Taking Attendance - Must We?

October 29, 2017

Every second of a class meeting matters so it’s natural to look for ways to streamline the administrative tasks that are a part of course management. Taking attendance is an undertaking that requires time.  The larger the class, potentially the more time required. 

We take attendance because we know being present in class is important to student success.  There is content processing, and opportunities for dual coding, that occurs in class and is richer than simply reading the text alone.  Taking attendance means we are holding students accountable.  But are there ways we can shift the accountability, responsibility and motivation to attend class to students?

Here are a few tips for you to consider:

Tip #1 - Help students understand the importance of attendance.  
If you're holding students accountable, do they understand why?  They might perceive taking attendance as an instructor "control" issue.  They might not realize it's about them --- not us.  There is clear evidence that attendance is important not only to their grade in a course but their overall degree performance which then leads to a life-long impact in their profession and future learning endeavors --- in other words, their ultimate life quality. Perhaps sharing the research with them might help:  

http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.3102/0034654310362998

https://www.mnsu.edu/cetl/teachingresources/articles/classattendance.html

http://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/1101/tips.html

Tip #2 - Make class worth attending.  
Are there activities that engage students and assist them in learning something that cannot be done by simply reading the book or listening to a recorded lecture or getting a friend’s notes after class?  If you are looking for ways to engage students in class consider the 2014 book "Collaborative Learning Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty, 2nd Edition" by Elizabeth F. Barkley, Claire H. Major, K. Patricia Cross.  It has a wealth of activity ideas and learning environment options.  Barkley’s 2010 book “Student Engagement Techniques:  A Handbook for College Faculty” is a worthwhile resource as well. In it activities are organized by the type of learning goal  (i.e. knowledge, skills, recall, understanding,  synthesis and creative thinking, etc.).  If you do something in class that helps students learn more deeply and in a way that cannot be replicated outside of class, they will come!  

Tip #3 -  Make students accountable not just for attending, but for learning something.  
Just because a student is physically “in class” doesn't mean they are cognitively "in class".  Below are some ideas that could serve both as an attendance check and as a knowledge check conducted during class and worth participation points for completing the exercise.  You may be thinking that this will require even more time than taking attendance, but activities like these will also tell you if learners were really “there”. Plus, they can save you time by recognizing quickly if students understand something before you’ve spent more time explaining it.

  • Idea #1 (Beginning of Class) - This What I Know

Randomly call on students at the beginning of class and ask them to tell you one thing they already understand about the content before you jump into lecturing.  

  • Idea #2 (Beginning of Class and End of Class) - Stump the Expert

As students enter the class, require them to turn in a 3x5 card with their name and a question on it.  Randomly pull from the questions, ask where the student is seated so you can talk directly to them and answer questions for the first few minutes of class (answers can include the response “that will be covered in today’s lecture”).  At the end of class, pull a few more questions to answer and wrap up by asking if there’s a question that remains unanswered.  

  • Idea #3 (End of Class) - Graphic Organizer

During the last 5 minutes of class, give students a list of the main concepts discussed during the session and ask them to draw a picture connecting the concepts to one another with a sentence explaining why they are connecting them.  This can be done on paper, in bCourses using the Whiteboard, in SuiteC, or with concept mapping software such as LucidChart (lucidchart.com).


Of course, whatever you choose to do should fit you and your course outcomes.  If you’d like to brainstorm other alternatives to taking attendance please email teaching@berkeley.edu.