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April 4, 2013

Block Scheduling could have a negative on Class Attendance and Student Success.

By Daniel Herda

College students drop out every year, many of them freshmen after their first semester in the fall. There are many reasons that could explain retention problems with regards to freshman students. Mostly it is poor grades, but instructors have often noticed that students who do poorly grade-wise also seem to have poor attendance.
Most faculty argue that attending class regularly leads to student success.
           
Block Scheduling

Recently a new issue has come up that could have negative effects on attendance, feel some students and faculty. The school is working on new class schedules that will change the dominant M-W-F and T-R schedules in place now.

Jessica Newton, a sophomore studying graphic arts, said she has only missed one class this semester. Newton mentioned how stressful her classes would be if she did not come to lectures as often as she does. She said most of her classes are scheduled two days a week and she juggles work along with school.

The current block schedule allows students to manage their jobs while going to school. Students who take most classes on T-R block work on M-W-F and vice versa.

Dr. James Marino, director of Graduate Studies in the English Department, Faculty Senate member and Chair of Admissions and Standards, which is traditionally involved in scheduling decisions, commented on the possible block scheduling change.

Marino said the administration is changing some class times and switching to shorter classes, meaning some classes offered two days a week could be transformed into four days a week. He mentioned speaking to the registrar’s office with some questions he had about the new schedule.

“I asked the registrar’s office if they had sought student input and they said they had not, and that they did not consider it a good idea,” said Marino. 
Marino said the students and faculty both have the same amount of information about the future changes to class scheduling and the faculty had no input in the decision.

David Morrow, a junior majoring in Elementary Math Education, wants to be a math teacher when he is finished. He said coming to campus four days a week for the same class is a great idea and that it will help students become more involved. He said the two-hour classes he takes on Tuesdays and Thursday can be rough sometimes.

“After an hour and a half most students start daydreaming and it’s not because we don’t care, it’s because we’re human and biology kicks in,” Morrow said.

Morrow mentioned missing one out of four classes a week is an easier problem to fix than missing one out of two classes a week, but he understands that Cleveland State is a commuter school and that many students will not be able to adjust to the changes.

Marino said the time block change is in its preliminary phases, and he could not speak on the specific details. He did mention how it could affect class attendance when students are adjusting to the new schedule for the first time.

“I am worried, but I don’t know what will happen, it’s still early,” said Marino.
Newton said she was disappointed in the possible changes with the new scheduling system. She likes the options of flexible class scheduling so she can coordinate her education with her work schedule.
Newton was asked what she would do if she had to come to campus four days a week for the same class.

“I would transfer,” Newton said.

Starfish

One way Cleveland State is attempting to reach at-risk students with attendance issues in a timely fashion is with the implementation of Starfish.
Dr. William Beasley, professor of educational technology and director for the center of Teaching Excellence, is the chief implementer of Starfish and said the system is still in its early stages with Cleveland State.

Starfish is a computer software system that helps a student make appointments with support services and faculty on campus. Starfish also assists faculty, tutors and advisors in coordinating services to the student. Students familiar with CampusNet can find Starfish on the student/teacher/advisor page, in the shape of a teal-colored star. 

Before Starfish, there was an early warning system and many freshmen still have midterm grades to keep them from falling behind in their classes.
Dee Blair, a sophomore and graphic design major, stated that student success can be achieved by being in the classroom every day. Blair remembers the exact number of classes he’s missed in his overall college experience.

“None,” said Blair.

Blair said he is working harder this semester and continued to mention that even missing one day of class would set him back because he learns through communication with his instructor.

“If you’re not in class, you won’t know what to do, so go to class,” Blair said.

Blair commented on students who try to learn the information on their own and said having someone explain the material is the best way to learn new information. He also spoke about Starfish and his experiences accessing it on CampusNet.

“It was complicated at first, but it’s a good system to have,” Blair said.
Cleveland State has licensed the software from Starfish Retentions Solutions and is intended as a central administration system, running on the SRS Company.

Beasley explained that Starfish does many things, like connecting students to support areas like the writing center and the math-learning center. He added that some advising and tutoring areas on campus could be difficult to find for a first-time student.

“Many support areas are decentralized to students and Starfish helps locate them, if a student needs help writing they can find the writing center,” said Beasley.

One feature Starfish has is called ‘intrusive advising,’ which is when an instructor can directly communicate with a struggling student.
Beasley does not like the term intrusive, but said it’s proactive and helps connect students with people who can help them.

Starfish has an alert system called flagging, where the student is marked in a specific class when they are falling behind for whatever reason.

“Starfish is a faculty to student link in an individual class, a chemistry teacher will only know about the student’s chemistry information,” said Beasley.

Flagging also alerts advisors when an attendance concern arises and puts them directly in touch with the student when they are missing many classes.
Some departments in the university have attendance policies that are strict and force the student to come to class consistently, or face possible consequences.

Dr. William Breeze, professor of freshman English and Composition Theory, said English courses have a policy of four missed classes before a grade reduction and eight missed classes before an automatic failure.
Breeze said it is a distinct group of students who are habitually absent from class and addressing an attendance problem early in the semester is helpful for the student. 

“Any attendance policy should have room for human interpretation,” said Breeze.

Breeze said he has been involved with Starfish since the beginning and mentioned that it is a wonderful system and involves commitment from the faculty.

“We had better passing rates in the fall when we used Starfish, but it is not the only reason.” said Breeze.

The Starfish system was tested in 2011 with a subset of the undergraduate population in the Exploratory Advising Office, the Trio Program and the Tutoring and Academic Success Center. It generated helpful results and added 99 percent of undergraduate students to the Starfish system by December 2012.

Beasley said student success has many levels of altitude and they all have value when looked at from different perspectives.

“The Ohio Board of Regents would focus on graduation rates, but any student can define success by achieving whatever goal they set for themselves,” said Beasley.
           
The Real World

Preparation for the real world and meeting deadlines is something learned through college experience and attending classes regularly is crucial to help the student engage in dialogue. If a student has a problem attending classes they may not be ready for a job when they graduate.

Professor Jeffery Bolt, research and statistics instructor in the School of Communication, said data indicates a connection with attendance and student success.

Bolt said a student should think about their overall experience before signing up for classes, taking in other prior obligations like jobs and family.

"In the real world, if you don't show up you lose your job," Bolt said.
Bolt mentioned that the attendance problem seems to be more of an issue for underclassman and first-time college students.

Kaitlin Klein, a junior majoring in linguistics, had a challenging 2012 fall semester when she first transferred to Cleveland State. Klein said she was ill and missed four days in here Speech and Hearing class and fell too far behind to catch up.

“I ended up withdrawing from the class because I wanted to get a good grade, I plan on taking it again,” said Klein.
Klein said that if a student does not plan to attend class regularly they shouldn’t sign up for the course because they are only hurting themselves for future experiences.  

Christine Bowser, a freshman and friend of Klein’s majoring in speech and language pathology, agrees with Klein on the importance of class attendance.
Bowser estimated that she has missed somewhere between five and six classes since her arrival to Cleveland State in August 2012. She said that she is lost after missing one day of class and usually speaks with the instructor to get back on track.

“I learn better being in the class and listening to the teacher,” Bowser said.
Bowser and Klein both agreed that students must treat class attendance seriously and follow the attendance policies of their instructor in order to be successful in the class.

Bolt commented on why he thinks students have attendance problems when they first enter college.

“In high school, the teacher tracks you down when you miss a class or fall behind, in college its your responsibility, you have to act like an adult,” Bolt said. 

Bolt thought about passing rates in his classes and remembered a connection with poor attendance and poor grades.

“Ninety percent of the students who barely come to class, fail,” said Bolt.
A report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center discovered that out of 1.9 million first-time enrolled freshman in all degree granting institutions in fall 2006, barely more than half of them had graduated by 2012.

NSCRC officially reported 54.1 percent had graduated, 16.1 percent were enrolled in a secondary program and 29.8 percent had dropped out.

Instructors and students both agree that a person will have higher chances of being successful in college if they come to class on a regular basis. 

College classes, although difficult sometimes, are not designed to be a burden and it is up to the student to choose how their overall college experience will be.

Achieving a really good attendance record is not as tough as climbing Mount Everest, but you’ll still feel like you’re on top of the world.
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