What Impact Does Lecture Attendance Have on Academic Staff?–Research Proposal

Whist sitting in lectures, I have noticed the attendance of students dwindling as the academic semester progressed.  During the first week of one of my Monday morning lectures, the majority of seats were filled within the small lecture theatre totalling at about 70 students. Slowly, as the weeks progressed, the lecture theatre became less populated. However, it was not until week four where I began to ponder the impact this had on our lecturer as she looked around the room to see more empty spaces than students totalling at around 20 people in attendance.

This curiosity enticed me to look deeper and ask the question: what impact does lecture attendance have on academic staff. With this question in mind, I realised that most academic research is focused upon students and the reasons as to why they are not attending lectures. With lack of research into the impact on academic staff both emotionally and critically, this motivated me conduct a study to shed light upon this gap in analysis and so produce solutions to improve the situation.  I aim to investigate the three facets of attendance being the lack thereof, the change in the student demographic and the shift toward the digital paradigm. It is due to these three facets that a change within academic staff is evident in both their teaching styles and their emotional response—thus implicating the quality of knowledge shared within lectures.

In ethically framing this research, I have decided to look into the Constructivism Theory where one’s knowledge, ideas and concepts are constructed by the experiences in which they endure. This proposes that there is a level of interactivity within lectures that allow students and academic staff to engage in discussion, problem solve and build upon their views. However, this idea of constructive teaching and learning is altered due to the change in attendance.

The research of academic Marnie Hughes-Warrington and the data she has collected at the Australian National University in 2015 visually demonstrates the decline in attendance using thermal detectors.

Australian National University attendance of week 1 and week 7

She compares week one with week seven and deliberates the emotional impact this statistic has within the reality of academic staff. “Count the cost of a staff member lecturing every week to an ever-diminishing group. Count the cost in terms of that person’s sense of self-worth, pride in their work and their discipline.” This personal account adds depth to my research as the evident loss of the student teacher relationship has emotionally impacted academic staff.

Investigating the ‘Robert and Susan’ model, John Biggs and Catherine Tang’s research ‘Teaching for the Quality Learning at University’ looks at the gap generated by the student demographic shift. Within today’s society, the prospect of going to University has become more accessible welcoming two types of students, the Robert’s and the Susan’s. The Robert’s are students who are relatively new to the University landscape and are simply note taking using the class as a means to an end in securing better job prospects. However, the Susan’s are students who enter into the lecture with base knowledge, ready to build upon their critical thinking and so construct their own knowledge.

robert susan model
The academic gap between the Robert and Susan Model

This model is paramount to my research as it showcases the reflexivity of where one stands within the lecture theatre and the actions they carry out depending upon their view of the world and knowledge. Due to the two different types of students in attendance within the lecture theatre, academic staff need to alter their teaching style in an effort to teach two types of students, thus increasing the Roberts engagement levels whilst too stimulating the Susan’s critical thinking. Therefore, steering away from the typical teacher centred instruction and moving toward a constructivist approach.

However, the introduction of the online classroom through applications such as Echo360 splits the attendance of students into live attendance and online attendance. Within the research of Porquera, Meinecke & Rodrigues-Neto, students responded saying that they could learn as well online through recordings as they could in person. However, as more students attend the online recorded lectures, the teacher student relationship begins to dwindle causing a decrease in discussion. This is a pivotal learning experience for both student and academic staff which build upon critical thinking.

Using these sources, I aim to conduct my own method in extracting data to demonstrate the impact attendance has upon academic staff. I intend on creating a survey that analyses both the emotional impact and the critical impact—being teaching styles—on academic staff. I will also observe the attendance of students within lectures then interview the lecturers upon the basis of the quality of discussion and the teaching styles that they implemented.  To bring this research full circle, I will also conduct a survey within the student body to test what kind of attendance—lack thereof, the Robert/Susan or online—they are. I will then compare the results to produce a thorough analysis.

This research is feasible as I have access to both academic staff and students within the University of Wollongong. Whilst too investigating my own experience, I am able to fully understand my place within the university and how my individual attendance impacts academic staff. With attendance being an ongoing issue and area of question, the observations and results that come from my research will ultimately provide more insight into the present University landscape.


Biggs, J & Tang C 2007, Teaching for Quality Learning at University, Open University Press, New York  <http://www.umweltbildung-noe.at/upload/files/OEKOLOG%202014/2_49657968-Teaching-for-Quality-Learning-at-University.pdf&gt;

Hughes-Warrington, M 2015, ‘The Sinking Feeling: Counting the Cost of Live Lectures,’ Making sense of University Finances, blogpost, 6 July, viewed 28 March 2016 <http://missunitwocents.tumblr.com/post/123364615920/that-sinking-feeling-counting-the-cost-of-live?is_related_post=1&gt;

Porquera P, Meinecke J & Rodrigues-Neto J 2011, ‘New Technologies in Higher Education: Lower Attendance and Worse Learning Outcomes?,’ Australian National University, Agenda, Vol. 18, No. 1 <http://press.anu.edu.au/apps/bookworm/view/Agenda,+Volume+18,+Number+1,+2011/6681/gomis_etal.xhtml#footnote-13476-9&gt;


4 thoughts on “What Impact Does Lecture Attendance Have on Academic Staff?–Research Proposal”

  1. Very interesting topic Monique! I really enjoyed reading your blog and look forward to learning of the results. I have found a journal article that may be of use to you. http://ro.ecu.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1571&context=ajte – This is an academic research study conducted by teachers who were curious as to why students do not attend lectures and tutorials. It’s definitely worth a read!
    One suggestion as to how you could make your project easier is by interviewing academic staff within the university to gain their perspective on the issue. Good luck with your research!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You have clearly indicated that your opinion acts as an observation of what you have realised throughout university. This is a great way to start off your investigation and compare your results with those who you are surveying.
    Another idea would be to contact the academic staff who walk around the campus and observe how many students are in the room – this would be a great idea to achieve numbers across the board, and an even easier reliable source


  3. This is a very interesting topic. I believe lecture attendance does work to help results but depending on the background knowledge the student has surrounding the topic it may not.

    Sometimes lecture notes provide enough information to sustain high distinctions.


  4. Just a quick explainer about the people who walk around counting — these are professional staff hired (casually, I think) by the university as part of its space utilisation studies. Interestingly, we don’t see the results of their work, which strikes me as problematic from the point of view of the research principles we’ve been discussing. So the time that university lecturers are affected by lecture attendance rates becoming public is in teaching surveys.

    I’m so thrilled you’re doing this research. I know the BCM teaching staff will be keen to help you, and students will be keen to speak up. I’m also interested to know what you find out about e.g. the use of Twitter in lectures.


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