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Automating student attendance tracking with campus cards

Higher ed awakening to link between attendance, engagement and success

Andrew Hudson   ||   Mar 30, 2016  ||   , ,

It goes without saying that it’s incredibly difficult to succeed academically if you don’t go to class. Even now, in an age when some degrees can be earned almost entirely online, the classroom remains the primary hub of knowledge and learning.

And yet, students for one reason or another will miss or purposely skip class to the displeasure of universities and instructors alike. Poor attendance isn’t just a pet peeve, however, it’s a measurable habit that negatively impacts student performance.

At the institutional level, student attendance also has ramifications as retention rates and financial aid compliance are closely aligned to "presence."

On another level, the decision to implement an attendance policy – and accompany that policy with an automated attendance system – opens the possibility to improve academic performance and identify students in need of institutional support.

"There are many drivers behind attendance tracking on campus, including student retention, improved academic performance, class engagement, expanded student services including advisement options, and accurate reporting for financial aid and budgeting purposes," says Cheryl Boeckman, vice president of sales at Blackboard Transact. "Attendance as it relates to safety situations on campus is also vital, as knowing who is in a particular classroom at a specific time period can be critical."

Making the grade

More than four in 10 full-time college students fail to graduate in six years, according to a Wall Street Journal report. This is just one of a bevy of statistics that is forcing the hand of universities feeling increasing pressure from taxpayers and families concerned with graduation rates.

“It makes sense – and educators agree – that students who attend classes perform better than those that do not,” says Boeckman. “Many instructors recognize this and attach grade values to attendance by decreasing final scores based on absences or increasing scores based on attendance.”

The relationship between student academic performance and university funding is a major motivator encouraging institutions to consider monitoring attendance. The discussion around performance based budgeting is on the rise pushing incentives for retention and performance of students.

Any boost in academic performance is great news for students, but it also reflects positively on the institution as a whole, influencing enrollment and national rankings.

“For university executives, it is important to successfully retain students through graduation, placing them in the workforce as productive members of society and engaged alumni,” explains Boeckman. “Attendance at the freshman and sophomore levels increases the probability of persistence, and many institutions are in the process of instituting campus-wide attendance policies.”

[pullquote]Attendance at the freshman and sophomore levels increases the probability of persistence, and many institutions are implementing campus-wide attendance policies[/pullquote]

Roll call

There are a few ways in which campuses opt to track attendance, ranging from the medieval methods of pen and paper to modern, automated systems that leverage the cloud and mobile technologies.

At the moment there is no specific data that can say with certainty how most institutions handle attendance, but there are some common ties. “From observation, it appears that most institutions do not manage attendance capture in a centralized or consistent manner,” says Kent Pawlak, product strategy director at Blackboard. “Most rely on instructors to manually capture attendance,” he says. “Some use electronic capture from a variety of commercial offerings, while others have created custom solutions often using their card-based transaction system.”

Canadian college students CheckIN for shuttle rides

Attendance tracking boasts applications beyond the classroom and campus events. At Sheridan College, an attendance solution from Heartland Campus Solutions is being used in conjunction with a campus shuttle bus service.

“We are using the attendance solution for our inter-campus shuttle bus to track ridership,” says Aesha Brown, oneCARD manager, Ancillary Services at Sheridan College. “This data is able to provide us with data analytics to better serve our students and staff.”

The attendance solution being used at Sheridan is called CheckIN, a mobile app provided by Heartland that is available on the Apple store and Google Play for iOS and Android devices.

The system for the shuttle bus requires students to tap their card to the reader on the bus, which is connected to a tablet running the CheckIN app. explains Brown. The app creates a record for the tap including the card number, date and time of tap, location, terminal number and account type. When the report is run the card number is linked to the account number and the account number is used in the reports.

The tablet also displays a photo of the student along with a large green check mark if the student is eligible to ride the shuttle bus, or in the case of unpaid tuition or withdrawal from school, a large red “X” will appear to notify the driver that the student is ineligible, says Brown.

The CheckIN app, and the data analytics it provides, enables Sheridan to better serve students and staff in the area of transportation, says Brown. “We can determine if more busses are needed at a particular time of day, what groups of students use the bus the most and how often, as well as identify peak periods and non-peak periods.”

Whether an institution opts to purchase a solution from a vendor or build its own solution in house, the technology underpinning attendance can be narrowed to some familiar form factors.

“It’s been all about the wired card reader, but we’re in the midst of a very strong migration to mobile technology,” says Susan Chaffee, director of product management at CBORD. “It’s more cost effective, it’s portable and it’s easy to expand.”

CBORD has mobile options for any iOS or Android phone, as well as for tablets and laptops and physically mounted Power over Ethernet readers, says Chaffee.

CBORD’s offering lets universities define specific events, classes and locations along with the associated business rules to confirm eligibility and track attendance. “Universities are able to run specific reports or extract attendance data to be consumed by another system for reporting,” adds Chaffee.

Vendors are reporting an increase in universities wanting solutions for attendance tracking. “The majority of our campuses are embracing attendance tracking in one way or another,” says Fred Emery, director of sales at Heartland OneCard. “It has become sought after function and we have seen significant growth over the past few years.”

Heartland offers a number of products that run on iOS or Android to assist in attendance, including mobile apps that can be used in an attended or unattended environment. Additionally, a PC-based application called Verify can be deployed on any administrative terminal, enabling existing computers in offices or classrooms to facilitate attendance tracking, explains Emery. “Standard access control terminals are also available, and we integrate with many third-party systems that can facilitate attendance tracking.”

Blackboard recently released a new attendance capture and reporting solution. “Our product is a cloud-based service that works with on-premise, mobile applications and the student’s campus ID credential,” says Boeckman.

The Blackboard attendance product is a standalone offering that can be used by any campus regardless of its campus card vendor. Using the company’s new MRD5 mobile reader and a mobile app for iOS or Android devices, Blackboard Attendance enables students to swipe in or, if available, tap a contactless card or mobile device to log attendance.

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