For the past two years I’ve been running an informal experiment on the relationship between taking attendance and students showing up. To refresh your memory, I first talked about it in 2012 when keeping track of who was showing up during the first week extended into the rest of the quarter. I noted a year later that it was seeming to have a positive effect on student attendance, even though it doesn’t count toward the grade. Another year into the experiment, although without empirical support to back up my claim, I think I finally have a theory for why it works.

Faculty, like many people, are busy. So we don’t tend to do things like track attendance unless it’s really important, for example, by being a part of the course grade. Students are smart, and at some level they have internalized the implication that if a faculty member keeps track of something it must be because it’s a crucial part of the class. So even though they could probably tell me that their that attendance isn’t part of the grade computation for the course, they can’t help but take showing up more seriously because I do.

And, no, I can’t prove this is the case. But I like the results and the side effects like learning names quickly, so I’m going to forge ahead. It just makes me feel better that I think I understand what’s going on.

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