Although the ideas and content in first year Calculus courses are new to many students, attendance at classes (lectures and tutes) is typically less than 60%. This lack of guided, repeated exposure often translates to poor learning outcomes in individuals and, subsequently, fail rates that management regard as obstructing student progression, contributing to attrition and thus limiting university growth. Interestingly, in spite of the wealth of published evidence that suggests that attendance is a key predictor for success, attendance in itself is not seen to be an issue by management and is not considered to be a contributing factor to poor learning outcomes. Instead, academics are encouraged to cater for “modern-age” students for whom “traditional modes of content delivery” (lectures and tutorials) are unsuitable, ostensibly because students now have different expectations about what university study should involve, or simply because they are “time poor”. A focus on Student Centred Learning means that considerable effort is thus expended into providing additional pathways for exposure to course material, via opportunities provided by recorded lectures, blended learning and a variety of assessment types. This approach may be extremely successful for students who take responsibility for their own learning, but for many young students who have not yet “learned to learn”, direct instruction, repeated exposure and guided practice are key to learning new mathematics. Although they themselves are unaware of it, many first-year students fall into this category. So what is a course coordinator to do to provide motivation for attending classes, repeated exposure and regular practice? Linking assessment tasks to physical presence at classes? Directed homework? Blended learning? Interventions? Peer-supported Q&A sessions? Begging? In a single semester of a first-year Calculus course, all of these were implemented at various stages. Ultimately, the single greatest predictor of student performance was, unsurprisingly, physical attendance at tutorials and at lectures. In this presentation, I will discuss briefly the strategies employed during the course and their respective impacts on attendance and student learning, within the context of the contemporary literature.
59th Australian Mathematical Society (AustMS) Annual Meeting, Adelaide, South Australia 28 September - 1 October 2015