the other.

We might be able to better understand the scope of the issue if we know why students tend to miss class. The faculty were asked to pick the top three reasons why they think students skip class the most. The top three reasons selected were short term-illness (cold, flu, etc.), lack of sleep/overslept, and commitments for internships or jobs (see Figure 2). Then students were asked, “If you miss class, what are the most common reasons why? Please check the top three reasons for your absences.” Students reported the same top three reasons as the faculty. Although being sick, oversleeping/not getting enough sleep, and having commitments for jobs or internships seem relatively harmless, they can have compounding effects and can be related to other, larger issues associated with lifestyle choices, wellness, and time management.

 figure_2

One important implication of these results is that there are no major misunderstandings about why students skip class. Denison’s faculty seems to understand their students more than they are often given credit for. Denison is all about relationships and in some ways these results give us a sense of the open communication between faculty and their students.

So is there an attendance problem? While there is not a campus-wide consensus on how serious of an issue skipping class is, we do know why students are missing class. However, we cannot be entirely sure with this information alone. We still do not know how often students are missing their classes. Stay tuned for part 2 where I will be looking at how pervasive skipping class is, how they cluster by class, and if attendance policies have any influence on student behavior.

Abby Zofchak is an a capella singer who decided to take a break from swaying on stage so she could use her political science skills to better understand the mysterious “Denison bubble.”


Notes

1. The survey asked faculty members, “How important to you is it that students attend class?” 73% reported that they think it is very important while only 4% of the faculty say it is not important. Students were asked, “How important is it to you that you go to class.” 65% of the student sample said they think it’s very important, 27% think it is important, and less than 1% say it is not important.

2. I looked at the correlation between how much faculty value attendance and if they think it is a serious problem at Denison. The results showed a significant and positive relationship between the two (p<.05).

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