Roll call and sign-in sheets used to be a traditional part of college classes, but as these practices dwindle, students and faculty are dealing with mixed consequences.
Kelli Marshall, lecturer of media and cinema studies at DePaul University, stopped counting absences four years ago.
“This was just way too much work for a large class,” she said. “You can tell who is attending class even though I’m not keeping up with it every single day,” she said.
Marshall was inspired by a 2005 column in The Chronicle of Higher Education from retired Indiana University professor Murray Sperber, who offered five teaching lessons he learned throughout his forty year career.
Number three on the list is: “Don’t take attendance.”
“An equally important reason for my policy was that otherwise I’d have to deal with many students who, having no desire to be in the room, would shuffle papers, pop gum, snore loudly, and engage in other distracting behaviors,” Sperber wrote. “They changed the ambiance of the classroom, and I decided that I much preferred to teach a smaller number of volunteers than a large army of conscripts.”
Sperber’s method may be effective for some professors like Marshall but for others, the lack of roll call can trigger chronic absences.
Alexis Hunt, a freshman nursing major at North Carolina A&T State University earned an ‘A’ in a sociology course this spring. She completed all the major assignments but can count the number of classes she went to on one hand.
“I may have attended five times throughout the semester, Monroe said. “I put almost no effort towards that class.”
That gamble doesn’t always work.
Casey Lawver, a photography sophomore at Kent State University turned in every project for her graphic design class and received high marks. She earned a ‘C’ for the course because her attendance was sporadic.
“The points were not deducted because of participation, it was for not showing up everday,” Lawver said. “If I technically got an A in the class, the attendance policy clearly doesn’t matter and [professors] should probably rethink it.”
Monroe and Lawver’s final grades differed from skipping class but the result was the same: they both passed.
Marshall said most of her students don’t miss too many class meetings but it is possible to pass her courses with a poor attendance record.
She recalled a former student who earned a passing grade after appearing four times during a semester – for a class that met twice a week.
“He was a pretty sharp student but I just kept thinking, ‘If he would have shown up and really worked, it would have been so easy for him to earn an ‘A’ in the course,’” she said.
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