Taking attendance

In life, only two things are certain: death and taxes.

In teaching at Queens, two acts are an absolute must for faculty: producing attendance rosters at the beginning of the semester and producing grades at the end. Both of these acts are performed using CUNYfirst. We leave grades for a future post, focusing now—at the beginning of a new semester—on attendance.

First, let’s justify taking attendance. You teach college, so your students are adults and they’re paying to be in your class. You may think that taking attendance is “mothering” your students, that it may even discourage responsibility. We find just the opposite: taking attendance regularly encourages students to come to class regularly, by signaling to them that their presence is important to you. Also, taking attendance regularly, especially at the beginning of the semester, is a great way to learn your students’ names and to help students recognize and get to know each other.

If these reasons don’t persuade you to start taking attendance, consider this: if you don’t take attendance regularly during the first three weeks of class, and you don’t submit a Verification of Attendance Roster, you are jeopardizing your students’ financial aid and your negligence could result in serious fines for Queens College.

Verification of Attendance Rosters are submitted using CUNYfirst, after the third week of the semester (or equivalent, for shorter semesters in the summer and winter sessions). You will receive Queens College email early in the semester, announcing the period for submitting attendance rosters, and what you need to produce is simple: confirm whether each of your students has attended class at least once.

  • Step-by-step instructions for using the CUNYfirst system to submit attendance rosters are here.
  • The CUNY-wide policy on verification of student attendance is here.

There are probably as many ways to keep a class-by-class record of attendance as there are preferences for organizing any other aspect of a class. Here are some suggestions, most of them pretty low-tech:

Paper-and-pencil method (so familiar, that we hardly need to describe it!): Get a list of your students from CUNYfirst or Blackboard, and use it to make a table with your class meeting dates. A paper print-out is good enough, or you may find it comforting to use a notebook. A downside of this familiar methodology: you will have to collate your records manually to produce your verification of attendance roster or to perform any analyses of attendance records.

Passing around an attendance sign-in sheet: This method works well with large classes, for which reading a complete roster aloud would take up too much in-class time. Make a table with your students’ names and add a space for their signature. Print the sign-in sheet and ask students to pass it around during class.

Using your laptop or other device: Paper-free teaching enthusiasts will want to try taking attendance electronically. One tactic is to type directly into an Excel spreadsheet. Another is to use an app designed just for taking attendance. One we have used is Attendance (for iOS; reviewed here and here). Yet another is to use a Google Form to create an attendance survey, as described here.

Using clickers: If your class happens to use audience-response devices (“clickers”), you could use them to take attendance, but you may want to think carefully about how to incorporate the attendance task into your clicker routines, so you don’t give students the wrong impression. Rather than an “Are you here?” question, try an easy warm-up question that’s related to the topic of the class session, and use that as your attendance check.

A final note: per CUNY policy, attendance can’t be used as a factor to determine course grades, and you’re not required to take attendance beyond week three. But this doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate attendance-taking into tasks that produce in-class participation points. We will discuss these in a future post.