We know from studies—and the wisdom that comes with experience—that attending class leads to improved student outcomes. And yet, it’s not uncommon for lecture halls to sit half-empty, particularly a few weeks into a course. If students are pressed for time or don’t see the value in coming to class, how can you encourage them to attend? Here are a few ways to boost attendance.
1. Create benefits to attending class
Explain the value of attendance. This may seem obvious, but many students, particularly first-years, don’t understand the benefits of regular attendance. Explaining the specific benefits of attending your class—and finding ways to personalize content or make the subject matter relevant to the real world—could also help students understand the value in showing up.
Teach beyond the textbook. Some students prefer reading course material themselves because they can go at their own pace and review the material if needed. Give them a reason to attend class by expanding on concepts in the readings or incorporating additional concepts. If you post class notes on a discussion board, make sure these are outlines rather than complete transcripts of the class, otherwise students may be less motivated to attend.
Include exam questions based on class content. Everything taught in class should be eligible for inclusion in assignments, quizzes or exams—not just regular lectures, but also guest speakers, group work and class activities. If assignments, quizzes and exams cover material from your classes, it’s harder for students to try and guess which classes they should attend (or skip).
Give pop quizzes for credit. Not only can this boost attendance, but it can also be a tactic to improve engagement. A nonpunitive pop quiz “is a useful adjunct to the traditional lecture-style course” that potentially encourages class attendance, fosters pre-class preparation and gives students feedback on their learning—not to mention extra credit toward their final grade, according to research from Michael B. Thorne.1 Top Hat makes it easy to incorporate quizzes and discussion in lectures: see how here.
2. Create a positive classroom environment
Build a sense of community. On the first day of class, have students introduce themselves to other students. Assign group work over the course of the term and switch up groups for different assignments. Make students feel less anonymous by learning their names, encouraging discussions and being available before or after class. “Overcoming these feelings of anonymity can help to create a sense of community among students and/or a connection to the instructor,” states an article from Carnegie Mellon University. And this can help to “foster a sense of responsibility” to the class.2
Refer students to campus resources. Some students may have a legitimate reason for missing class, such as a health or family issue that’s affecting their attendance. If you discover this to be the case, point them towards people who can help, such as campus health or counseling services, to help them get back on track.
3. Create attendance policies
Take attendance. The simple act of recording attendance each class was shown in a study to reduce absenteeism by one-third, while improving grades on weekly quizzes.3 Shake things up and don’t take attendance at the same time each class (to avoid students showing up late or skipping out early).
Make attendance mandatory. Some instructors attach a portion of a student’s grade to attendance rather than simply incentivizing students to come to class. Others argue this punishes students with outside job or family commitments, and that grades should only be based on mastery of the material. If you do make it mandatory, be sure students are well aware of policies, expectations and consequences.
Grade class participation. Rather than assigning a portion of a student’s grade to attendance, award points for attendance or class participation. This is typically better suited to smaller classes, but could help to increase attendance, particularly among students who are concerned about their grades.
4. Encourage accountability
Allow students a say on attendance policy. Two professors at Arizona State University were able to increase average class attendance from 51 percent to 88 percent by offering students a choice at the beginning of the year. Students could choose a policy where they weren’t penalized for absences but were rewarded for attendance, or a mandatory attendance policy where they would be penalized for absences. Most chose the mandatory attendance policy as a way of keeping themselves accountable—and, it worked.4
Encourage individual accountability. Learning students’ names, showing empathy and praising good work can contribute to individual accountability. “We know from social psychology that students are more conscious of their behaviors when they perceive themselves to be individually identifiable and accountable for those actions,” say Merry J. Sleigh and Darren R. Ritzer from George Mason University.5
As an added benefit, instructors who get to know their students can tailor their classes to students’ needs and interests, so students want to come to class, regardless of whether or not it’s mandatory or counts toward their grade.
Top Hat features a suite of tools for easily and securely taking attendance, leaving you in control. Learn more about what Top Hat can do for your class here.
- Thorne, B. M. (2000). Extra credit exercise: A painless pop quiz. Teaching of Psychology, 27(3), 204-205.
- Explore Strategies – Eberly Center – Carnegie Mellon University. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cmu.edu/teaching/solveproblem/strat-dontcometolecture/dontcomelecture-01.html.
- Shimoff, E., & Catania, A. C. (2001). Effects of Recording Attendance on Grades in Introductory Psychology. Teaching of Psychology, 28(3), 192–195.
- Gerald, J., & Brady, B. (2019, January 13). Time to Make Your Mandatory-Attendance Policy Optional? Retrieved from https://www.chronicle.com/article/Time-to-Make-Your/245455.
- Sleigh, M. J., & Ritzer, D. R. (n.d.). Teaching Tips: Encouraging Student Attendance. Retrieved from https://www.psychologicalscience.org/teaching/tips/tips_1101.cfm.