For a teacher there are few feelings as rewarding as having a class full of excited, engaged and enthusiastic students that actively participate. Conversely, having an empty class is definitely a very depressing experience for a teacher. To achieve the former and prevent the latter the first step is to ensure that students actively want to attend class. There are several different ways to improve student attendance. This blog post will focus on going over these ways using insights by Professor Dag Flachet and myself. I worked as a teaching assistant for over 2 years at Erasmus University Rotterdam while I was a student there, teaching over 10 different courses to a total of more than 100 bachelor students. Dag’s qualifications are a bit more impressive (just a bit) with over 6 years of experience as a professor of a few dozen courses in the Geneva Business School, teaching from bachelor, to master to even executive MBA students. Together we have devised a few strategies you can use to increase the attendance of your students.
Key ways to improve student attendance:
- Find the “flow state” by balancing the course’s challenge level to engage students without overwhelming them.
- Build genuine rapport by interacting personally and creating a welcoming class atmosphere.
- Make classes interactive and supportive to boost engagement and attendance.
- Enhance relevance by linking lessons to real-world applications and career benefits.
- Increase engagement and attendance by incorporating game-like elements into the course structure.
Why care about student attendance?
Before we go into the strategies to improve student attendance it is important to revise why student attendance is important in the first place. Both me and Dag agree that attendance should not be mandatory but it should be tracked. Dag believes that students genuinely want to learn, grow and do well in their careers. Research on self determination theory also shows the importance of giving autonomy to students and allowing them to make their own decisions. However, we have already discussed whether or not attendance should be mandatory in another blog post.
Tracking attendance is important because it serves as a great indicator of how engaged your students are. As a teacher, measuring this is crucial to understand whether or not your students are actually enjoying the class. You want to maximize engagement in the class while understand that not everyone is engageable but you can still cause a positive impact on the majority of people. For this, below we present 6 key ways to improve student attendance.
5 key ways to improve student attendance
Like most things in life, it’s all about costs and benefits
Both me and Dag are economists which might make you think we only think in terms of money. Well that is not really the case, economics teaches you that most decisions in life can be broken down into costs and benefits, which don’t need to be monetary. In this case, going to class might have several costs and benefits for students. If you want to maximize class attendance then the answer is very simple really, maximize the benefits while minimizing the costs.
The costs are:
- Opportunity costs of going to class (sleeping, hanging out with friends, partying, etc.)
- How boring a class is
- Time/monetary cost of going to class (such as public transportation fee or gas cost)
The benefits are:
The benefits can be split into two categories, experiential outcomes (hedonic), and eudaimonic outcomes.
- Hedonic outcomes:
- Class being fun
- Social benefits (seeing friends, romantic opportunities, etc)
- Eudaimonic outcomes:
- Learning things
- Usefulness of what I am learning
- Status gains (diploma, award, etc.)
So, how do we maximize the benefits and minimize the costs?
Adjust the difficulty
Every course is different and obviously some courses are harder than others. To improve class attendance you want to make sure that your course challenges students but not too much. As Dag puts it, you are looking for the flow state, the ideal level of challenge to keep students cognitively absorbed but not overwhelmed. Achieving this is definitely not an easy task, especially in university classes where the separation between the best and worst students can be quite large. You may have to separate the class based on performance to target the optimal difficulty of the different students. Another option is to try and target the average student in your class (in terms of performance), you might lose some people in either extreme but you have better chances to maintain the majority of the class engaged and attending.
From my own experience, one practical tip to reduce the difficulty of your course is to break down complex concepts into smaller digestible pieces. You can then ask simple questions that test the understanding of each of these small easier to understand concepts, helping students to more easily understand the overarching more complex concept.
Connect with your students
As Dag says, “get off your pedestal”. You are not above your students and while it is important that you make sure they respect you, a bigger priority is for you to connect with them, they already respect you more than you think. Make sure you show genuine interest in your students, ask them how they are, and joke around with them. This will help to create a more relaxing and welcoming class environment making students more eager to attend.
Make the class active, encourage participation
Classes where nobody participates and everyone is just hearing the teacher are, let’s face it, boring. Encouraging participation and making the class active is crucial to keep the class interesting and improve student attendance. This ensure that students are learning and nurtures their sense of agency and self-efficacy. Personally, I always asked a lot of simple questions that built toward the answer of a more complex problem. Each of these questions was easier for students to respond, promoting participation in class. In addition, you need to be empathetic and supportive when students get the answer wrong, never criticize them for getting the question wrong! You want to maintain their confidence and their willingness to participate as this will also improve their willingness to attend. Finally, never be afraid to ask for questions, make the students know that you are more than happy to answer any doubts they may have.
Connect to the dots to the bigger picture and keep it real
“Think of yourself as a sales person selling the content to students” is a piece of advice that Dag has. You want to make sure you emphasize the importance of the content you are teaching. If you can even explain how this particular piece of content might help a student’s career that is even better. This will massively help to drive engagement from the students’ side, helping to promote attendance.
Alongside this you want to keep things real by using real world problems and providing real world examples. In his classes Dag even looks for problems of real world companies and turns students into free consultants working in different teams. Then he gives these solutions to companies leading to managers providing information, context and a real contemporary learning experience. This even led to paid employment opportunities. This truly made the classwork real in building the status of students in the job market. As you can imagine, this greatly motivates students to want to attend class as much as possible.
Gamifying your course to improve student attendance
One final piece of advice Dag has is to gamify your course. As the name suggests this means to turn your course (or parts of it) into a game. Doing this makes class more fun, requires more engagement from students and boosts attendance. Dag explains it best in this video below:
In conclusion, enhancing student attendance is not merely a matter of enforcing rules or escalating punishments. Rather, it is about crafting an educational experience that resonates with the students, one where the benefits of attending far outweigh the costs. By adjusting the difficulty level to achieve that “flow state,” connecting with students on a personal level, fostering active participation, relating course content to the real world, and gamifying the learning process, educators can create a compelling and inviting learning environment. Both Dr. Dag Flachet and I have drawn from our extensive experiences to share these strategies, with the ultimate goal of transforming the classroom into a space where students are not just present, but actively engaged, intellectually stimulated, and personally invested. This approach doesn’t just fill seats; it cultivates a community of learners who are eager to attend, participate, and grow. Remember, the key to successful education is not just in imparting knowledge, but in making the journey of learning an enriching and enjoyable experience for every student.