Should I take attendance for my large enrollment courses?

Today’s reflection stems from a comment I received in my recent SRI (Student Reflections on Instruction) at my current institution. The comment expressed how much the student appreciated all the iClicker activities that were built in as my weekly lecture sessions and they would really love to earn some credit while participating. They also expressed frustration due to how few responses there were in average.

Research has shown attendance is positively and significantly related to student’s academic performance and I try my best to encourage my students to attend not only my lectures, but all their lectures. However, I have never made attendance mandatory since I started teaching in 2012. Our students today play many roles in their individual life, being a student is only one of them. They have other life obligations which may prevent them from attending a lecture on a specific day, scheduled at a specific time. Mandatory attendance taking may become yet another gate-keeping in higher education that prevent certain students from enrolling in a course.

What I discovered in the past few semesters is alarmingly low attendance rate for almost all my classes. For example in my entry-level calculus course, I have around 200 students on my course roster but I only get 50-60 students attending lectures regularly. I’m fairly certain there is a group of students who never attended any of my lectures. The retention rate and DFW rate for that course has always been a concern and these numbers are not getting better after two years of online teaching/learning in 2020/2021. I have introduced a few new things in this course hoping to address it, including regular in-class activities where students can post their questions during the lecture anonymously using iClicker, more regular quizzes and the possibility of moving one or two quiz weightage to the final exam, and an adaptive assignment platform where the whole course is organized by learning objectives and students earn credit by showing mastery. They can have unlimited attempts and still earn full credit as long as they show mastery of the learning objective before the deadline. When I analyze the data for the recent three semesters, there is no significant improvement despite all the changes. What else could be done?

So when I saw that comment, for the first time I am considering giving credit for student’s attendance to encourage more students to come to lectures. I’m still thinking about the details of how to implement it, as I don’t want to harm those students who truly need to be away from a lecture or two for any reason. Right now I’m thinking of giving full credit if students attend most of my lectures and participate regularly in iClicker activities. Then the question is what is considered as “attending most of lectures”? Should that be 70%? 75%? 80%? What is considered as “participate regularly”? These numbers feel random, just like those numbers on our grading scale when we define an A+ to be above 90, and A to be above 82. I’m not a fan of this kind of grading structure but that’s the reality we live in. So if you have implemented similar attendance taking policies in your course, could you please share what you did and what worked/didn’t work? Thank you!

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