Physical Presence, Part 2

As promised in my last post, here are the results of my unscientific survey on absenteeism. I anonymously polled the 47 students enrolled in the two undergraduate courses that I’m teaching this semester. I received 41 responses.

The survey contained three questions:

  • What has been the main reason you have not attended one or more classes for this course?
  • Does attending class in this course have a positive or negative effect on your mental health?
  • Does attending class in this course have a positive or negative effect on your learning?

Lack of sleep or food, physical illness, and depression/mental health were, in descending order, the most common reasons given for not attending class:

These two courses meet at 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, so I’m going to assume that insufficient sleep, rather than food, drove the most common response to this question.

Some students said that attending class had a positive effect on their mental health, but more said it had no effect:

In contrast, most students said that class attendance had a positive effect on their learning:

So there you have it. Small sample, muddy picture, but I’ll draw two tentative “conclusions” from the data. First, given the well-documented links between sleep and physical and mental health, there is a good chance that these students’ stated reasons for being absent would change dramatically if they went to bed earlier or if classes did not begin until later in the day. Second, while it’s been my anecdotal experience that students who are chronically absent from class have poor academic performance, the former can’t be said to cause the latter given the likely presence of confounding, omitted variables. We also know from research on active learning pedagogies that people usually have a very inaccurate sense of how much and why they’ve learned. It would be nice to know when and why some students learn more than others when they are in a physical classroom.