Academic journal article Research & Teaching in Developmental Education

Attendance Policies in Developmental Education Courses: Promoting Involvement or Undermining Students' Autonomy?

Academic journal article Research & Teaching in Developmental Education

Attendance Policies in Developmental Education Courses: Promoting Involvement or Undermining Students' Autonomy?

Article excerpt

Over the last 7 years, our colleagues and we have reviewed the literature regarding attendance policies in higher education and the relationship between attendance and performance (e.g., Brocato, 1989; Davis, 1993; Jones, 1984; Launius, 1997; Vidler, 1980; Wiley, 1992) and conducted studies in our own programs (Moore & Jensen, 2005) and courses (Moore, 2003a, 2003b; Moore, Jensen, Hatch, Duranczyk, Staats, & Koch, 2003; Thomas & Higbee, 2000). From this research we have learned that attending class definitely does matter. We have also learned from our own research and that of others that absenteeism can be high in courses in which attendance is not required-as high as 25%, 33%, or even approaching 50% on any given day (Friedman, Rodriguez, & McComb, 2001; McGuire, 2003; Moore, 2003a, 2003b, 2005; Romer, 1993). Unlike their counterparts of a generation ago-a generation that includes many of us who are teaching developmental education courses today-some students now consider class attendance optional (Romer) unless individual faculty members' policies indicate to the contrary.

Within our own developmental education unit we continue to have divergent opinions on whether to require class attendance. The higher education literature generally opposes attendance policies, leaving the decision of whether or not to come to class up to the individual student. In reflecting upon our conversations about this topic with colleagues from around the nation and on our own campus, we have begun to consider that perhaps our differences of opinion are related more to the nature of the courses we teach, to the student development theories that guide our practice, and to our own personal philosophies of teaching, rather than to the particular population of students we serve. Would our philosophies and the resulting attendance policies be different if we did not teach developmental education courses?

Jeanne's Arguments in Favor of Mandatory Attendance

When conversations about mandatory attendance policies have arisen, I have found that my reasoning for requiring students to attend my classes has revolved around the nature of the courses I teach, the teaching strategies I use, and my focus on student-centered learning, rather than on the target audience for each course, which varies widely. I currently teach (a) GC 1086, a first-year experience course designed specifically for students admitted to the General College (GC), the developmental education unit of the University of Minnesota; (b) GC 1907, a content-based cultural diversity freshman seminar, offered primarily for GC students, with slots available to other first-year students if space permits; (c) GC 1280, a psychology of personal development course that is offered by GC but typically attracts undergraduate students, from freshmen to seniors, from all colleges of the University, including the highly selective Carlson School of Business and Institute of Technology; and (d) EdPA 5727, a graduate-level course for the Department of Educational Policy and Administration in the College of Education and Human Development. My attendance policies for all of these courses are similar.

In each of my classes students take responsibility for their own learning, but also for the education of their classmates. They either take turns facilitating discussion for the whole class, as in the small enrollment freshman seminar and the graduate course, or they work in dyads, triads, and small groups in my larger classes. Even in the 160-student "lecture" portion of the first-year experience course, for which all eight sections meet together for 50 minutes each week, and then separately for 100 minutes, I seldom lecture for more than 10 minutes at a time. I use films, activities, and class discussion to engage students, whose preferred learning modalities are visual and interactive (Higbee, Ginter, & Taylor, 1991). In fact, during the second lecture period students complete a modified form of James and Galbraith's (1985; Galbraith & James, 1987) Learning Styles Self-Report and then we model strategies for adapting to the traditional lecture-and-text college course. …

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