I work in the Computing and Mathematics School at my university (UK). This year the School has adopted a fairly aggressive policy regarding student attendance. If a student has a poor – or zero – attendance rate, the student is contacted and a dialogue opened. This has many benefits including identifying those students who have possible undiscovered or undeclared learning difficulties.

If a student’s attendance rate remains poor following a first intervention, a process of issuing formal warnings commences, culminating with the withdrawal of the student if the student does not start to engage with their course.

Attendance is presently monitored at all laboratory and tutorial sessions. Attendance is not presently monitored for lectures.

Our current system comprises a series of shared Google spreadsheets which contains the details of all students for all classes. Staff members enter attendance manually into the spreadsheet for their class.

The difficulty with this system is that there is presently no automatic link between the existing official university student record database and the attendance register spreadsheets. This means if students change groups, enrol late, withdraw, change course or units, all this information must be dealt with in a robust manner. Currently, such changes are implemented manually. This means errors are likely to be introduced into the attendance register.

I notice that there are a number of commercial attendance monitoring solutions available which are based on hardware, e.g. Telepen. I would be interested in anyone’s experience with such systems, however I don’t forsee these to be ultimately workable in my case owing to the large cost.

I am interested in software solutions. If your institution monitors student attendance, do you use any specialist software? If so, what do you use?

Another option – a preferable one – is to work within the existing university data systems. All the necessary information regarding student details and activities is available. The problem arises when we try to ensure our ad hoc attendance register contains up to date student information. Ideally we’d use our Virtual Learning Environment to enter attendance data. Our VLE is Moodle. Are there any Moodle users out there who use Moodle to record attendance?

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    Isn't the most effective way to ensure attendance is to make the lectures compelling and useful? If a student can do the required coursework, why do you care whether they actually show up? Conversely, if a student decides not to do the work, why do you care if they actually show up?
    – JeffE
    Commented Nov 7, 2012 at 3:16
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    @JeffE: Then wouldn't measuring attendance be a good way to determine whether you have succeeded in making the lectures "compelling and useful"? Commented Nov 9, 2012 at 13:44
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    Just a comment, using attendance explicitly, is a very bad thing. It promotes people with no skills or motivation, but siting quietly, but often people who are too skilled for this course fail (as it is a waste of their time to come). And it breaks a natural "free market" approach when people attend it when they consider it important. Making thing required is only good for lecturers and officials to boosts statistics (and their self-delusion), harming everything else. E.g. in my previous university, there was a strong negative correlation of course quality and compulsoriness. Commented Nov 13, 2012 at 11:31
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    @earthling First, low motivation => low attendance (that way, not the other). Second, there are some exceptionally skilled or educated students, who already know that or can learn at much higher pace on their own. It's not a big fraction, but it is the top fraction. (And "For the first, make no harm".) Commented Nov 13, 2012 at 11:34
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    @DanielE.Shub universities need to demonstrate that each student attends at least 50% of compulsory activities — This requirement can be trivially met by having no activities with compulsory attendance.
    – JeffE
    Commented Nov 13, 2012 at 18:49

6 Answers 6


My institution does not monitor student attendance. That is my job. However, we have adopted Blackboard as our Course-Management System of choice across campus, and the student roster in Blackboard is updated every day by the Registrar's Office. We additionally have access to up-to-date course rosters through our implementation of the PeopleSoft productivity software. Presumably, the Registrar's office at your institution keeps up-to-date rosters and should be willing to share them with instructors. Otherwise, what's the point of having them?

There are two methods I use to enforce / verify attendance in a large lecture course, and both require comparison of my data with the roster in Blackboard or PeopleSoft. I could write a short program to sort through both files for matches, but I would rather do it manually to help me remember students' names.

  1. Quizzes - I give short (and simple) quizzes randomly, but at least once a week. Fully half of the points on the quizzes are for showing up and putting your name on the quiz. For this reason, quizzes cannot be made up for any reason, but I will drop three or four of the lowest quiz grades. Since the quizzes aren't hard and the quiz average counts for at least 10% of their final grade, students want to be there for the quiz. I like this method because it allows me to do random point assessments of different topics and to start associating student names with performance. The grading is not unbearable, since i write quizzes that are simple enough to be graded at a rate of 10 seconds per student.
  2. Clickers - If you use clickers, make each student buy their own clicker (About $40 US these days). At the beginning of class, they have to register their clicker with your software, which records the clicker's ID number. If you have a list matching clicker IDs to student names, then you take attendance every day automatically. It is easy to cheat this system, since a student can also bring their friend's clicker and sign-in for their friend also.

If you want to ensure attendance, I would use JeffE's approach:

Isn't the most effective way to ensure attendance is to make the lectures compelling and useful?

  • Thanks for the comment. As per my answer to my own question, I am investigating the Attendance module for our VLE, which is Moodle. My original question really wasn't geared toward improving attendance as such - it was a question regarding how one solves the technical problem of recording attendance. Yes, to get students to attend, one should have interesting lectures/lecturers. This isn't the problem I am trying to solve. I am just interested in how to record attendance efficiently. Thanks for your suggestion regarding clickers.
    – Nicholas
    Commented Nov 9, 2012 at 13:25
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    I whole-heartedly disagree with the idea of demanding students to buy something out of their own pocket, just so that their attendance can be monitored more easily. As a student I would refuse to buy this even though I was never in a tight financial spot. $40 is not nothing, you know.
    – And
    Commented Jun 16, 2020 at 10:04
  • @And - Eight years later and I agree. The best answers to this question are to use the attendance tracking features in your LMS. We use Canvas now, and the attendance tool we use is excellent.
    – Ben Norris
    Commented Jun 16, 2020 at 11:34

Following eykanal's comment to the question, I have researched the possibilities via Moodle. For the record I have found that Moodle has an attendance module. I haven't learnt yet whether this module has the complete functionality that we require, but it's a start.

Moodle attendance module

  • Try Alosko attendance system. It works via Smartphone (Android, iOS). Lecturer create a word for a seminar and then told it to the attendants. Attendants put the word into the App in order to register on the seminar.
    – dsplatonov
    Commented Sep 4, 2013 at 11:58
  • Late, but the problem with this is that students who are "in bed" with delinquent students will pass on the passcode to them subsequently. And not everyone has an Android/iOS smartphone, some may not even own a smartphone.
    – yuritsuki
    Commented Nov 2, 2015 at 1:24

I work at a university which is very low tech (no software, or anything else, for teachers - teachers want it, they bring it). Student lists are passed around on paper. So, I wrote my own (simplistic) app which I use at the start of class calling out names (did I mention it's a bit low-tech?). I can easily print out a report that looks like what the admins need to do their paper-oriented job (and I can get a soft copy from them to import so I don't have to type everything). No clickers, no website, just my laptop.

We, by the way, have a policy that any student missing more than 20% of the lectures automatically fails the course but they do get a chance to enter a 'redo' class...which has the same attendance rules.

One benefit is that I can see (while taking attendance, every session) who is 'at risk' and I can deal with that as I see fit.

Integration is handled manually - far from ideal - but if the school ever wants to change things, it's easy to change what I wrote.

  • Out of curiosity, if your university does not have the policy, fail after 20% lecture missing, would you still do the roll call?
    – Nobody
    Commented Dec 24, 2012 at 3:57
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    Yes, I would simply because of the studies that show a strong link between high absence rate and drop out rate. I would prefer to be able to act to save a student's academic career, if I can.
    – earthling
    Commented Dec 27, 2012 at 23:15

If the goal is to identify individuals with poor attendance, paper and pencil is the way to go. Just have students sign in on the way in. After a few sessions hold the stack up to the light and find the empty boxes. Those are your potential low attenders. Email them and ask if any have switched sections. Those who haven't are your actual low attenders. It seems much easier than dealing with an on line system especially if the class size is small.


I have a simple solution. Depending on class size, set up one/two laptops on the teacher desk, have every student sign-into a simple web interface with their school login and password, this will automatically feed either a spreadsheet or blackboard. With this system it is unlikely that a student will sign-in an absent student. If a student forgets to sign in its his/her fault. You can completely lock the computer so the only thing it can be done is run this login screen. This will also force freshman to use their college id login name. You can also add a beep when a login is done, preventing someone from doing more than once. Late students have to sign in after class, this will put them on the spot and their login time recorded.


Sounds like something pretty simple. Have you considered just using something like Excel to keep track of this information?

I wrote my own attendance system but it is for tracking everyone, not just the late/absent students.

  • Thanks for the suggestion. It does sound rather like what we are presently using - a set of Google spread sheets. Each tutor/lecturer inputs whether a student is present or not. The difficulty we faced is finding a sensible way of interfacing the attendance register - the spread sheets - with the university database of constantly updated student information.
    – Nicholas
    Commented May 29, 2013 at 20:07
  • @Nicholas Mine is actually a program, not just a spreadsheet but if you want to integrate it, try getting a programmer to help you - should be something that can be automated.
    – earthling
    Commented May 29, 2013 at 23:06

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