CHERTL Conversation Zooms In On Lecture Attendance at Rhodes

Lecturers and students engaging in CHERTL Conversation
Lecturers and students engaging in CHERTL Conversation

by Boitumelo Nte

 

Following campus-wide concerns over poor lecture attendance in various academic disciplines, CHERTL initiated a ‘conversation’ on Tuesday 6 August using the question ‘Why DO students attend lectures?’ The conversation, attended by about forty people provided both students and academic staff with a platform to collaboratively engage on what contributes to successful lecture turn-out.

The Conversation yielded a number of consensus points from the eight staff representatives and their students who attended as key contributors to the conversation. The first of these was that students attend lectures when they feel there is human connection between staff and students. A sense of care and empathy for the students, and staff sharing their own learning challenges contribute to  a culture of attendance. A number of people alluded to that fact that there seem to be increasing numbers of students suffering from a range of mental health issues which could also account for poor lecture attendance. Lecturers need to be sensitive to this.

Unsurprisingly, lecturers who demonstrate a passion for their discipline and who engage energetically with their students were also highlighted as contributing positively to lecture attendance. However, as noted by William Froneman from the Zoology department, this needs be complemented by evidence of thorough preparation for class on the part of the academics. Froneman noted that albeit an assumed given, lecturer preparation (or the lack thereof) increasingly affects class attendance and “lecturer reputation”.  Students respond (and even advise each other on attendance) based on the perceived reputation of the lecturer emerging from factors such as preparedness.

Also debated was the issue of whether there are benefits to making lecture attendance compulsory. Shuaib Rhaim, from the Law Faculty, argued that compulsory lecture attendance has two purposes. One is that it allows staff to be aware of who is not attending lectures and gives them an opportunity to investigate if the student has difficulties that can be sorted out. The second is that the discipline required by compulsory attendance is good ‘training’ for students’ future careers. CHERTL’s Jo-Anne Vorster questioned whether lecture attendance should not be mandated at least at first year level. She argued here that the results of these mandatory classes may be sufficient to encourage student independence and commitment in successive years of studies. German Lecturer, Natasha Engelbrecht, concurred with this by saying that student maturity contributed to improved lecture attendance. She also mentioned that if students respect their lecturers and appreciate the their hard work in preparing for lectures, they are more likely to attend. Sally Matthews (Politics) suggested that further research is needed for us to understand exactly what it is that students do when they are not attending their lectures.

It was further suggested the use of only English in lectures makes learning very difficult for many of our students. One student said that she sometimes left a lecture feeling she had not understood anything.  Both Thina Maqubela (Statistics) and Sandie Phakathi (Economics), who always receive very positive feedback from their students, mentioned the value of encouraging the use of different languages in their classroom as a tool for learning. Thina Maqubela added that she expects students to be “fluent in Statistics, and not in English”. CHERTL and the University Language Committee will be hosting another Conversation on 4 September on the topic of multilingualism and the use of ‘translanguaging’ in teaching spaces. Details will be posted to Toplist.