Sunday, October 25, 2015

This day ... three years ago (3)

(Re-posting from 2012)

No noise in the classroom, please. Students are asleep!
As enrollment has increased in the college where I teach, there has been an increase in the number of students who go through some of the classes that I teach.  The opportunity to help more numbers of students understand and interpret the world certainly pleases me.

However, along with the larger numbers, I notice that there is also a much higher increase in the percentage of students who don't show up even though they are registered for the class.  Sometimes they are no shows during the entire term.

Yesterday, at class time, only 15 out of the 36 were in attendance.  A couple more came in late, but we didn't even reach the 50%-plus-one that would be required for a quorum!

It worsened after the break--we were down to twelve.  Only a third of the class.

Yes, there was absenteeism even in the old days.  Ten years ago, when I started teaching here, of course, students did skip class.  I have never recorded attendance because, as I tell them, they are adults and I do not have to babysit anybody.  But, I don't even need any hard data to understand that the trend has been of decreasing attendance.

It sunk to a new low yesterday.

One reason could very well be that I am a crappy teacher, and such teachers might not be making their classes exciting enough for students, who need to be "edutained."  But, as I joke with students, if they thought I am crappy now, well, I was incredibly crappier years ago.  (One term, a student, who mistook my humor, told me in all seriousness "if you think you are bad, Dr. Khé, you really don't know what bad teaching means."  That was one awesome compliment I received that term!)

Thus, absenteeism has been on a steady increase even as my teaching has gotten better; how about that!

My hypothesis to explain the rapid increase is simple: we now have a lot more students than before who are simply not interested in higher education.  Yet, they are here because of the societal contexts that force them to be in classrooms.

Is it worth all this trouble?

When 24 students decide to skip class, it is a huge waste of precious dollars too.  At the approximately sixty dollars it costs each student for each class meeting, that was $1,440 flushed down the toilet in a little more than an hour.  Mine is not the only class where we witness absenteeism.  Now think about all the other classes that are offered at this university alone.  And then all the classes across all the colleges and universities.

I do not mean to suggest that coming to class is always better than not coming to class.  We have to count the number of students who do come to class and promptly fall asleep.  Yes, asleep.  A few years ago, a colleague, who since left for greener pastures, described to me what he did when he saw a student fast asleep with his face down on the desk.  The colleague walked up to the classroom door, and banged it shut.  The sudden loud noise jolted the student from his sleep and the rest of the class apparently had quiet smiles on their faces.

I don't do anything like what that former colleague did.  I might ask students whether they think it will be ok with their boss if they didn't show up for work, or if they slept on the job.  That is the extent to which I go about reminding them that their habits are not healthy.  I don't have to, nor do I want to, babysit adults.

Do students ever ask themselves whether all this fun and sleep is worth the $25,000 debt that they graduate with, on an average?

Should voters ask ourselves whether we should worry at all about the student debt accumulated via such a process?

Given that there is also public money involved in universities like the one where I teach, I am sure taxpayers are not going to be thrilled to know that they are subsidizing students who choose to skip classes, or treat class time as nap time.

I would love it if taxpayers routinely observed our classrooms and judged for themselves whether their hard-earned monies are being put to good use.  I am confident that if they did, well, that will be the end of even the little bit of funding that we currently get for higher education.  I, for one, would not blame taxpayers if they chose to do that.

After that, the taxpayers should also sit in on faculty meetings.  I suppose I would be blamed if it results in them jumping off the nearest cliff.  I bet quite a few administrators will gladly push them over too!

Welcome to the university, and have a nice day!


Ramesh said...

I complimented you heartily the first time around, and I will do so again. A well written post.

I continue to maintain that every student does fool around and misses classes as you and I once did. But then it was our parents paying and the delicious irresponsibility was too good to resist. But what makes a student take on a crippling loan and yet fool around ? Maybe the hormones are too hard to resist.

Sriram Khé said...

It seems like you don't ever want to believe me when I tell you that I hated missing classes. I always loved going to classes, from the earliest years all the way through grad school. And now too ... ;)
And, yes, all that was when I was not even getting into debt by going to classes. If I were borrowing money to go to classes, then there is no way in hell that I will waste that money. I don't understand how a $25,000 debt at 25 and younger does not scare the shit out of the youth. Maybe I am not a risk-taking wuss and, therefore, I don't get it!

gils said...

Asking a student to attend class with the fear of loans.. Hmmm.. Doesn't sound like a good idea :) at times the teacher needs to take the fishing approach.. You can't catch all fish in one trip. And yes there's always a second chance. Do you keep surprise quiz? That would be a scary thought :)))

Sriram Khé said...

Nope ... no surprises in my classes. Everything the students and I do are all clearly in the syllabus. Because of a fundamental philosophical approach to learning (it is not the teaching)--I don't "test" students, but give them opportunities to demonstrate their understanding.
Plus, I treat students as adults. It is up to them to live up to the rights and responsibilities of adulthood.

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