Professors Guide Development of Software Solution to Class Skipping

Numerous academic studies have demonstrated that class attendance is the single best predictor of grades in a college course, even ahead of hours spent studying outside of class. Students simply cannot make up for lost class time with efforts on their own outside of class.

This fact is self-evident in the classes I teach at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio. Because I am a professor of computer science, the material in my classes is cumulative. Once a student gets more than a few days behind, it is nearly impossible for the student to be successful since they cannot understand the new material I am covering.

Unfortunately, the best and most recent research on class attendance rates, including a Harvard study from 2014, indicates class attendance may be no better than 75-80 percent, and possibly much worse.

Beyond Required Attendance and Roll Keeping

In my classes, I address this problem by requiring attendance and taking roll in every class session. However, I understand that manually taking attendance is not feasible with larger classes, and I respect professors who believe the responsibility for attendance lies with the student and not the instructor. With so many professors uninterested in taking on attendance responsibilities or simply unable to take attendance, it falls to university administrators to seek solutions to the problem of students skipping class.

In 2012, an Indianapolis-based company called Core Principle invited me to join an advisory team of university professors and administrators who would provide insights and guidance as the company designed a class attendance monitoring system. One of the company’s class attendance systems uses geolocation technology to help automate the roll taking and reporting process.

Giving University Administrators Software Solutions

Core Principle’s founder, Jeff Whorley, was interested in providing university administrators with software solutions that would allow them to copy the attendance monitoring practices commonly used with successful results by Division I athletic programs to the general student population. The goal: to boost graduation rates for undergraduate students-which now stand at 55 percent over six years-to the same level as Division I scholarship athletes, whose four-year graduation rate is over 80 percent.

Specifically, the company wanted to empower university administrators to use the location services available on all modern smartphones and tablets to record class attendance in near real time. With the Core Principle approach, if the student consents to download an app on his or her smartphone or tablet, the university can then automatically record attendance data based on the location of the student’s device at the scheduled class time.

Core Principle approached me for its advisory team because I had previously developed a smartphone app that allows professors to record attendance on their iPhone for their personal records. Over the next two years, my experience in the classroom as well as my software expertise served as a valuable resource for the development of what is now called Class120.

Launching an Attendance Monitoring System at Lynn University

The attendance monitoring system officially launched in January 2015. In recent weeks, Core Principle has secured its first campus-wide implementation as a pilot program at Lynn University, a private institution in Boca Raton, Florida. NBC Nightly News covered the announcement of the pilot program on its February 7th broadcast.

Lynn University already provides more than 1,700 undergraduate students with iPad devices that they are expected to take with them to every class. As part of the pilot program, students who volunteer will have their attendance monitored via the app on their iPads. Since the university already has strict class attendance policies in place, there is little reason not to volunteer. At Lynn University, the question is not if class attendance will be taken but rather how.

“If we can continue some of those great behaviors that [students] learned in high school of attending classes up until the time that they’re going to graduate and hopefully become gainfully employed, then I think that we’re doing our job,” Lynn University President Kevin Ross told NBC News.

According to Lynn University, its attendance statistics show that students who miss one in four classes have a 68 percent likelihood of earning less than a “C” in that class. How many students are missing that many classes? A national survey of undergraduate students and other research conducted by Core Principle indicates that at least 25 percent of students are skipping one in four classes, which equals over a year’s worth of classes during a standard four-year college career.

New Attendance Rules at Capital University

At Capital University, where I currently work, administrators have instituted new rules to comply with federal guidelines intended to ensure students who take out loans are actually enrolling and attending class. Professors entering a grade of “F” for a student must report when that student last attended class.

For professors like myself who regularly take roll, it is simple to provide that information. However, by the time we are entering an “F” into the student’s record, it is obviously too late to intervene and correct the problem. In my experience, just being in class makes a difference in a student’s grade. Industry research has come to the same conclusion.

When university administrators actively monitor class attendance throughout the semester, the institution gives itself the power to correct problems rather than simply report statistics. The earlier students with attendance problems can be identified, the more likely those problems can be addressed. In my role as an advisor to the development team, this is the number one point I emphasized time and again.

The debate over the appropriate role of class attendance policy and monitoring as a part of a strategy for improving graduation rates is starting to get national attention. The correlation between class attendance and better student outcomes is clear, nevertheless

I have heard the view that college students are adults or almost adults and should be “allowed to fail” if they can’t motivate themselves to get to class. This point of view often includes the concern that attendance policies or monitoring of any type treats them like children.

Training Students in Accountability

Interestingly, I see a focus on class attendance, including a monitoring system such as this one, as treating college students like adults. In the real, after-college work world, a new employee typically will be expected to be at a workplace at a prescribed time. If the new employee fails to be at work on time, he or she will quickly find their employment at risk.

The accountability of a serious class attendance system that provides real time monitoring actually prepares a college student for the real world. It’s the point President Ross at Lynn is making, and I think he’s exactly right.

About the Author
Dr. David M. Reed is the creator of the Attendance2 iOS app, co-author of Data Structures and Algorithms Using Python and C++, and co-principal investigator on two National Science Foundation grants and a Keck Undergraduate Computational Science Education Consortium grant.