New technologies encourage — and record — student class attendance and engagement


College students who often cut class are putting their grades and likelihood of graduation at risk, no matter how much they study outside of the class, according to researchers who have examined the relationship between in-person class attendance and academic performance.

An analysis by the American Educational Research Association, for example, concluded that “class attendance appears to be a better predictor than any other known predictors of college grades — including SAT scores, high school grade point average, studying skills and the amount of time spent studying. Indeed, the relationship is so strong as to suggest that dramatic improvements in average grades (and failure rates) could be achieved by efforts to increase class attendance rates among college students.”

Technology potentially provides a key component in efforts to encourage and increase class attendance. At San Diego State University, business management lecturer Kimberly King uses an integrated classroom-enhancement platform from CourseKey to monitor attendance as part of her overall assessment of student performance.

“I don’t have to waste class time taking attendance, and at the end of the semester, I don’t have to make a spreadsheet, as I used to do, to figure out how many times students were absent,” said King, whose classes number 50 or more students. “It’s an online system that I can look at any time that indicates absences. It also has student pictures there, so I don’t have to try to remember faces and names.”

King, who also teaches at the business school at the University of California, San Diego, started using CourseKey several years ago as part of a beta test and has used it continuously since. Her experience corroborated research conclusions — that physical class attendance can be a significant factor in student performance.

“It’s hard for you to learn if you’re not there,” she told EdScoop. “It’s not only attendance but it’s also talking in class, participating in the discussions. We also do labs, discussions and case studies in class, so if they don’t come, how will they participate?” King said that students who have more than two unexcused absences from her classes will see that reflected in their grades.

CourseKey uses sound-wave technology to automate attendance-taking, guaranteeing that the student is within the designated classroom and not in an adjacent classroom because sound waves do not travel through walls. The instructor’s device or in-class computer emits a high-frequency tone that humans cannot hear. When students arrive in the classroom, their devices hear the tone and clock them into class. The sound technology works on any internet-enabled device a student brings to the classroom.

The attendance system also benefits students by helping them make sure they’re not missing too many classes. “They’re able to check their attendance record,” they said. “And they don’t have to email me about absences.”

In addition to the attendance system, CourseKey’s interactive, classroom-centric platform includes engagement and analytics tools designed to enhance the classroom experience for both instructors and students.

“The need for a product like this is great, not only for attendance but also for classroom engagement, especially when you have large classes,” King said. “If I want to do an ad hoc quiz to see if students are retaining the material, I’ll do short quizzes on CourseKey as well [as taking] the attendance. I can also do polling questions and show those results in class.”

CourseKey also lets students communicate with the instructor and other students in the class.

“Students can use it to create study groups,” King said. “They also can use it also as a communication method with other students in the class without having to know what their email address is. It’s much more engaging in class when students have an interactive tool they can use versus just sitting there and listening to a lecture.