Posted by: Gregory Linton | 02/17/2009

Using Clickers to Record Classroom Attendance

In the last post, I explained the technical aspects of using the i>Clickers in the classroom. In the next couple of posts, I want to offer a few ideas about the pedagogical use of them. If you want more information, I would recommend two good sources of information. One is Derek Bruff’s blog on “Teaching with Classroom Response Systems.” The second is the “Best Practices & Tips” section of i>Clicker’s website. Here, I will summarize several uses that my colleagues and I have found useful.

A major benefit of using the clickers is to record attendance and upload it to my Blackboard coursesite. I set an option in the software so that, as long as a student uses the remote at least once during class, the student is recorded as present. This saves time from having to call the roll, and it saves the hassle of passing an attendance sheet around the class.

After class, my TA uploads the attendance records to my Blackboard site. I won’t explain the details of how to do that here. The instructions are on i>Clicker’s website. Records can be uploaded to many different CMS systems. The process is a little confusing at first, but after doing it a time or two it becomes easier. When students are present, a “1” shows up under that date in the Grade Center. When they are absent, a “0” shows up. This allows students to check their attendance records at any time.

To use the clickers in this way will require registering students with the serial number of their clicker. This will disallow any anonymous polling, but if the clicker is to be used for attendance or any activity for which a score must be recorded, anonymous polling will not be possible. I deal with this by assuring students that, when I take a poll, I will not look at their individual responses. But of course they have to trust me.

This procedure may raise a couple of questions. First, can’t students cheat by skipping class and giving someone their clicker to log in for them? Yes, this is very possible. A simple way to dissuade this is to inform the students that this is cheating and that they shouldn’t do it. Dan Ariely, in his recent book Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions (HarperCollins, 2008), described studies that showed students are less likely to cheat when they are reminded that cheating is wrong. I will discuss this research more fully in a future post, but it can help us avoid the cynical attitude that every student is dishonest and is looking for a shortcut around the class requirements. In fact, most students want to be honest, but they occasionally need to be reminded about what that means.

An obstacle against cheating in my classes is that I randomly assign students to groups of four (I do this primarily for other reasons). If someone was clicking in with two clickers, it would be very easy for a group member to see it. Unless both of those people are in cahoots, it would make it less likely for a student to take the risk of cheating.

A more foolproof procedure would be to count the bodies in the classroom each day. When students log in for the first time, the software provides the number of clickers. Add to that number those students who forgot their clickers, and if there is a discrepancy, then you can call the roll. Later you can check the session report to see whose clicker was used even though that person was not there. I find this a little tedious to do when I am concentrating on teaching a class, but if one suspects cheating, this is a good procedure.

Another question is, How do you record attendance of students who forget their clickers? For this system to work, students must be required to bring their clickers to class. Most students appreciate the fact that this procedure allows them to keep track of their attendance records on the coursesite, so they gladly and willingly bring their clickers to class. Also, most feel that since they spent good money on the clickers they should get some use out of them. But of course some students are more forgetful, and so they sometimes neglect to bring the clicker to class.

My general philosophy with students is that they are more likely to do those things that will affect their grade. So I make the use of the clicker in class part of their participation grade. In order to be reasonable, I allow them to forget their clicker twice without penalty. After that they lose two points from their participation score for each time they forget their clicker. The participation score is 15% of their grade, so this is enough of a penalty to get the point across and motivate most students to remember to bring their clickers.

When students forget their clicker, they have to let me know that they are present. I keep an attendance chart and a participation chart with me in class, and I mark both charts with a “C” to remind myself that they forgot their clicker. When my TA uploads the attendance to the coursesite, she uses the chart to manually record the attendance for those students who forgot their clickers. We also record absences on the attendance chart so that I can check the records at a glance.

If an institution or a professor does not have a stated attendance policy, then all of this would be irrelevant. My college has a fairly stringent attendance policy, so this procedure is very helpful. In the next post, I will share more ideas about the pedagogical uses of clickers in the classroom.

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