Attending to Attendance

Related to yesterday’s post about the differences between professors and teachers is a detailed analysis by Michael LaBossiere (Florida A&M) of his students’ attendance in his courses. He has long taken attendance and now makes use of Blackboard analytics for gathering information and “generating a picture of why students fail my classes.”  He writes:

Not surprisingly, the new data still supports the old data in regards to correlation between a student’s attendance and her grade. Students who do fail (D or F) tend to have very poor attendance.  I have also found that attendance has grown dramatically worse in my classes over the years. This is not based on the usual complaints of the old about the youth of today—I have stacks of rumpled attendance sheets that provide actual evidence.

One thing to note, if you read his post, is just how much effort he has put into figuring out why students in his courses do poorly. He even surveyed his students on their reasons for missing class. That strikes me as unusually dedicated.

LaBossiere has begun to allow his students to use Blackboard to complete tasks they would have otherwise needed to come to class to do:

Students could take exams and quizzes and turn in papers and assignments at any time of day from anywhere they could get an internet connection. I also offered (and offer) very generous deadlines for the work so that students who faced difficulties or challenges could easily work around them.

Interestingly, while his use of Blackboard was correlated with a reduction in student attendance, “the averages in my classes are remaining constant. One possible explanation is that the students would be doing worse, but for their ability to do the work in a very flexible manner.” So Blackboard, he thinks, is a “double-edged sword.”

Philosophy instructors, do you usually take attendance? If so, do you grade your students on attendance? Is your grading direct or indirect, say, through the use of occasional quizzes? Do you use Blackboard or other forms of technology in ways that make it easier for students to complete the work for your course without having to attend class?

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