Higher ed awakening to link between attendance, engagement and success
Attendance in cyberspace
Attendance is a relatively straightforward concept for students attending a class in person, on a brick-and-mortar campus. But what happens when the campus is moved to the web?
“In-person attendance capture is completely different from online,” says Blackboard’s Pawlak. “In-person requires validation of physical presence at the specified class time and location through their electronic credential, mobile phone or access card, while online class attendance may vary widely based on the course.”
In the case of online attendance, rules may be configured in each course that determines successful attendance, explains Pawlak. “It may be evaluated by reaching certain milestones, such as on screen accesses or submitted responses.”
The key difference at the moment, then, is that attendance in online environments is more fragmented and requires more configurations than its in-person counterpart.
“Some courses may be learn-at-your-own-pace while others may have specified deadlines to exhibit competence on subject matter,” says Pawlak. “Given the varying nature of online courses, rules for determining attendance should be evaluated at the course level and configured as part of the course.”
It goes without saying that it’s incredibly difficult to succeed academically if you don’t go to class. Even now, in an age when some degrees can be earned almost entirely online, the classroom remains the primary hub of knowledge and learning.
And yet, students for one reason or another will miss or purposely skip class to the displeasure of universities and instructors alike. Poor attendance isn’t just a pet peeve, however, it’s a measurable habit that negatively impacts student performance.
At the institutional level, student attendance also has ramifications as retention rates and financial aid compliance are closely aligned to “presence.”
On another level, the decision to implement an attendance policy – and accompany that policy with an automated attendance system – opens the possibility to improve academic performance and identify students in need of institutional support.
“There are many drivers behind attendance tracking on campus, including student retention, improved academic performance, class engagement, expanded student services including advisement options, and accurate reporting for financial aid and budgeting purposes,” says Blackboard’s Boeckman. “Attendance as it relates to safety situations on campus is also vital, as knowing who is in a particular classroom at a specific time period can be critical.”
Beyond the classroom
Whether a student reports to the place they are expected to be, when they’re expected to be there, is an idea that may well go beyond being simply absent or present. In fact, attendance may be just as much about engagement as it is about being physically present.
“When we hear the word ‘attendance’ we automatically think of classroom attendance, but really what we are seeing is a very pointed interest in activity tracking as a tool to measure student engagement,” says CBORD’s Chaffee. “And ultimately to measure the efficacy of non-academic student programs, and the effect they have or do not have on academic success.”
When we hear the word ‘attendance’ we automatically think of the classroom, but really what we are seeing is an interest in activity tracking as a tool to measure student engagement
To these ends, the data derived from an attendance solution can be an invaluable asset. “Those that track student attendance have a wealth of information that can be used for analysis and mining,” says Heartland’s Emery. “Subsequently, this can help in operational decision making such as if facility hours should be changed or if a certain program needs to be expanded.”
“These data analyses can also be used for financial purposes such as helping determine how to allocate funds or obtain grants or other outside funding,” Emery adds. “It can even be used in residence hall selection lotteries or for establishing athletic ticket priority.”
The power of presence
Be it improved academic performance, student retention or compliance with financial aid, the benefits of attendance for students and their institution are evident.
Data is an undoubtedly powerful resource, and when used properly, can be the critical link between a university and a student in need. “Universities that track attendance and leverage the resulting data can better serve students though early intervention and outreach programs,” says Boeckman.
The most significant benefit of attendance, then, could be the one that can’t be measured on a grading scale or in dollars and cents. “Engagement with the student is key and increases the probability of retention and higher performance,” she says.
“Students benefit when the institution and its faculty can make the empirical connection between course material and absentee rates – insight with which changes can be made to inform instructional design and drive improved student engagement,” stresses Boeckman. “Engaged students are more successful students and can help elevate the interest of those around them as well.”