Attend to thought

October 6, 2016

When I was a first-year undergraduate, I recall a notice that went up: “If attendance at the optional lecture on Friday morning does not improve, it will be made compulsory” (“Academic double standards: freedom for lecturers, compliance for students”, Opinion, 29 September). Yet in those pre-tech days, attempts at passing around a sign-in sheet generally revealed that Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse and at least two incarnations of Adolf Hitler had attended class that day.

It’s easy to confuse things such as showing up to a lecture and genuine academic freedom, however. Choosing to come to class is based on a number of factors – we generally say that if a student’s grades are good, it doesn’t matter if they attend; but if they are struggling with their work and their attendance is poor, they should consider showing up more often. The higher education world believes that “Attendance = Success” (I have even seen this posted on a wall), and it is a reasonable argument that if you are not there it is harder for you to learn what is being taught.

True freedom comes with encouraging students to think for themselves. In teaching ethics for computer science, I tell them that I want them to come away from the module with the ability to reason and to argue their case – the conclusions they reach are of lesser import. I tell them that they will get a better mark for a well-argued opinion that I disagree with than a bald statement that accords perfectly with my views but that has no supporting material to back it up.

This makes for interesting examination papers. I once asked “Is computing a profession?” and the marking notes read: “The answer may be yes or no, award marks for how well argued the student’s position is.”

m.robertson8_291084
Via timeshighereducation.com


Send to

Letters should be sent to: THE.Letters@tesglobal.com
Letters for publication in Times Higher Education should arrive by 9am Monday.
View terms and conditions.

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

Monster behind man at desk

Despite all that’s been done to improve doctoral study, horror stories keep coming. Here three students relate PhD nightmares while two academics advise on how to ensure a successful supervision

Female professor

New data show proportion of professors who are women has declined at some institutions

opinion illustration

Eliminating cheating services, even if it were possible, would do nothing to address students’ and universities’ lack of interest in learning, says Stuart Macdonald

John McEnroe arguing with umpire. Tennis

Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O’Gorman explain how to negotiate your annual performance and development review

Reflection of man in cracked mirror

To defend the values of reason from political attack we need to be more discriminating about the claims made in its name, says John Hendry