Colleges may want to cut back on early class offerings, according to research findings that “suggest concerning associations between early morning classes and learning outcomes.”
Nature Human Behavior, a peer-reviewed journal, used WiFi data from more than 20,000 students, assessed grades from nearly 40,000 and tracked sleep schedule data from more than 200 at the University of Singapore to understand the behavior of students whose classes started at different times.
For students whose classes started at 8:00 a.m., the journal found their lecture attendance dropped 10 points, they slept an hour less and the more classes a week they had that started that early, the worse their grade point average was.
“Effects of absenteeism and presenteeism on grades may have long-term consequences on students’ employment opportunities, job performance ratings and salary,” the authors wrote. “Growing evidence indicates that early class start times can be detrimental for students’ sleep and daytime functioning.”
Using Wi-Fi connection data, the authors studied 23,391 unique students enrolled across 337 large lecture courses. They found that WiFi data could be used as a relative indicator of class attendance after finding a 95% confidence interval between instructor-reported attendance and WiFi-confirmed attendance.
Compared to students with 10:00 a.m. start times, those with 8:00 a.m. start times attended class 10 points less. The authors indicated that these students were missing class due to oversleeping, specifically by cross-referencing data from students wearing an actigraphy watch that assesses activity cycles.
Students’ sleep patterns were also assessed by time stamping student logins to the university’s Learning Management System. Since students must be awake to use the program, the authors compiled 17.4 million time-stamped logins from 39,458 students over five semesters to create a 24-hour activity profile. Again, the data was cross-referenced from students’ actigraphy data.
As a result, the authors found that on days when students had a class at 8:00 a.m., they sacrificed an average of an hour of sleep.
The study found that having morning classes one or two days a week was associated with a minimal effect on the grade point average. However, morning classes on three or more days of the week were associated with a “medium”-size effect on grade point average.
“Universities need scalable methods for evaluating the potential impact of class start times on students’ behavior,” wrote the authors. “Class scheduling practices are unlikely to change without university-wide evidence of a problem.”