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How can I incentivize class attendance while also being COVID conscious?

Isaac Castellano points to a screen in a classroom
School of Public Service, Classroom, Isaac Castellano, Allison Corona photo.

Throughout the pandemic, students have been encouraged to quarantine if they have cold symptoms or have been exposed to COVID and have not yet been tested. This has led to a change in many faculty’s attendance policies, allowing for more absences without affecting a student’s grade. In response, faculty have developed other ways for students to access class content, including providing Zoom links so students can attend class remotely and/or recording lectures so students can watch them later.

But as the pandemic has continued, some faculty are having challenges balancing the need for students to miss class with encouraging students to attend when they are able. So what is the right balance of flexibility with attendance and being supportive of students? In a recent “Talking Teaching” session, faculty shared with each other potential strategies to address this question. Overall, the participants agreed that the empathy with which they have been approaching teaching during the pandemic should and will continue, but that both they and their students would benefit from some limitations on the number of absences allowed. Suggested strategies for finding this balance include:

  • Stating clearly in the first class period (and on your Canvas course site) why class attendance is important. Some participants noted that they have seen how lack of attendance negatively affects students’ ability to be successful in the course; if that is your experience, share that with your students.
  • Open and maintain the lines of communication with students so that they are comfortable reaching out if they need to miss class, while also setting the expectation that they need to reach out to you before/soon after the absence in order to be successful in the course.
  • When posting recordings of your lectures and/or discussions, add accountability measures* such as:
    • Request that students contact you before class if they will need to access the recording.
    • Limit link availability for a set period of time following the class session.
    • Have students confirm they watched the video by submitting a reflection on what they learned, or by completing a short quiz on the content (you can insert a quiz directly into videos created/uploaded using Panopto).
  • If students need to miss class, offer other ways that they can engage with the course (via an online discussion board, or submitting short written/video answers to that day’s discussion questions).
  • If you have multiple students who need to miss class, ask them to meet together (synchronously or asynchronously) to discuss that day’s course content.
  • If students need to miss multiple class sessions, ask them to draft a plan for how they will make up course work/learning time. This example Google form, created by Carolyn Golden after the Talking Teaching session on late work policies, recognizes that students may experience challenges that prevent them from staying on schedule in a course, and asks them to outline how they will catch up.

Participants also agreed that a basic step they can take to demonstrate the value of coming to class is to design courses that are relevant to students and their lives, and provide opportunities for them to engage in discussions and active learning strategies that pique their interest and challenge them to learn.

For links to further reading on the topic, you can check out these resources below.
Additional Resources

Temple University’s Attendance Policy

Berkeley Center for Teaching and Learning

Virginia Tech Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning


*Note that in last week’s student panel on Supporting Students with Learning Disabilities, students shared that having recordings of lectures helps them engage during class, since they know they will be able to go back and take notes, so making these available can support the learning of students who attend and don’t attend class.

Written by:

Teresa Focarile and Devshikha Bose