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Academic Medicine:
doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e31827b2696
Letters to the Editor

More About Medical Students’ Attendance at Lectures

Marzuk, Peter M. MD

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Associate dean for curricular affairs and professor of psychiatry, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, New York; pmmarzuk@med.cornell.edu.

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To the Editor:

With more medical schools videotaping lectures, your editorial “To be there or not to be there: Is attendance really the question?”1 could not be more timely. While you have masterfully captured many issues regarding attendance at lectures, I believe some aspects require further exploration.

One function of live lectures is to pace course rhythm. Students now watch lecture podcasts when they want, presumably when their minds are ready rather than when the clock tells them to (a good thing). However, some students also postpone watching podcasts to the last minute (usually before an exam), leading to chaotic, harried viewing—a form of pedagogic “fibrillation.” Also, lectures are usually strategically sequenced to prepare students for exploring topics in depth in subsequent small groups. Students sometimes come unprepared to small groups because they lack the knowledge base that hearing a prior lecture on time would have imparted.

Faculty who insist on attendance may nevertheless be dismayed that some students in class are present only “in body.” Armed with a plethora of electronic devices, some students are texting, tweeting, watching movies, playing video games, studying for exams, and only occasionally tuning in.

Your editorial understates how polarizing the issue of attendance has become for faculty members. Whereas you portrayed absence from a lecture as a breach in “etiquette,” some faculty consider it an egregious violation of professionalism. I know one faculty member (young) who recently remarked, “If students don’t go to lecture, they might as well go to a correspondence school—they have no business entering our profession.” In direct contrast, another faculty member (older) told me, in effect, “Letterman has a small live audience—yet millions enjoy the show on television, so what’s the problem as long as students learn the material?” Faculty and students need to be careful to respect the range of deeply held, diverse views on the matter.

I have conflicted views on attendance. I appreciate that students should be able to choose ways in which they learn best, even if that means forgoing attendance at a passive, information-delivery-type lecture. However, all good teachers have a certain amount of “ham” in them—seeing student enthusiasm and smiling faces is powerful, immediate feedback as to whether we faculty are “connecting.” I have changed many a lecture on the basis of puzzled or bored looks—feedback I would never get if all my students were tuning in at home.

Peter M. Marzuk, MD

Associate dean for curricular affairs and professor of psychiatry, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, New York; pmmarzuk@med.cornell.edu.

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Reference

1. Kanter SL. To be there or not to be there: Is attendance really the question? Acad Med. 2012:87–679

© 2013 Association of American Medical Colleges

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