5 things to look for in a remote attendance tracker

Article by Rachel Bush

Disruptions are not new — colleges and universities have managed disruptions in their schedule through hurricanes and wildfires. But this pandemic is what Dr. Peter Rabinowitz, director of the UW MetaCenter for Pandemic Disease Preparedness called “slow motion disruption”.

The sheer scale of it, the unpredictability of timelines, and falling student retention make education delivery far more complex today. In fact, a study by the Strada Education Network finds that nearly two million students feel that they will have to push back their graduation date.

In order to meaningfully engage such students, and ensure they participate, learn and grow, universities need to innovate. The first step to innovation is collecting data on student engagement. One of the most common ways this happens on campus is through the student attendance tracker. But this isn’t easy to replicate for the virtual campus.

Challenges with existing attendance tracking systems

Given that universities and colleges were suddenly pushed to offering remote classes, there wasn’t enough time to think through every process. Attendance tracking is no different. Many professors make do with whatever tool they have access to and live with its inefficiencies. Some examples are:

Manual attendance: At the beginning of an online class, the instructor or a teaching assistant takes roll call using pen and paper, or a spreadsheet. This is a terrible waste of classroom time.

Shared spreadsheets or Google forms: Instructors use a shared Google form or spreadsheet for each class for students to login and mark attendance. Most often, this isn’t connected to Zoom, and marking one’s own attendance is no guarantee that the student is actually in the class.

Bringing students on video: Instructors might ask all students to keep their video turned on for the entire duration of the class to verify attendance & engagement. Not only does this inconvenience students on low-speed connectivity, but it’s an ineffective method for collecting valuable attendance data trends, at scale.

After-class quiz: Conducting a quiz after class might serve the double function of attendance and evaluation. However, this can be tedious to do everyday, and adds to the burden of the instructor to manually record attendance into the LMS, based on their quiz performance.

Zoom chat: Some instructors use the Zoom chat feature to capture student attendance. This is just another manual, error-prone process and creates data that is difficult to assess.

Capturing attendance for each class is only one part of the process. The real value of tracking attendance is the ability to spot trends and design interventions to support students in need. Identifying students who are regularly late or absent for a significant part of the classes, or times of the day when attendance is low, helps instructors shape their methods. Most attendance tracking solutions are unable to deliver this.

What makes a good remote attendance tracker

1. Simplicity and time-saving

Any process that is a chore will never get done. This goes for marking attendance as well. An online attendance tracking solution needs to offer simplicity and ease-of-use for both students and instructors.

For example, a geo-fenced QR code or wi-fi based notification prompt are great ways in which this can happen on campus. Similarly, a time and attendance software that automates attendance tracking based on a Zoom meeting's sign-ins and sign-outs would be immensely valuable for remote classes held on Zoom.

2. Integration with your LMS

Any new solution that is siloed will hinder effectiveness. So, your remote attendance tracker needs to integrate seamlessly with your LMS. It’s a plus if instructors can automatically assign participation grades.

3. Manual controls

Instructors need the flexibility to mark student attendance, track absenteeism and late arrivals directly into the LMS. A good attendance software will give adequate control to the instructor.

4. State-of-the-art data security

Data privacy and security are critical while managing student data, at this granularity. A good attendance app needs to have strict security protocols and role-based access to prevent misuse.

5. Automatically spotting trends and identifying gaps

A good student attendance tracker needs to offer real-time insights into attendance trends and student engagement. Not just at the individual student level, which is needed by default, but also class level, course level, instructor level, school level or even district level, where applicable.

In essence, a good attendance tracking system needs to:

  • Have scalability and ease of implementation that is necessary for a technology transformation of this nature.
  • Offer complete automation, without compromising on instructor control.
  • Improve classroom engagement, without wasting time on attendance processes.
  • Present actionable metrics, while upholding high-levels of data security.

It must reduce the amount of time and energy you spend in collecting attendance data, while giving you the visibility to take timely and meaningful action to improve student retention.