Lecture attendance raises questions of co-curricular transcript

After a series of student focus groups last fall, administration began taking student attendance this January at certain lectures using the Tiger Card system in order to gather more information about low student turnout. This semester, the swipe-card system was placed at four major lectures, and survey responses from student attendees have sparked conversation regarding incentives and the co curricular transcript.

This semester, student attendance has been recorded for the following lecture events at the request of department faculty members and administration: MLK Jr. Commemorative Lecturer Julianna Malveaux on Jan. 16, Cameron Lecturer Walter Isaacson on March 26, Sir Harold Kroto on March 5 and Sheila Nirenberg on March 31 as part of the Distinguished Scientist Lecture Series.

According to Dennis Ahlburg, Trinity University president, the attendance system comes from a lack of student attendance at high-profile lectures. With the swipe system, the Center for Campus and Community Involvement (CCI) can now email surveys to students who attended these events.

“[Ahlburg told CCI] to take a look at this, and see how we can motivate, encourage and incentivize students to attend lectures. The institution puts a lot of resources into lectures, and we got some phenomenal names,” said Jamie Thompson, director of CCI. “Certainly there are some packed houses, but those are few and far between, so the idea is how do we encourage students to think about how this can further their education and to get excited and interested in the topic and the speaker.”

According to Thompson, the surveys are fashioned with many choice options rather than mostly free-response questions in order to encourage student participation. The survey asks four questions:  How did you hear about the lecture? Why did you attend the lecture? Compared to other lectures that you’ve attended, how would you rate this lecture? Briefly, what would have made this event a better experience?

In addition to these surveys, two focus groups were held last November by CCI to discuss ways to encourage and increase student lecture attendance, including listing event attendance on a co-curricular transcript. In addition to lectures, the co-curricular transcript would document activities such as leadership positions, internships and study abroad experiences.

“In my opinion, things we are doing outside of the classroom, especially in college, educate us as much as, if not more than, things we are doing in the classroom,” said sophomore communication major and focus group participant Bria Woods. “A lot of the extra-curricular things that we do in college can and do get us connected with jobs in the real world. The stakes are a little higher, and I think it should be recorded because there are some people doing some really important things [outside of the classroom].”

Another focus group participant, junior mathematics major Christopher Williams, suggested that faculty incentivize student lecture attendance by issuing extra credit or giving assignments relative to major lectures. Regardless, Williams expressed that he personally believes utilizing university resources – including lecture attendance – is vital to his time at Trinity.

“I think it’s important to my education. Dr. Madrid, he’s a professor of modern languages, he told me to take ownership of the campus. Taking ownership, it means to utilize everything that’s being offered here,” Williams said.

“These distinguished lectures, they are a part of it. People need to remind themselves that your dollar is being spent, and you want to get the most out of your buck. Take ownership of the campus because this is your school. You have people coming here, and you want them to have a good impression of Trinity.”

According to Ahlburg, multiple Trinity graduates have expressed regret at not attending lectures. He believes that interactions facilitated at these events can make students increasingly competitive in the job market and that documenting attendance on the co-curricular transcript could encourage students to further take advantage of speakers on campus.

“I think by working with our students, they are smart enough to figure out that really this is something that they should do. I am hoping that the co-curricular transcript is one way to do it,” Ahlburg said.  “If you’ve got two Trinity students that are applying for a job and one of them saw and interacted with eight world leaders and this other student was here at the same time and they have nothing, I mean as an employer, [that is not sufficient]. Part of this is just changing the culture.”

Along with focusing on increased student attendance, CCI and administration are brainstorming ideas to increase faculty turnout at major events. Acknowledging that both students and faculty members are busy, for Ahlburg, lecture attendance comes down to choices.

“It’s about choices because it’s never going to be easy or a time where you have absolutely nothing that you could be doing instead,” Ahlburg said. “From now on, you will always be making choices because your time is the most scarce resource that you have. It’s not money. It’s time. You have to use it wisely. What I am suggesting is a wise use for a couple of hours out of the year, to go and listen to world leaders.”

The concept of the co-curricular transcript will be further developed this summer, and its possible implementation is currently being discussed. The Tiger Card attendance system will continue to be implemented at high-profile lecture series next fall.