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Teaching college-age students brings with it a host of logistical issues, not the least of which is deciding what to do about attendance.  With their burgeoning independence, many students desire the ability to come and go as they please.  However, as instructors, we want students in the classroom for the classes we spent so much time to prepare.  To help you decide what’s best for your classroom (because there’s no one “right” attendance policy), let’s explore some of the benefits and drawbacks of attendance policies for both instructors and students.

FOR STUDENTS:

Drawbacks:

  • Students desire the freedom to decide their schedules and may feel that inflexible attendance policies hinder their independence.
  • Students who don’t want to be in class but feel like they have to may distract other students.

Benefits:

  • Attendance policies teach responsibility and discipline.  Most jobs have attendance policies, so having one in college may serve as practice for the “real world.”
  • Students who come to class have been shown to perform better on exams (Marburger, 2004).

FOR INSTRUCTORS:

Drawbacks:

  • Have to spend time keeping track of students.  With a strict attendance policy, you will need to take attendance every class.  For large class sizes, this is incredibly time consuming.  Moreover, with students who arrive at class late or those who need to leave early for some reason, juggling an attendance sheet while teaching requires considerable time and effort.
  • Students, concerned about their grades, will contact you frequently about getting absences excused.  Managing emails from students asking for an absence to be excused takes considerable time and effort on the part of the instructor.

Benefits:

  • More students come to class if they know it impacts their grades (Golding, 2011).
  • Having an attendance policy doesn’t necessarily negatively impact teaching evaluations compared to when no attendance policy is utilized (Golding, 2011).
  • Student feedback is imperative to modifying and improving teaching (Sleigh & Ritzer, 2001).

WHAT TO DO:

  • Whatever you decide is right for your classroom, set clear guidelines.  Make it clear in your syllabus what is expected of students with regards to attendance.  Will attendance be taken at every class?  Or will pop quizzes be given a few times throughout the semester and those who are absent will miss points on those?  What’s your policy regarding handing in assignments if class is missed?
  • To encourage students to come to class, regardless or whether you have a strict attendance policy or not, do not post full PowerPoint slides online.  By leaving out some slides on purpose (and telling students you do so), students understand that by missing class, they’re likely missing a significant portion of class material that they can’t simply extrapolate from the textbook or the posted slides.

OTHER RESOURCES:

Benefits of Attendance Policies | Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

Attendance Policies | Texas Tech University Teaching, Learning, & Professional Development Center

Encouraging Student Attendance | Association for Psychological Science Teaching Tips

 

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