This situation caused me to ask a number of questions. Why do some learners always attend? What is it that they are doing that facilitates their attendance? How do learners arrange to attend to other commitments? After learning about action research and how I might be able to change the situation through its methodology, I identified a research question for this project:
What new process at TLC would help learners attend the non-credit (leisure or personal development) courses for which they have signed up in an earlier registration
Understanding the Situation
Data Collection Methods
What seemed to me fundamental to the problem was that there were some very convenient and plausible answers that could serve as easy explanations as to why some learners did not attend classes. For example, Committee members and other workplace colleagues would exclaim that the weather was improving and folks had begun golfing or skiing or whatever fit in their definition of improved weather. Others cited that the average age of the learners which is 48 was a possible reason "folks are just too tired". While yet others mentioned that an elite hockey tournament, curling bonspiel, baseball series or local event might be competing reasons for non attendance. But nothing was grounded in any kind of research. So I began to think through how I could use my different job responsibilities to help me capture the new information.
First, I did a review of literature about adult learning and attendance. I found several articles that helped affirm my experiences with learners at TLC. I also familiarized myself with examples of action research methodology to help me identify the best data sources.
Then, I began to track the weather and known events that coincided with classes at TLC. I entered this information into my Lotus notes calendar for every business day for a month. I had a small surge of confidence when the Centre had full classes on the dates of two important professional hockey games when the weather also happened to be perfect. Tracking this information for four weeks proved valuable.
Another data source was my learner database. I was able to generate a report that indicates the number of courses that learners have signed up for and attended. This allowed me to track both the super attenders (learners who sign up for and consistently attend many classes), the super non-attenders (those who sign up for many and attend few classes) and everyone in between. Using this information, I interviewed 10 super attenders and 10 super non-attenders to find out their reasons for participation or non participation in classes. These informal interviews were not more than 5 minutes, and the same questions were used for each interviewee. I recorded all the answers on the separate chat sheets.
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