SIP 3.4 Integrated Attendance and Participation Policies

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

Since time immemorial, instructors have battled to get students to come to class and participate. Responses to the attendance conundrum have ranged from positive reinforcement (assigning points for coming and/or participating) to the punitive (taking away points for missing). How can we best encourage fruitful attendance and participation in today’s classroom, especially given the myriad outside distractions that either entice or obligate students to miss class?

Take a SIP of this: Integrated attendance and participation policies

Presenting attendance and participation as an integral learning activity instead of simply a way to earn points can improve outcomes in these two areas. This can happen in several ways:

  • Don’t create a separate attendance or participation score on your course grade breakdown, which emphasizes attendance and participation as ways to earn points.
  • Integrate universally-designed activities into each class period, and assign a point value to those (check out the SIP 3.2 Assignment Menus for ideas on how to do this). For example, introverted students may have trouble with a classic all-class discussion situation, and therefore may lose points when points depend on vocal contribution. But if students participate in a small-group discussion or project, the product of which is collected at the end of the class period, those introverted students can earn points for contributing in a way that is comfortable and beneficial for them.
  • Connect the skills of showing up and participating in the academic environment to the skills that students will need in order to be successful in the professional environment. Students often seem to view their college education as a means to a professional end, but there is a frequent disconnect between punctuality, presence and contribution in the classroom and the same skills in the workplace. Making this connection overt can impact student mindset, especially if you make it clear that this kind of behavior in class can serve a positive purpose when asking professors for letters of recommendation for jobs or post-graduate work.
  • Using portfolio assessment is another way to fold in participation and attendance without making a big deal of it. For example, if the instructor has students do an in-class activity with some kind of written product, even notes or sketches, that product goes into the student’s portfolio.  If the student is not in class, he or she doesn’t have that product, and the portfolio suffers.  If students understand that everything they do (including attending class) ends up impacting their final portfolio and thus their grade, they are more likely to participate organically.  (As an aside, portfolio assessment is a really powerful tool for demonstrating to students how much they have learned—how much work they did, and the evolution of their understanding—attendance and participation play a huge role in this, and seeing that in the final portfolio can be impactful. Look for a SIP on portfolio assessment coming later this spring!)

Careful consideration of attendance, participation and make-up policies can help instructors to meet students where they are and support them in the achievement of the learning outcomes of the course. Particularly at a school like MSU Denver where we have a non-traditional student body that is often faced with many competing demands such as work and family, building a course to help students learn the value of their input can have a big impact.

Still thirsty? Take another SIP of Integrated Attendance and Participation Policies

St. Clair, K. L. (1999). “A Case Against Compulsory Attendance Policies.” Innovative Higher Education, v23, no3, p. 171-180.

From the Innovative Instructor Blog: “Should You Require Class Attendance?”

A great article from Inside Higher Ed: “Attendance Not Required.”

And of course, don’t forget to talk to the MSU Denver Access Center about Universal Design for Learning practices that can take away the need for an attendance policy through curricular design and innovative instructional delivery!

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