Encouraging student attendance

EPFL students are typically quite capable and very interested in their subject matter. At the same time, they have lots of courses and homework as well as a life outside class and so it does happen that during class time, some students show up late or don’t show up at all. A few teachers have also noticed a decrease in student attendance after publishing their lecture notes (as a book).

There are many reasons why students might skip a class. They may prioritize courses with heavy credit weighting over courses that have fewer credits, they may prioritize courses that are more intrinsically interesting to them, they may feel that the support materials are good enough that they don’t need to attend or they may feel that the lecture is adding little to their learning. From your point of view as a teacher, you should try to control the things you can control (by giving the most engaging and effective lectures you can), but accept that some student absence is the norm. At the end of the day, it is what the student learns – not what teaching they watched – that matters.

You should note that, formally, there are no written rules regarding course attendance. There is a consensus that students are free to attend lectures or not, but they need to attend lectures which form part of a continuous assessment (e.g. classes with mid-term tests). However, attendance lists are generally not drawn up.  

Of course, attending lectures is generally beneficial for students’ learning. From a teaching point of view, contact hours as stated in each course description play a major role in student learning. As a teacher though you wouldn’t penalize absentees or withhold information from them. On the contrary, students typically respond positively to transparency:

  • notify test and submission deadlines to the whole class by e-mail or on the official course moodle page (you can use the ‘news forum’ function).
  • make course materials available (via moodle, purchase of lecture notes, from your office) and inform the class accordingly.

A first step to maximising student attendance may be to find out why students are not attending. For example, class delegates may be able to help you by gathering some responses from your class as to reasons for non-attendance. Advice on how to maximise student engagement in your classes can be found here.