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Encouraging Attendance and Participation

Many instructors require or give credit for student attendance as a strategy for motivating students to attend class sessions and to ensure that they take part in the learning activities that take place during class. But protecting the health and safety of students and instructors during the pandemic will require a flexible mindset about class attendance and engagement.

How can instructors offer flexibility with attendance while still keeping students motivated to participate?

Here are some recommendations:

  1. Reflect on the purpose of in-class time in your course. Why should students come to class?  What sorts of learning activities do students engage in during class time?  To most instructors, attending class is a proxy for participating in those learning activities (e.g., discussing readings, solving problems, watching and analyzing a demonstration, listening to a lecture).
  2. Identify alternative forms of engagement in those activities for students who are unable to attend class. Consider the following options:
    • Asynchronous assignments. Can students complete parallel activities on their own, asynchronously (e.g., participating in a discussion forum, submitting a completed worksheet)? Consider how you will provide sufficient scaffolding for this option (e.g., short recordings produced by you, or student-generated take-aways from class time)​.
    • Live remote participation. Can students participate synchronously but remotely? If so, think about how to you will make remote students feel included in the class activities
    • Delayed completion. Can students complete the activities at a later date? This option may be particularly important for courses involving studio or lab work requiring special materials, or students who are too ill to keep up with schoolwork for a period of time. ​For alternating cohort courses, instructors do have the discretion of allowing students who miss their assigned class period attend the other cohort's class period, but the instructor is responsible for ensuring there is enough capacity in the room. 
  3. Give credit for learning activities, not attendance. Instead of giving credit for attending class per se, give credit for participating in one or more of the learning activities that take place during class time. Use a low-stakes assignments to track participation in those learning activities, whatever the modality and timing. These types of assignments have additional benefits over attendance taking: they support learning by giving students additional practice and feedback opportunities, and they enabling you to regularly gauge student understanding.  Examples include:
    • Responding to questions through a clicker or live poll (during real-time in-person and online class sessions) or a Blackboard assessment tool (asynchronous online or postponed).
    • Submitting a copy of activities completed during class (e.g., a worksheet, a peer review of another student’s paper, a group analysis of a case study), individually or as a group. 
    • Completing a brief reflection or “muddiest” point assignment (“The most important thing I learned today was…. One thing I am still confused about is…”).

With readily available alternatives that can be completed out of class time, how can you motivate students to attend live class sessions at all?

It might helpful to consider research (including research conducted by CTE) on the factors that influence class attendance. Students are more likely to attend class if they believe that it matters to the professor that they are there, or if being present at the class gives them an advantage. This section of the CTE website provides more information about encouraging attendance and motivating students.  Recommendations include: 

  1. Show students that you are care whether they are present and participating. 
    • Learn and use students’ names to the degree possible.
    • Build a sense of community and rapport in your class.
    • Ask students to check in to class, to help you monitor when and through what modalities students are participating in your course. 
    • Check-in with students that you have not seen or heard from in a while.  
  2. Clearly articulate the value of attending and participating in class. Share with students what meaningful participation in your class means, and how it will contribute to their success in the course (as well as other outcomes). Be transparent about the value of attending live sessions versus online asynchronous participation. For example:

Online participation is a great option for students who need flexibility or cannot attend due to public health directives. But it does require you to organize your own time on the course and to be a self-starter. Regularly attending this class will help you keep to a schedule, to structure your time on the course, making it easier for you to keep up with the course. Class time also provides you more opportunities to interact with classmates, especially more informal interactions.

 See this page for more suggestions about how to balance flexibility and structure in your course.