Help a university provost nudge students to class

Richard McDowell wants help devising policy or procedural “nudges” that might raise class attendance.

In our discussions at the University of Great Falls, President McAllister (an economist) and I (a political scientist) are considering ways to increase class attendance short of requiring class attendance here at the University of Great Falls.

Any ideas to help out Provost McDowell?



6 Responses to “Help a university provost nudge students to class”

  1. LemmusLemmus Says:

    A couple of ideas:

    1. Alcohol seems to be a big factor: If you’re hung over, you are unlikely to attend your morning classes. So, banning on-campus alcohol consumption during weekdays might be something to consider. Not sure this still qualifies as a “nudge”.

    2. Send every student an e-mail on the weekend reminding them where and when to attend classes next week. It is true that students probably already know this, but people also already know that unprotected sex can give you STDs, yet messages highlighting this risk have been shown to reduce the amount of unprotected sex. (Note in this respect that sending e-mails is cheap.)

    Apart from that, I don’t see what’s wrong with outright requiring class attendance.

  2. Travis Walker Says:

    One of my favorite professors at Indiana State had a policy that required every student to stand up in front of class and explain why they were not able to attend the previous class (or classes). If the student’s excuse did not meet the professors litmus test then the professor would often ask for further elaboration of the students absence. This policy seemed to work very well since most of us found it very uncomfortable to stand in front of class and attempt to justify to our professor that our day off was more important than attending the previous class. In this case, the fear of potential embarrassment was more of an incentive to attend class than that of a slight grade reduction.

  3. Cherie Anslow Says:

    Hi There, I’m studying at Victoria Univeristy in Wellington, New Zealand.

    To pass a course here you need to get 50% or higher on the end of semseter exam. To be able to sit the exam you need to have passed “Terms”. “Terms” is made up of assesments and attendance. You need to have attended at least 4/5 tutorials. This could easily be used for lectures.

    To take attendance which would cut into the lecture you could scan student id cards as they walk into a lecture. These stats could be used to determine how many classes students had attended.

    There may need to be some allowance for sickness etc…

  4. John Says:

    I have a class sign-in sheet that I pass around at the start of every class meeting. I update the form so that next to each student’s name is the number of absences they’ve had so far during the semester. It’s worth noting that attendance in the classes doesn’t directly translate into an assignment/course grade–if it did, then publicly displaying the information might risk being construed as a FERPA violation.

    But I suppose that doesn’t really get at what the provost might do about things.

    How about looking for ways to simplify faculty taking and monitoring attendance? This could be as basic as printing out nicely-designed attendance sheets for faculty at the start of each semester. (Cut out the extra work of us constructing the beasts from class rolls.) Or, go the extra mile, and for large lecture halls, with their large classes, provide electronic swiping of student IDs to automate taking and tracking attendance.

    Oh… and lower teaching loads, make tenure and promotion expectations clearer, come up with a teaching evaluation system that doesn’t stink, stop relying so heavily on adjunct faculty, and consider raising faculty compensation before bloating the administration any further. Ok, maybe that doesn’t have anything to do with attendance, but it’s something every provost should hear.

  5. Julie Says:

    Why not do what Continental does? I signed up for phone notifications about flight status. When it’s time for my flight, they send me a text message on my cell phone to let you know the status. This way, I know whether my flight is delayed and whether there is a gate change.

    You could do the same for students. When they first enter the university, they provide their cell phone number as part of filling out paperwork. They then sign up for classes. A computer then generates text messages to students reminding them of the date, time and location of each class. If a class is cancelled or relocated, they would receive such a message too. Faculty would have access to the system to be able to add messages for their students if need be (e.g. “don’t forget that the paper is due today”).

    In the spirit of nudges, this is set as a default when the student first enters college but they have the option of opting out of receiving notifications.

  6. Charlotte Says:

    I know this is a really old post, but I was shocked at how unhelpful the suggestions were.

    As a recent college graduate, I can tell you that the best ways to increase attendance are to have good professors teach interesting topics at times of 10am or later.

    If the professor isn’t any good at his/her job, the students just won’t make the effort to go to every class.

    If the topic is dry and the professor hasn’t attempted to make it interesting, again, the students just won’t want to go to class.

    Same for “early” morning classes. I no longer consider 8 or 9 as early as I did in college, but for a college student sleeping in is better than going to class any day.

    Also, at freshmen orientation at my university (Rensselaer Polytechnic in Troy, NY), one of the presentations involved the math of exactly how much it costs per hour of class (roughly $100 at the time, assuming 4 hours a week per class, 4 classes, 16 weeks in a semester) to show students the money they were wasting. I would remember this occasionally and it would “nudge” me into making more of an effort to go.

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