BATH, United Kingdom — Borrowing a classmate’s notes or relying on recordings just won’t cut it, according to researchers from the University of Bath. Study authors say that college students who actually attend interactive seminars in person tend to score higher on exams than their classmates who only listen to recordings of the lessons later on. The difference is equivalent to almost a full grade.
More specifically, the research team assessed a Business Economics module attended by roughly 200 students annually, over the course of two separate years. They focused on examining the relationship between seminar attendance, lecture recordings, and student performance at the postgraduate level. Additionally, researchers placed special attention on shedding further light on the effectiveness of strategies intended to help students dealing with disabilities.
“We wanted to test the widespread belief in academia that in-person attendance leads to better exam performance than non-attendance, and/or reliance on recorded lectures. We also wanted to test our intuition on what other factors influence student performance,” says Dr. Rob Branston, Senior Lecturer at the School of Management, in a university release.
“The study showed that those attending every seminar in the semester resulted in an 8 percent higher result than those who did not attend – this amounts to almost a full grade difference in performance. We also found that moderate or complementary use of lecture recordings was beneficial for student performance, while large-scale use had no significant positive or negative impact,” adds Dr. Branston, who is also a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.
In-person classes may stir up more lively debate
Dr. Branston notes that the study ultimately couldn’t pinpoint the effect of differing motivational levels across students. However, the project did suggest it was fair to assume that the bulk of post-graduate students paying for their studies would have enough motivation to attain good grades.
“One potential explanation for the higher grades associated with seminar attendance could lie in the nature of the seminars themselves – they are interactive, with lively discussion, and contributions from students. It depends what students bring to the seminar but that interactive nature could be key,” explains study co-author Dr. Marc Betton, who jointly taught the class along with Dr. Branston.
Study authors speculate that attending lectures and then catching up or reviewing certain lessons later on was better for a student’s grades than simply attending class without any follow-up of the material, or just viewing recorded lectures without ever attending classes at all.
“It is hard to concentrate for an entire two hour lecture, even with a brief break in the middle, so it is reasonable to think most students may need to clarify at least some of the content delivered after the lecture and hence reinforce their knowledge,” Dr. Branston comments.
“Essentially, they are benefiting from the combined learning experience offered by in-person attendance – and the opportunity to discuss or ask questions – with online review of recorded lectures. We think it is the exposure to these two environments that creates an advantage over students who might rely solely on attendance or reviewing video recordings of a lecture, as the latter is a passive, one-way experience,” the study author continues.
What does this mean for remote learning?
The analyzed course was a one-semester introduction to Business Economics. The 200 postgraduate students who took the course were enrolled in numerous MSc degree programs. The study sample encompassed students who undertook the module during either the 2017-2018 or the 2018-2019 academic sessions. Attendance for both lectures and seminars was totally voluntary. Instructors delivered the lectures in person, but also recorded it for students to review on their own time if they wished.
According to Dr. Branston, these findings indicate academics should do more to promote both in-person attendance and the use of lecture recordings. However, it’s important to stress that students would be ill-advised to replace live lectures completely with recordings. Moreover, academics could benefit from more time and training devoted to their own teaching methods — more specifically when it comes to viewing statistics and what numbers can tell teachers about their students.
“We also looked at the effect of disability and further found an absence of any statistically significant difference in the performance of students with disability access plans relative to other students. That suggests our university’s measures to enhance equity for students with disabilities are effective,” Branston notes.
It’s worth noting that this study had a relatively small the sample size, thus it is advisable to conduct more research in this area — especially regarding students with disabilities. Study authors say it’s also encouraging to find that students from non-English language speaking countries did not appear to be at a disadvantage academically. Having prior knowledge of a subject also did not appear to influence test outcomes.
“This is important and an area that sometimes causes anxiety amongst students, who might think, will I be at a disadvantage because I haven’t studied anything like this before? It was good to find this was not the case,” Dr. Betton concludes.
The study is published in the journal Review of Keynesian Economics.