Why do Students Still Bother Coming to Lectures, When Everything is Available Online?

Vanessa Gysbers, Jill Johnston, Dale Hancock, Gareth Denyer


Web-based lecture technologies (WBLTs), which deliver recorded lectures and notes online, are increasingly common. However, there is concern that they may reduce lecture attendance. Since we did not observe a significant drop in attendance following the introduction of WBLTs in the School of Molecular Bioscience at the University of Sydney, we surveyed 563 students to discover why they attended lectures despite the availability of copious online materials. 82 % of responding students reported they always or mostly attend lectures and 74% expressed a negative emotion when asked how they would feel if lectures were abolished.
Free-form comments indicated that students attend lectures for reasons either positive about lectures or negative about WBLTs. Students feel that lectures provide a disciplined learning environment where they can concentrate in a scholarly community. Lectures intrinsically contribute to the ‘university experience’ and the social aspect is also important. Some students are motivated to attend through habit, guilt or by financial concerns. Negative comments highlighted perceptions that WBLTs do not fully capture lecture content, can be inefficient and unreliable, and predispose students to procrastination. The majority of students use WBLTs in addition to attending lectures and perceive distinct roles for each mode. Most students who did not attend lectures claimed they were unable to for logistical reasons, although some cited inconvenience, overcrowding or peer-distraction. Students also make strategic decisions to prioritise competing commitments. Only a minority of students prefer WBLTs to attendance. These students prefer the ability to work at a time, place and pace of their choosing.
This study supports the contention that WBLTs alone do not reduce lecture attendance, and highlights features of lectures which can be improved to increase attendance and student engagement.

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