The results of this project have provided a deeper understanding of the patterns of attendance of science and biomedical science students at biochemistry and pharmacology lectures at Monash University and the factors that influence this. It is worthwhile noting that in the units studied, 100% lecture attendance was never seen, even in the first lecture in which unit guides were given and assessment tasks were introduced. It needs to be highlighted that second-year is the students' first exposure to biochemistry and pharmacology and while some second-year students may have completed one semester of biochemistry, this is the first semester of pharmacology that can be taken. Students undertaking the third-year units are likely to have selected the discipline as their major sequence of study. It would be expected, therefore that they have an inherent interest in the discipline. Indeed, a number of the third-year students in both pharmacology and biochemistry had indicated that they were considering doing a fourth-year research project in that discipline. However, comparing the second- and third-year biochemistry units (Figs. 2 a and 2 c), attendance was no greater in the third-year unit despite the fact that the third-year lecture material is based on cutting edge research not yet incorporated into the recommended texts. The pattern of attendance at the third-year pharmacology lectures differed from that of the other units. A number of factors could contribute to this difference including the lower enrollment and the inclusion of in-class assessment tasks in weeks 11 and 12. Interestingly, this unit also had fewer lectures per week and a lower proportion of students reported timetable clashes as an influence on lecture attendance for this unit.
Previous studies looking at attendance at lectures carried out at different institutions and for various degree programs, have reported varying levels of attendance [6, 14, 18, 17]. However, it is important to differentiate self-reporting of attendance from actual counts of students present, particularly in light of reports that self-reporting of course-related behaviors do not accurately represent actual behaviors [27, 28]. In our study, counts of students revealed that attendance frequently fell below 50% of the enrolled cohort, which concurs with the majority of students indicating that they regularly miss at least one lecture a week. It is interesting to note that in some studies  low attendance was at 75%, while in others , as in this study, attendance fell to much lower levels.
At Monash University, day classes are scheduled to run between 8:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M. The lectures for the units studied as part of this project were spread across the week, but tended to occur in the morning sessions. The fall in attendance over the semester is consistent with other studies of lecture attendance [14, 24]. Interestingly, Newman-Ford et al.,  and Kelly  found attendances at early morning lectures were not significantly different from attendance later in the day. In contrast, our data shows much lower attendance at early morning (8:00 A.M.) lectures and this was supported by the student survey in which “lectures too early in the day” was the third most important factor influencing lecture attendance. Fewer students indicated that they attended all lectures in the biochemistry units, which had 8:00 A.M. lectures. Comments such as “I live too far to come to lectures” and “Lectures should start later. Those who live far have to get up at 6am!” reinforce the importance of timing on lecture attendance.
Informal observations of student behavior during lectures revealed that while some students were attentive and taking notes, a number of students were engaged in nonlecture related activities including reading unrelated web sites, watching videos, and working on other assessment tasks. These students exhibited little engagement with the lecture content during the period of observation, reminding us that attendance does not necessarily guarantee engagement. As von Konsky et al. (24, p. 593) noted “physical presence during a lecture does not mean that a student is paying attention.” Thus, lecture attendance per se may not be the issue. The concern is that some of the content covered in the lectures underpins the learning activities of the weekly laboratory classes and tutorials. Without this context, students may not achieve the expected learning outcomes particularly those relating to the integration and application of knowledge.
At Monash University, lectures are not a compulsory activity and individual timetables may have clashes between lectures in one unit and classes in other units. Indeed, timetable clashes were the major factors influencing lecture attendance in all units. Other timetabling issues affecting attendance were lectures being too early in the day and either large gaps between classes or too few timetabled hours on a day. The later point is particularly relevant for students who spend many hours traveling to and from university. It was noted that the range of travel times for students was large, with some spending up to 30 hr a week traveling to and from classes. Comments such as “Due to travel time its not worth travelling 2 hrs to attend a 50 min lecture” and “I like learning from lectures. I would attend more if I didn't live so far away” support this. This is likely to be a particular issue with early lectures requiring travel in peak hour. Travel time may be a point of difference between universities in Australian cities and some international studies where students are more likely to live on or close to campus and this makes it difficult to generalize across populations, emphasizing the need for research of specific student cohorts. In this study, a minority of students indicated that outside commitments (work, family commitments) influenced attendance although the survey results suggested that work commitments were more likely to affect personal study than attendance at classes. Kelly  and Kottasz  also found that work commitments have a minor affect on lecture attendance.
Availability of Online Materials
While some academics have expressed the view that the fall in lecture attendance correlates with the increased availability of online learning materials and the recording of lectures , several studies both within Australia [26, 27], and the USA  have concluded that this is not the case, which correlates with the feedback from students in this study. Only ∼10% of the respondents agreed that the availability of online audio-recordings or comprehensive lecture notes discouraged them from attending lectures. Our data is in line with that of Copley , who found that 12% of the UK students surveyed reported that the availability of online lectures contributed to their nonattendance at lectures. Indeed the majority of students in our study did not agree that lecture recordings or online lecture notes were a substitute for lecture attendance, but rather complimented lectures, which supports the findings of Gysbers et al.  that online resources do not fully substitute for the face-to-face lecture. The use of online recordings was similar between the biochemistry and pharmacology units despite the former using the Echo system, which provided audio and visual recordings of the lectures and therefore a more comprehensive resource than the audio only recordings used for the pharmacology units.
It should be noted that even though students did not agree that the availability of online recordings influenced their attendance at lectures, it is possible that they were more likely to miss a lecture for other reasons knowing that a recording would be available. The recordings may, therefore, be a safety net for missed lectures. In this way our findings are consistent with Gysbers et al.  and Scutter et al.  who found that students do not generally substitute lectures with recordings but use the recordings for review or to revisit difficult concepts. In addition, Larkin  and Gysbers et al.  reported that students “expressed a preference for not using recorded lectures to replace face-to-face teaching” [27, p. 243], which correlates with our students who expressed a strong view that university teaching should not move away from face-to-face teaching.
Counting students at each lecture only gave an indication of the numbers of students present and did not allow us to identify whether the same students were consistently absent. From the self-reporting of lecture attendance, it was evident that the majority of students were missing at least one lecture each week, particularly in the units with early (8:00 A.M.) lectures. Given the feedback from students that timetable clashes and early lecture times were factors influencing their nonattendance at lectures, it was not surprising that these students routinely miss lectures in the same timeslot. However, quite a high percentage of students missed lectures at different times, which reinforces that there are a variety of reasons for nonattendance. Of concern is that there was a proportion of each class (<11%) that did not attend any lectures, which leads us to question how they are learning and the timing of this learning.
The survey aimed to gain a better understanding of how students used lectures as part of their learning. To do this we asked questions relating to how students prepared for lectures they attended; their note-taking behavior and also how they reviewed the material covered. The results suggested that there is little preparation for lectures with few reading either the lecture notes or references prior to the lecture. While the timing of the availability of the notes would be expected to influence whether students read over them, it is interesting to note that lecture notes for the two biochemistry units were usually available a week before the lecture, whereas the notes for the pharmacology units were often not available until the day before. Despite this difference in timing, there was no difference between the disciplines in the numbers of students who read through the lecture notes before attending the lectures. The low use of the references given may relate to the importance put on these by the lecturer as most provided these as suggestions for additional clarification or extension rather than required readings.
Generally, the results from this survey point to students' having adopted a passive approach to learning from lectures—they used the notes provided. However, the lecturing style must also be taken into account and, for at least some of the lectures in each unit; it is likely that there was little opportunity for students to be actively involved in the learning process in class. It would be interesting to explore further the impact of lecturing style on student engagement, in particular note-taking and participation in class discussions.
If they missed a lecture, some students made an attempt to cover the material they had missed by reading the notes provided and/or listening to the lecture recordings. It is important to emphasize that this survey did not collect any data as to when they did this, so it is possible that this was some time after the actual lecture was given and may not have been in time to help them with understanding of the weekly practical class/tutorial activities. Of concern is that some students may do little to make up for missed lectures while others may rely solely on the lecture notes thus gaining a very superficial coverage of the material.
To determine whether lecture attendance affected academic performance we correlated self-reported lecture attendance with exam mark, which was considered the most appropriate indicator of knowledge and concepts covered within the lecture series. Our ideal study would have allowed us to record attendance of individual students to allow comparison with academic performance of all students. However, this was not possible given the Monash University policy of noncompulsory attendance at lectures and ethical requirements when using students as research subjects. While only a proportion of the full class provided student ID numbers to allow this correlation, we believe the data does provide a snapshot of the relationship between self-reported lecture attendance and exam performance. While there were trends for increased lecture attendance to be associated with increased exam performance in three of the four units, this was only significant for the second-year pharmacology unit. While for the third-year pharmacology unit, there was no trend for decreased exam performance with missing lectures, it should be pointed out that this unit had the lowest number of students in each attendance group, which makes it difficult to generalize from this data.
Previous studies, which have addressed the question of whether there is a correlation between lecture attendance and academic performance have produced varying results, with both positive [14, 15, 17–19, 21, 34] and neutral [23, 24] correlations being reported. Interestingly, Van Walbeek  reported that the differential in test scores between poor lecture attendees and regular lecture attendees increases as the term progresses. However, it has been argued that student motivation rather than attendance may be a more important factor . Other studies have examined factors such as school grades [35, 36] sex and ethnicity [35, 37] as predictors of academic performance, along with other possible confounding factors such as ability, prior knowledge , the recognition of exam clues given in lectures,  and engagement with specific learning experiences . Von Konsky et al.  reported that if students perceive that something is of value to their learning then they are more likely to use it. In our study, the unit that included in-lecture assessment and lectures that were associated with a specific assessment task, motivated students to attend.
While we have presented data from four units across one semester of study, lecture counts and student survey data has been collected for a number of years and similar trends were evident across all years. This highlights that lecture attendance is an issue of ongoing concern that needs a coordinated response involving curriculum design and University policy.
Student attendance and interactions with academic staff have been reported to be an important aspect and measure of engagement [3, 4, 7]. While VLE and newer online communication systems may be able to overcome a lack of face-to-face interaction , for many students face-to-face learning in the classroom is the only regular opportunity they have for interacting with other students and academic staff. Thus, using the classroom to create communities of learning, which engage students must be a high priority. If we believe that lectures provide a medium to engage and enthuse students in the subject  we need to consider not only the style of the lecture but also timetabling issues, which impact on attendance. The results of this study suggest that there is a need for universities to support staff to improve the quality of lecturing and that careful consideration must be given to the timetabling issues of early morning lectures and class clashes.