Friday, March 15, 2013

Attendance and Analysis

Attendance is dropping in general at the universities. Do students consider lectures and seminars unnecessary? I've just finished a campus course with 31 students. At the introduction there were 27 students present. At the first seminar 13 students present, the second time the number had dropped to approximately eight, until the sixth time when there were suddenly only four people showing up. I have learned that this is a pattern with this class, however. Currently in their fourth term, this has been a pattern in the previous terms as well, when they were studying other subjects. At the oral exam, a few days ago, suddenly 28 of them showed up, with the result that more than half of them failed the exam. I might add that the vast majority of the students are in the early twenties.

The problem for me on this course, which has a focus on language teaching and analysis, is that the majority of the students are very unaccustomed to drawing conclusions and analyse properly, an increasing problem as the students who seemingly would benefit the most from the teaching fail to show up. We have often taken the ability to analyse for granted on the university level, but this is clearly not as self-evident anymore. As the reactions to the results began to drop in, I realised I had to smooth some ruffled feathers and I posted the following:

"Since there are quite a few of you who have been to the seminars only occasionally or not at all and may not have handed in keywords and received comments, here are a few pointers on what an analysis entails and its relevance:

An analysis is not a summary, a description, or a review. In an analysis you are not supposed to talk about what you "liked," "hated," or "loved." The focus is on what it actually said in the text, its implications, and coherent and relevant arguments. On this course you were supposed to use the literary text(s) as a first step to compare and contrast, draw parallels between various examples/interesting aspects in the texts and anything that might be relevant either in theory, in the context when the book was written or in the world today. This is only the first step towards analytical thinking, however. To analyse is to see patterns in the world in general and to draw parallels between that and the concrete examples; to see the world in a grain of sand, if you wish.

In your future role as teachers, to be able to properly analyse something is essential in order to be able to make informed decisions and argue for them in a coherent and analytical manner, be it about literature, about course or lesson plans, about the development of the pupils, or about something entirely different. Summarising, describing or reviewing is rarely enough. Developing your analytical skills might take some time and is usually better achieved in groups, as was supposed to be the case on this course, than by yourself, since the awareness of alternative/differing points of view tend to speed up the analytical process, but it is of course possible to become more aware of the analytical processes on your own as well if you're aware of your goal."

I'm not sure how this will be received, but it felt useful simply to outline to myself my reasons for thinking that both attendance and analysis are important.


pargman said...

Wow, was that your way of trying to smooth some ruffled feathers? To me it more looks like a way to ruffle some feathers...

My tip: make attendance (and perhaps also active participation) part of the examination. You miss out on seminars, you miss out on credits and you get a lower grade on the course.

Mia said...

Perhaps it's a way to explain why it was necessary to ruffle a few feathers more than anything else... Anyway, it seems to have worked.

Your suggestion is a good one and this is indeed what is being discussed at our department, but the student union has not allowed us to have mandatory attendance as a requirement so far. As it is now, I think they do understand the problem and I hope this can become a possibility for us.