The unengaged student comes in many varieties: napping in the back of the lecture hall, watching “Breaking Bad” under the guise of taking notes on their laptop, searching for tattoo design inspiration on Pinterest or playing “Candy Crush” on their phone.
Unfortunately, we’ve all had someone like this as a classmate and I’ve been guilty of being unengaged and distracted during lecture as well. The reality is, some students have no desire to be in class at all. Despite the hefty price tag on our education, sometimes we have no motivation to go to class. It’s the inclusion of attendance in grading criteria through clicker questions, random pop quizzes or spontaneous assignments that makes disinterested students obligated to attend.
Although these seem to be effective in motivating students to attend lecture, it benefits nobody academically. Attendance is not an accurate representation of effort or performance in class. The student may be physically present, but they’re not engaged and are only there to fulfill an attendance requirement — not to learn and pay attention. Other students may find it fun to stealthily take photos of their sleeping classmate to share online, or peer over a classmate’s shoulder to watch a show more riveting than the subject being presented. Consequently, the lecture is a waste of the student’s time, as well as that of the others that surround him.
While attendance policies are meant to penalize lazy students who choose an afternoon of Netflix over class, it also punishes students who have jobs or other obligations. They’re either too tired or too busy to attend a glorified powerpoint presentation of the textbook that they could simply read and study on their own time. It’s true that our professors are brilliant and have years of experience under their belt, but frankly some aren’t particularly engaging and simply recite the contents of the textbook verbatim, which makes lecture redundant and a waste of time.
Some students could use that time to rest or do something productive. Instead, we sit in lecture halls for up to an hour and a half and leave only to realize we absorbed little to no information.
An hour on Netflix is still an hour on Netflix, regardless of where you spend it. Money wasted when a student doesn’t attend class is still wasted even if the student attends class and doesn’t engage with the material.
It may appear that I’m defending laziness, but I’m actually advocating self-motivated education and personal responsibility. By penalizing us for deciding how we want to spend our time, it shows that we are still viewed as children who need reinforcement to behave appropriately.
College students should be trusted to make the decisions they deem right for themselves. It’s the consequences of those decisions that will ultimately prepare us for “the real world” which doesn’t have a syllabus. Ultimately, students will decide whether attending lecture is beneficial for them and behave accordingly. As a result, they’re attending out of sheer desire to learn and not just to earn points.
Professors may fear that attendance will dwindle if they remove it from the syllabus. However, if students truly find the professor’s insights valuable and want to learn, they will attend. Attendance policies are unnecessary and benefit no one. Students who care about the course will attend because they truly want to, and students who don’t will stay at home.
If anything, the classroom environment will improve since only students who are truly invested in the course will be present. A handful of engaged students is better than a roomful of ones who are asleep.