Mature students know when to show

Oh, the tedium of a lecture on information I already know! Ah, the frustration with concrete and arbitrary attendance policies wielded by teachers convinced of the effectiveness of their methods.
For me, lectures have never been the most effective way to learn. My mind tends to drift too quickly, unless constantly questioned and engaged.
Granted, some professors do give interesting lectures with comments and questions playing a major role, but to those who simply recite facts blindly, I say, let me stay home.
In one of my political science classes, the professor would spout out the information, as the students scribbled frantically to transcribe everything. Two hundred pens, 200 notebooks and 200 heads looking down. What a waste of time and energy.
Perhaps some learn this way. One argument says the lessons are reinforced through listening, reading and writing. The student is forced to think about the material while condensing it into notes.
To cap it off, the teacher gave everybody a perfect outline of the things he had discussed, rendering their notes redundant. I used the outline to learn the material and regretted ever attending class.
Though I believe some who took notes learned the stuff better than I, many people come away from University classes with very fragile knowledge, information that can be regurgitated but not used to form new conclusions.
Is attendance the best way to counter this, or could engaging, discussion-based classes strengthen the understanding? Do these students, like me, learn better through reading and asking questions rather than listening for an hour?
Of course, each discipline has different techniques. For example, in many engineering classes, the professor will work problems on the board while the students attempt to solve them. There is no substitute for this kind of interactive demonstration.
Attending class might have other benefits, like socializing, but in general, I have found class attendance to be a pain I can do without.
What a joy it is then, when a teacher throws an attendance requirement on students!
A perfect example of an unnecessary attendance requirement is found in the composition classes required for most students. What could be more important than learning to communicate one’s ideas through writing? I don’t dispute the importance of learning to write, but I have learned almost nothing from these classes, which I have dropped three times, mostly because of attendance requirements.
Look what I have to go through to appease the department and their rule that I sit through most of the classes.
First, I have to find a class that matches my schedule, or that I can work around. Often I have gone to class when I would have learned more by staying here at the Daily and working on writing, rather than going to that stuffy room and being lectured.
Then there’s the drive to school, the parking headache and the walk to class, all done begrudgingly with the hope that there might be even one valuable thing taught that day, or, barring that, that I get something done for my job in the real world.
I sit while the teacher tries to bring people at different levels of skill and experience the same lesson.
The only things due in my thrice-attempted writing course were three papers, but attendance, exercises and participation formed much of the grade.
As an adult who realizes what I am or am not learning while sitting through class, I am annoyed by the department’s self-prescribed role as truancy officer. Why should attendance be among the grading criteria?
One reason came from a teacher I consider brain dead: “That’s just the department’s policy.” Don’t bother questioning it then, you airhead.
Joel Weinsheimer, the composition department head, said student attendance is important in composition classes because they follow a workshop format, with student review at each step of the process. This method of teaching works best if the students are there to perform their part of the process.
He added that, beginning in the fall, the 3000-level composition classes will be discontinued, with each department designating certain classes as “writing intensive.” Whether these are also taught in a workshop format will be up to each department.
There are ways to get around attendance requirements. Perhaps the most wonderful educational invention I’ve run into at the University is the distance education program, whose designers must have realized that many students would prefer to learn on their own time, at their own speed, without waking up early to sit in a stifling room with other bored students.
The independent study classes allow students to work during their free time. Videos and audio tapes supplement the information in the book, and assignments can often be e-mailed to the instructor.
Fortunately, independent study classes are designed to teach the information without the attendance of the teacher or students.
For day classes, why not leave it up to the educational consumer to decide if he or she needs to attend class on a given day, rather than having contrived attendance policies that simply reduce the grade of the competent, but busy, student?
For an acting class, it would be detrimental if most of the participants were missing, but having novice peer reviewers make a few comments on my papers has not improved my writing.
Classes should be graded on objective criteria related to the course work, not on an arbitrary attendance requirement that either wastes students’ time or leaves them with a lesser grade simply because they had better things to do.

Brian Close welcomes comments to [email protected]