Using Technology for Attendance

Can technology help instructors with attendance?

Recently, two faculty members shared their approaches to attendance for their classes in “A 21st-Century Attendance Policy”at The Chronicle of Higher Education.  Michelle LaFrance does not take roll, but seeks to reward students for attendance:

I start each class with a five-minute “freewrite”—students respond in writing to a prompt that I provide on the board. (Because these prompts come at the start of class, they also help me account for tardiness.) The prompts are related to course activities, asking students to reflect on course concepts, to discuss material they did or did not understand, or to refresh their memories about what they read or did the night before class. Students post their responses online in a select area of Blackboard and receive 0.5 points toward their final grade for each completed freewrite.

Conversely, Steven J. Corbett opts for what he calls a “professional” approach:

So in my classroom, students are allowed one week of absences (usually the equivalent of two to three days). After that, each absence takes a mark off their overall grade. For example, if the class meets twice a week and a student hits his third absence, I immediately start his overall assessment at an A rather than an A-plus. If students reach six absences, they fail the course. The only “excuse” I accept is religious holidays.

I tend to favor Corbett’s approach, but when I have used it in the past, it brings with it its own set of administrative nightmares: manually keeping up with absences, figuring out the grade demotion, etc.  For the past few semesters, I have combined Moodle’s attendance function with a rubric of sorts in my classes:

Moodle automatically calculates attendance. It assigns 5 points for being present/excused absences, 2 points for being tardy and 0 points for being absent. Students are ‘tardy’ if they are not present by the time the instructor completes taking the roll. Students who arrive to class after the roll is taken are responsible for alerting the instructor at the end of class on that day. The instructor will not make changes to attendance records after the day in question.Excused absences require official documentation (email/note from doctor, dean, university official, etc.), or must fall under the University’s guidelines for absences.

I like grading attendance because it puts attendance on the same level as  their work. Like LeFrance and Corbett, I feel students need to be in class to get the most out of the course. Using Moodle’s attendance function allow students to see their attendance grade at any given time.  I also tie excused absences to documentation, so that students can make informed decisions. When students can see how their actions impact their grade, it also cuts down on negotiating and giving exceptions. In fact, I’m really thinking about increasing the points for attendance as well as the percentage of a student’s overall grade. While I understand my colleague who will fail student based on excessive attendance, I’m not quite there…….……..yet.

“A 21st-Century Attendance Policy.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. 14 Jul 2014. Web. 22 Jul 2014.