Attending lectures in person, hybrid or online

Kortemeyer, G., Dittmann-Domenichini, N., Schlienger, C. et al. Attending lectures in person, hybrid or online—how do students choose, and what about the outcome? Int J Educ Technol High Educ 20, 19 (2023).

The study was conducted at a technical university with mostly traditional lecture-style teaching, and results may not transfer well to discussion or seminar-style humanities courses.
In international comparison, the university has a peculiar exam system, where exams are separated from the courses, both administratively and in time. Responses were collected in an exam context and may thus be strongly focused on exam performance rather than learning experiences.
In a study of over 17,000 survey responses associated with high-stakes exams at a large technical university, it was found that students are—for the most part—making conscious choices about how to attend or view lectures: on-site, online live, or from recordings. The apparent influence of these choices on grades is statistically significant but minimal, where the students who were going back and forth between attendance modes did slightly worse, and students who had above-average on-site attendance had a slightly higher probability of receiving an above-average grade. 

There is, however, no straightforward relationship along the lines of “the more students only watch recordings, the worse they do on exams.” However, it needs to be kept in mind that each student worked—or attempted to work—in the way that worked best for them; this was not a randomized experiment.
We found an indication that interactive engagement courses (using clicker usage as a proxy for this property) led to a significant effect of live-lecture attendance on exam performance for students in the lower performance quartile. In other words, for low-achieving  students, frequent live attendance of interactive-engagement courses is associated with higher exam grades.

Instead, besides the students’ estimation of their grades, the strongest correlation to
the actual exam grade existed between their feeling that they could explain the topics
to other students. Associated strategies such as peer instruction are certainly most easily carried out on-campus, and above-average on-site attendance was associated with above-average studying in groups. Above-average on-site attendance was also associated with above-average satisfaction with the course, enjoyment of learning, and interest in the subject, however, no causality in either direction can be implied.
There were several external circumstances that limited the free choices of the students or nudged them away from on-site lectures. If universities want to encourage students to come back to campus, this should likely not happen by taking choices away, but by incentivizing on-site lecture attendance and removing some systemic hurdles to active participation. Methods like peer instruction and more interactivity through technology-enabled formative assessment might make on-site attendance more worthwhile, compared to watching the recording of one-way instruction.

The conveyance of subject-matter content is not the only teaching mission of higher

education, and increased of-campus or even asynchronous lecture attendance might
come at the expense of the “hidden curriculum” of cross-disciplinary competencies and socialization into academia. Making this mission more explicit might be another means to influence student choices. 

Kortemeyer, G., Dittmann-Domenichini, N., Schlienger, C. et al. Attending lectures in person, hybrid or online—how do students choose, and what about the outcome?. Int J Educ Technol High Educ 20, 19 (2023).

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