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CONTINUOUS ASSESSMENT AND ATTENDANCE TO LECTURES: IMPLICATIONS FOR THE TRAINING OF AGRICULTURISTS
Department of Agronomy, Delta State University
Asaba Campus, Asaba, Nigeria
The meaning of continuous assessment and attendance to lectures were examined. Roles of lecturers in continuous assessment and the associated advantages were highlighted. Factors responsible for non-attendance to lectures and benefits derivable from attending lectures were listed. Put forward were suggestions on how attendance to lectures can be enhanced, indicating the role of stake holders in the University system. Relevance of the physical presence of the trainee in certain aspects of the training of an agriculturist was emphasized with examples. Part-time programmes, distance learning programmes
through e-mail and other modes of communication can still be worked out as long as there are periods within the training period when the trainee, trainer and the training materials/ machines are brought together for practical demonstrations; for instance, tractor driving in agricultural mechanization cannot be learnt through the reading of operational manuals.
Key words: Continuous assessment, attendance to lectures, training of agriculturists
Classroom management is geared towards effective teaching and learning process, so also is the application of instructional materials crucial in teacher-student activities in the classroom Ibode (2004) .In the field of agriculture, interaction between students and Lecturer with instructional materials is essential so that the students of agriculture can acquire the right skills. Since attendance to lecture is so pertinent for students and lecturers of agriculture, with the advent of part-time, sand-witch and distant learning programmes, is it that student of agriculture cannot benefit from such programmes? Proper planning of the programme could take care of the need for practicals in the training of agriculturists.
Continuous assessment is a mechanism whereby the final grade of a student takes account of all his assessed performances during a given period. Things usually assessed could be assignments such as term papers, field work, and laboratory work. Tests are also administered on regular basis to the students. The level of performance of the student in these assessments reflects in his final grade.
One of the most commonly used and best-known methods of assessment and testing is the teacher’s mark. This may take the form of a number-numerical mark or a letter – literal mark (Schofield, 1972). The whole gamut of assessment as depicted by Schofield (1972) is in practice in a number of higher institution these days where a student scores 65% which represents a numerical mark ‘B’ in a six-point grade of A to F where A=70 and above, B=60-69, C=50-59, D=45-49, E=40-44 and F=0-39. The 65% is given a letter grade B which agrees with the statement by Schofield (1972) that we can give literal marks and numerical equivalents e.g. 65B. It is however noted that numerical grading is more precise than literal grading.
Advantages of continuous assessment
Critical look at the scores of students enables the lecturer to know the areas in the course which have been generally understood by the students and the areas which have not been understood and require further clarification. For example if majority of the students failed a particular number in the test, assuming there was no mistake in formulating the question, it shows they need further explanation in that aspect of the course even though it may otherwise indicate that the topic from which such a question was framed is not a simple one.
Students are likely to be better prepared for their examination since they have to prepare for the various tests during the semester. Over time, good students would have built confidence in themselves. Where continuous assessment is not administered, a student could afford to suspend studying until about two weeks to the examination when they hurriedly study hand – outs, or recommended tests or the photocopy of course notebooks taken by their fellow students during lectures. This issue of making students to be better prepared for their examinations is likely to curb some of the problems of examination malpractice; Mghon (1998) noted that making students to better prepared for their examination can stem student’s from poor study habits and unpreparedness it one word for examination.
Since the students are not very sure of the aspects of the continuous assessment which will form part of the grade or the ones that will carry greater marks in the final grade, student who want good grades are made to be very serious with all aspects of their studies. Akinmoyewa and Otubelu (1994) observed that students devise or develop good study habits as a result of the frequent testing done in continuous assessment. They also added that examination anxiety in learners is reduced; as a result, examination malpractice is likely to be reduced. Decorum is to be emphasized during administration of tests to instill in students the expected examination ethnics. The marks allotted to continuous assessment in some University ranges between 15-30% of the total marks. It is recommended that continuous assessment be in the range of 20-30% of the total marks. This range of marks for continuous assessment will posses a significant compelling force strong enough to make students give continuous assessment the attention it deserves.
In an effective learning situation, the learner and the teacher give attention to a particular subject matter during a teaching/learning process. Lecturers bring about desirable changes in students knowledge, skill and attitudes. Students attend lectures and assiduously study their course materials in order to pass their examinations and become useful to themselves and the society. If for instances, giving cash or other things to a teacher will result in good grades, some students will not attend lectures or burn the midnight oil. Integrity and honor are cherished by a good number of students and they work hard at their studies to obtain good grades.
Factors responsible for non-attendance at lectures
Some Universities stipulate 75% attendance at lectures in a course before a student is qualified to write the examination. Class attendance is expected to concern both students and lectures. It seems easier to monitor the attendance of students more than that of lecturers; but with a Head of Department that is concerned about lecturer’s attendance, it is not a Herculean task too.
Lecturer’s attention could be distracted from lectures when there are no good day-care centers, nor primary and secondary schools on campus for lecturer’s children and wards that are living on the campuses or near the campuses. Lecturers locate such good school in distant places in towns and spend greater part of the morning and afternoon doing ‘school runs’ (transporting the students to and from school). This problem is aggravated when the University does not provide vehicles to transport children and wards of the university staff to their schools.
(1) Financial constraints
Some students who are genuinely interested in coming back to school at resumption may have to wait for their parents next salary payment or for a couple market days to enable their parents to sell more farm produce to gather enough money for a reasonable sessionnal or semester take-off.
Those who are able to get vacation jobs prefer to work for about a month into the new session in order to get more money; this is especially so when it is believed that academic work does not start until about the third week of resumption.
Waiting for parents to gather sufficient money and a student continuing with a vacation job even when lectures had commenced make students to miss lectures delivered at the beginning of a new semester.
(2) Absence of academic activities in the first few weeks of resumption
A number of lecturers start lecturing at the beginning of a semester while some others do not. In this kind of situation, lecturers should be reminded that there is no University law which stipulates quorum before a lecture can commence at the beginning of a semester. Lectures are not the same as social or committee meetings where a quorum must be formed before serious business can commence; once a student is present in the classroom, a lecturer can commence lecturing. There are even extreme cases I have heard of where some lecturers give lecture without any student in the classroom and it is taken that lecture has been give for that topic and questions are set from such topics. Any judgment about such an action is likely to remain in the realm of subjectivity.
(3) Delay in checking student into the halls of residence
At the beginning of each session, students have had to spend up to two weeks in pursuit of accommodation clearance and being checked into halls of residence. Students make a wiser choice of keeping up with the struggle for clearance for accommodation rather than attending lectures. Doing
otherwise may mean staying the rest of the session as a squatter or coming from nearby towns for lectures every day.
(4) Student’s laziness
Some students are just lazy. The task of preparing food, and putting every other thing in order before going for lectures put some of them off. They would prefer to relax and take things easy. Some may say that there is no job in view, why all the troubles? So they think that it is not very necessary to put in too much effort for little so reward eventually in terms of gainful employment.
(5) Lecturer’s inefficiency
Inefficiency may come up in the form of leaving the subject matter and dwelling on politics, religion, philosophy and stressing on the level of moral and academic decadence in the present dispensation. Issues of sin and the need for repentance and other similar talks are good only to spice up the subject matter. After describing a complex process in the subject matter, a lecturer can cool the tempo by bringing in a little of any these discussions.
Inefficiency could also be in the form of coming to the lecture hall as a lecturer and only read the lecture note or hand-out or a portion of the recommended textbook just like a newscaster, without any explanation. Appellations such as FM (Frequency Modulation), MBI (Minaj Broadcast International) or Rainbow station (a radio station) are given to such lecturers, these are appellations associated with radio stations, thereby giving the impression that such lecturers are just reading the lecture notes as news casters treat news items. A student who is not in attendance may feel he has nothing to lose as long as he has the text or the material which is being read out in the class room. Some students are satisfied by photocopying their course-mates lecture notes.
(6) Student’s hatred of some lecturers
Some students have personal hatred for some lecturers as such they avoid them, having nothing to do with them or their lectures more so when attendance is not taken during lectures and marks not awarded.
(7) Absence of marks awarded for attendance
In some extreme cases no attendance is taken. When attendance is taken, no mark is awarded for attendance. If a student knows that for any lecture he fails to attend, he automatically loses some marks, the attitude to attendance will change.
(8) Special cases
There are times when bereavement, illness or going for special ceremonies may cause a student to be absent from lectures.
Benefits of attendance to lectures
Benefits of attendance to lectures are enjoyed by the students, lecturers the educational institutions and the society at large.
In order for a student to stay in the school, school fees, accommodation fees and other fees would have been paid. The student also has to struggle for water, light and prepare his food. It will be agonizing to go through these entire struggles and have no lectures to show for it. Students therefore derive a sense of fulfillment when there are appropriate lectures for them to attend if they choose to stay in school. Less number of students from the institution will embark on unnecessary travels thereby avoiding road accidents.
Some Universities stipulate a minimum level of attendance at lectures for example 75% before a student qualifies to write an examination in particular course. A student who attends lectures will be able to meet the university requirement and proceed with his studies. Information exchange is made possible between lecturers and students. Lecturers may draw attention to certain portions of some books in the classroom and may also notify the students of an extra lecture or test coming up very soon. Students may use the opportunity presented by the lecture to seek further clarification on one of the topics that has been thought before. Absentee students may miss the information to their detriment.
Both lecturers and students get better understanding from attendance to lecturers. Lecturers become more and more familiar with the subject matter because the more frequent a lecturer teaches a particular topic the greater his remembrance and understanding of the subject matter. Students get a better understanding of the subject matter and become better able to apply their knowledge in the service to humanity.
It cuts a very attractive picture to behold students and lecturers in an effective teaching/learning situation therefore giving a good institutional image. This good image has a way of being noticed by employers of graduates, parents’ of candidates for admission into higher institutions. The culture of being present at important activities is built in both students and the lecturers. They will all get used to clearing all obstacles which stop them from attending to essential calls be it academic, official or social; it gets to a point when people now identify the institution with people of high sense of duty.
Ways of enhancing attendance at lectures
Enhancing students’ attendance
Clashes between carry-over courses and courses for the current session are to be minimized, if possible they should be entirely removed from the timetable; it is assumed that there would be no clashes in the timetable among courses which are taken by any student. Students involved in carry-over courses should vigorously pursue the problem of clashes in the timetable with the lecturers who draw up the timetable. If the eagerly expected change in timetable becomes very difficult to effect because of adjustment problem, the co-operation of the lecturer in charge of the course can be sought to fix the lecturer in another suitable period as long as the interest of the other students taking that course is put into consideration. The adjustment problem I am citing here implies that when a course is being relocated in the timetable this may now result in two other courses coming up at the same time, it becomes a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul, so the problem has not been solved but shifted to a different set of students or to another individual student.
University authorities need to call students’ attention to the minimum lecture requirement in a course to qualify to sit for the examination. A university which has no such regulation should try and have it. This rule, if implemented, will enhance attendance of students to lectures.
While taking attendance in class, students’ initials and very simple signatures which can be replicated by other students should not be accepted. Other students can easily help their course mates to sign their column when they are not in attendance thereby securing the expected score for that particular lecture attendance. The blank spaces in the attendance booklets after the lecture should be crossed out, at least before the next lecture period. To avoid false accusation, each student is to signify his presence in a lecture by signing a specified space during the lecture. Marks are to be awarded for attendance, this is to form part of the continuous assessment score. At the beginning of each semester, the lecturer should inform the students that impromptu test could come up during any lecture period. Some lecturers give test when there is a significantly low turnout of students to lecture.
Enhancing lecturers’ attendance
Accommodation for staff on campuses should be expanded. Day-care centres, staff primary and secondary schools are to be established; the ones already in existence need to be developed to an enviable standard.
Changes in courses taught by lecturers need to be minimized. When such changes are inevitable they are to be made well in advance to allow lecturers sufficient time to prepare their lecture materials.
Deans of Faculties are to be interested in the attendance of their lecturers to their lectures. The various Head of Departments need to carry out routine check to be coordinated by the Dean. Right from the Vice-Chancellor through the Provost of Campuses, Deans and Head of Departments, the picture ought to be there in the mind of lecturers that somebody is there watching them. The lecturers who refuse to improve are to be made to adjust their attitude by implementing appropriate sessions of the University regulations guiding the service of lecturers.
When provisional timetable for a semester is out, attempt is to be made to circulate it to all lecturers concerned and posted on all notice boards in the faculty. The lecturers need to study the periods fixed for their lectures within the context of their activities like research, library review and other administrative responsibilities. If there is going to be a serious disruption in the execution of these activities, complaints are made to the individuals specified to receive such complaints for necessary adjustments to be effected to bring about smooth lecturing. When events change and there is need to make adjustments after final timetable has been compiled, the lecturer can resolve such changes with the students concerned.
In very bad cases, an aspect of the regulations governing the service of senior staff can be brought to bear. Example is Regulations Governing the Service of Senior Staff of Delta State University (1998). Chapter eight of sub-section 6 states that an employee who commits a minor offence or who is inefficient in performance of his duties may be queried or warned orally or in writing by his Head of Department.
Class co-coordinators may check the office of lecturers to remind them of their lectures. The lecturer may have forgotten about the lecture or may be at a point of deciding against attending the lecture for another official or unofficial engagement, the presence of the coordinator may make the lecturer favour the idea of attending the lecture.
The number of courses given to each lecture ought not to be too many in order for the lectures to be able to meet up with the preparation and delivery of effective lectures. As much as possible, lecturers should be allocated courses based on area of specialization and interest. There is need for the joint presence of the student (trainee) and the trainer (lecturer or instructor) in the learning of certain skills. I vividly recall when I bought a cell telephone, I tried several times for more than five hours to make a call using the operational manual, and I had to abandon the manual and approached a colleague of mine who put me through the whole process, in less than five minutes I was already making successful calls.
The above situation can be likened to where an agriculture student wants to learn how to drive a tractor using the operational manual or the instruction written in a lecture note. There is even the danger of starting the tractor and the tractor already in motion before remembering that one has not known how to stop the tractor, it becomes too late to start opening manual to learn it. In an attempt to match the brake, the trainee may press hard on the accelerator. In this case the need become very crucial for both the student and the trainer to be present at such lectures (on top of the tractor) to prevent accident and enhance proper understanding of the skill. This situation is in agreement with the opinion of Ibode (2004) who noted that just as classroom is geared towards effective teaching and learning process, so also is the application of instructional materials crucial in teacher-student activities in the classroom.
To use other instructional materials like sprayers to demonstrate sprayer calibration to avoid injury to crops, to effect good weed or pest control and to avoid under or over application for profitability and environmental considerations requires the physical presence of both the student and the lecturer for effective teaching and learning. This is an aspect of skill acquisition where initial mistakes are expedient and are carefully and gently corrected for effective learning.
Also in the laboratory, the aspects which involve the use of acids are delicate because mistakes in the absence of an instructor could be injurious, close supervision by lecturers could eliminate or at worst minimize injurious mistakes. Inoculation of livestock is another aspect of agriculture that requires the attendance of both the instructor and the trainee. Instances abound where trainees in the process of inoculating birds aim the needle at the bone of the bird just to see how the bird will react, this act is both unfriendly and injurious to such birds, with the presence of a lecturer such an injurious adventure could be
avoided. Milking of cow requires a trainer who understands animal behaviour and how milking machine is fixed and how to look out for signs of danger and how to avoid being harmed.
Incorporation of periods of contact for part-time, sand-witch or distance-learning programmes
In most universities, the degree programmes are broadly divided into full-time and part-time programmes. The full-time students are occupied with lectures most of the times, from 8.00am to 6.00pm daily from Monday to Friday with the exception of Wednesday afternoon designated for mid-week sports. Such students are expected to give unalloyed attention to their studies, with no job distractions. However the three programmes mentioned above do not fall into the full-time category where a student is doing full-time work in the university or in other locations far from the
university, it is only at a time when they are free from their job that they can attend a degree programme. Depending on the nature of free period they have out of work they then choose any of these part-time programmes: distance learning programme; or weekend programme. In most cases part-time weekend programme lectures start on Friday afternoon and end on Saturday afternoon or evening as the case may be. Sand-witch programme takes place mostly during holiday periods for primary and secondary schools; teachers of such schools utilize the holiday period to attend lectures that are sand-witched between two school terms when the pupils and students of primary and secondary schools respectively are on holidays.
Part-time, sand-witch or distance-learning programmes were put in place to make higher education available to a greater number of people who do not have the opportunity to attend full-time degree programmes. Propagation of knowledge in agriculture has been shown to require periods of contacts among students and various agricultural machines and tools under the supervision of appropriate instructors, supervisors and lecturers; this is a very tall order within the framework of part-time programmes. Is it then that agriculture cannot benefit from this kind of laudable programmes?
For the training of agriculturists to be properly incorporated in these programmes, some periods can be designated within the duration of the degree programme when students must train in the Teaching and Research Farms to enhance their proficiency in the use of tools, machines and other materials needed in agriculture. They also need to learn how most cultural practices are carried out.
The university and the classroom environments should be made attractive and friendly; this will elicit un-noticed interest in both students and lecturers. Delivery of lectures is not an avenue to entertain people as comedians do; it is not also a battle ground or a place where rules and regulations are poured out without question, the whole things can be made interesting with some ingenuity.
Akinmoyewa, O.J. and Otubelu, D.O. (1994): Fundamentals of Test and Measurement. Benin City
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Delta State University. 1(998) Regulations Governing the Service of Senior Staff. Abraka: Delta State University.
Ibode, O. F (2004): Classroom Management and Use of Instructional Aids. West African Journal of Education. Vol. XXIV No. 1:22-29.
Mgbon, A.M.N. 1998. Examination Ethics in Our Secondary Schools. Journal of Agriculture, Technology and Education Vol. 3 (1 & 2): 28-33
Schofield, H.( 1972): Assessment and Testing: An Introduction. London. George Allen and Unwin.