Tertiary teaching

Attendance woes


Mandias: Perfect Attendance (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

I thought I’d write this up as a post and see if anyone has any suggestions as to what I could do.

As the semester at my institution draws to a close, I’m supposed to go through the attendance records and see if there are any students who shouldn’t be allowed to take the final exam. A brief digression – when I taught at language schools, we were also required to keep attendance records, but these were then passed on to the language training coordinator at the company that paid for the classes and I have no idea what they did with them, or if there were ever any repercussions for those who didn’t attend classes regularly.

This is how it works in the setting I currently teach in (compulsory undergrad courses): three strikes and you’re out. These three times you can miss class – 6 hours out of 60 – you don’t need to justify/excuse your absence in any way. Some students manage that – not sure how many, but they’re generally in the minority. Many don’t. It would be wonderful if I could make a list of those who’ve only been absent three times or less, and tell all the others they’ve got to take the course again next year, but that’s just unrealistic.

So I try to be flexible and accept a couple more absences, and that usually works well. I’m left with a handful of students, which actually prompted this post.

This handful can usually be divided into two categories: those that missed 50% of the classes or more (and I have no qualms about telling them to come back next year) and those that are somewhere between those who toed the line attendance-wise and those I couldn’t safely say I recognize because I’ve seen so little of them. I don’t want to be too vague, so let’s say those who missed around 30% of the classes.

They were around often enough for me to feel that they should be entitled to take the exam, and will probably catch up on what they missed easily enough, so it would serve no purpose to make them sit through the course again next year. However… However, the group that were regular may feel a little stupid if they were to learn that they didn’t actually need to be quite so regular, because other people who missed 2 or 3 times as many classes as they did will also be able to take the exam. Yes, I know their motivation should come from within and not from a familiarity with someone else’s attendance record. I’m not taking that chance.

The usual thing to do, from what I understand, is to give these missed-more-than-they-were-supposed-to-but-the-instructor-still-knows-what-they-look-like students an extra assignment. Sounds fine to me.

This is where the problem lies, though. I hope I don’t come across as unreasonable when I say that I don’t want this extra assignment to be mine. I want it to be the student’s. I don’t see that there’s any reason that I should have to work harder because the student couldn’t be bothered to make the sessions regularly. An example of this would be a seminar paper – a typical extra assignment to make up for absences. I need to assign the paper, i.e., come up with a topic, and I need to at least read it and grade it, but I’ll probably want to give some kind of feedback and I’ll want to check for plagiarism. So, this is definitely at least a couple more hours of work for me, per student.

I was hoping that there’s something I can assign that requires a minimum amount of work on my part. Let’s not pretend that this is going to be viewed as a learning opportunity. I’m looking for an assignment that:

  • will take me no more than 5 minutes to check
  • will leave me in no doubt that the student spent a certain amount of time working on it
  • I can easily check for plagiarism (or dismiss the possibility straight away)
  • requires little or no feedback
  • will not scream “this is primarily punishment”, but will rather say “true, you are doing this because you were lax about attendance, but it’s not a complete waste of time” (optional)

If anyone is/has been in a similar situation, or has any ideas on what assignment would tick all the boxes above, I would be really grateful if you could share your suggestions in the comments.

Oh, right, and let me just reassure everyone that this doesn’t apply to your typical diligent student who was absent for a couple of weeks due to legit medical reasons. Those usually email as soon as the legit medical reason becomes evident and apologize in advance for the two weeks they’re going to miss.


By ven_vve

ELT, elearning, higher ed, teacher training, translation. Partial to the island of Vis since the pre-tourist era.

10 replies on “Attendance woes”

For my students who turned in half-arsed homework, I set a graded reader and a 300 word book report (summary, character study, opinion of the book). Not entirely sure it’s a good thing, but it is at least a thing. Good luck!

Liked by 1 person

This is a tough one! The only thing I can think of which doesn’t eat too much into your time is a standard test-type activity. You need to spend time writing it once, but it marks itself if you use an online tool like Socrative, or Edmodo.

Otherwise, you make them contribute to a ‘real-world’ site for film reviews or something, so they are writing for a real audience. You only need to check it for plagiarism, which hopefully would be less likely as it needs to be published.

Lastly, what about making them work as a group? They peer assess within the group, then you check. Or, the rest of the class checks (!). You’d need a criteria checklist which includes checking for plagiarism, but if it’s high stakes, they might just perform.

Liked by 1 person

I feel your pain Vedrana, out students are only allowed to be absent 6 out of 33/36 hours and they can’t even manage that! We use the LMS assessment tools so those who have missed too many sessions tend not to get good enough results and/or don’t manage to finish off the coursework. This makes it easier to say they can’t take the final exam…It’s hard but they do need to learn that rules are there to be followed.
Having said this, I think Helen’s idea is probably the easiest way to go about it as the test would be self-marking and it can be timed (on Edmondo, not sure about Socrative)a

Liked by 1 person

There are a couple of points you make which I feel the same about: 1) you say you have a problem with the fact that the group that were regular may feel a little stupid if they were to learn that they didn’t actually need to be quite so regular and 2) you don’t want the extra assignment to be yours but the student’s. I agree that the students should make up for their missed classes in some way and it’s them who should taste the consequences of their behaviour, not you. Why don’t you ask them to write an essay in which they’d explain why they missed the classes? The more classes missed, the longer. 🙂 You’d have to read it (or not), but that’s not something they would copy easily. Plus it might be an interesting read/kind of feedback. Well, I’m not sure whether it’s suitable for undergrads but I’d have no problem trying it with my secondary students. However, I normally see my students face to face for an extra session like this and they handwrite the test on the spot so plagiarism is out of the question. Sounds too vicious? 😀

Liked by 1 person

Thanks very much for your suggestions, ladies. I really appreciate them and have read through the comments a couple of times. I think, right now, I’d be most likely to go with Helen’s idea of making the students contribute to a real site; I agree that they would be less likely to copy because this would be a public comment.
It turned out that this semester I didn’t have time (after I posted) to look for a suitable site and think the task through, so I fell back on what I used to sometimes do: the students had to write out a number of dictionary definitions by hand. I don’t like this at all because a) it reminds me of lines, b) it isn’t creative or motivating and c) there isn’t going to be any long-term advantage. On the other hand, the primary purpose of this task isn’t motivation or long-term learning payoff, and handwritten definitions are really easy for me to check – they take all of 5 minutes.
I did ask them to do one more thing though – they had to summarize the last online discussions we had this semester. This was also quick and easy to check and it would have been obvious if they’d copied directly from earlier comments. So that’s something I might use again.
And I’ve just thought of one more thing – I could ask them (future students) to watch a webinar (or something with a little interaction and preferably no transcript) and summarize the main points.
Anyway, thanks again for all the ideas.


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