Attendance is a hot topic in higher education. Is attendance required? Should it be required? What purpose does it serve? “Attendance proves nothing in terms of learning,” (Macfarlane, 2016). Faculty want students to be present in class so they do not miss any material and, if that is the case, then there may be a better way to track attendance besides a sign-in sheet or clicker poll.

Think about using attendance for greater benefits. Straight attendance recording seems like a waste of an opportunity to engage students. “Some of the best students engage very well with their studies – reading, contributing to online discussions, submitting excellent work – while others may attend but ‘in body only’ and then do very little work outside the class” (Macfarlane, 2016). Are you looking to count the number of bodies in the room or are you looking for a more meaningful accounting of students in your class?

Here are some thoughts on managing attendance beyond the sign-in sheet or clicker poll:

  • Attendance makes more of a difference to students if they know it is part of their grade (it does not even matter how much, to most, just that it is part of the grade)
  • Try to post course materials electronically that outline the information that will be covered in the day’s lesson but do not include word-for-word slides that can be used as a substitute for attending class.
  • Offer elements in class that students cannot get anywhere else.
    • Supplemental examples or illustrations
    • Exam tid-bits — Stress that items you are currently presenting will resurface on an exam so they equate attendance to gathering pertinent information
  • Require a reflection related to course activities for class participation credit. Making this mandatory for the first 5 minutes of class will also force students to make a bigger effort to get to class on time.  
    • This could be in the form of a reflection paper/journal – example: last class we talked about contrast in an image, write a short reflection on that discussion  
    • Or it could be a quick answer auto-grade question – example: What are the four elements that make up an ad that I mentioned in class last week
  • Give weekly in-class assignments that offer students a chance to apply what they’ve learned (30 minutes tops) and give credit for completing the assignment so you do not add more items to be graded. Think about offering the opportunity for students to work in groups on occasion.
  • Christopher Danielson has a creative technique for attendance that is worth reading <>
    • Give practice exam problem(s) (use Danielson’s idea of surprise times so students don’t know when they will have the opportunity to practice for the exam). Offer credit toward the exam grade for correct answers.

The point of attending the class is for students to learn and using some creative techniques to take attendance might result in better more attentive students in your class. It is also harder for students to outsmart the system if attendance is tied to an activity. If you are interested in options that could work for your class or you would like help implementing some of the techniques mentioned above, send a consultation request to or visit the Learning Systems website.

Macfarlane, B. (2016, September). Academic double standards: Freedom for lecturers, compliance for students. Times Higher Education. Retrieved from