The class is at 8:40 a.m., the professor is dull, the subject is boring, the material is on Blackboard, the room smells bad. No matter what the case may be, lecture halls consistently see many empty seats.
And these classrooms are certainly not made for vacancy.
Two years ago, for example, a class I had in a Barton Hall lecture hall with 202 seats built into it was offered to 210 students. Everyday, eight students could have been absent, and the seats would still have been filled. The seats were never filled.
Students often question the importance of attendance, considering we pay for classes. But sociology professor Anne Shlay will tell you that going to class always correlates with good grades, so keeping track of which students come to class is an important professorial responsibility.
“I particularly focus on freshmen,” Shlay wrote in an e-mail last week. “They need to learn early on that showing up is more than just showing up.”
Most attempts at checking attendance in large lectures – sign-in sheets and roll call – fail to do the job efficiently.
If attendance is important, particularly for younger students in cavernous lecture halls where sign-in sheets become impractical, why not incorporate technology we already boast at Temple: school ID swipe machines.
“It would be technically feasible,” said Jeff Bazin of computer services. “But it would be highly expensive.”
About 4,300 freshmen are enrolled at Temple this year. Tuition costs more than $10,000 for in-state residents. If all 4,300 were from Pennsylvania, that’s more than $43 million.
“The approximate cost of the reader hardware is $3,000,” said Scott Brannan, assistant director of the Diamond Dollars office. “Installation of the reader hardware and connectivity to the network is [another] $1,500.”
The cost for a Temple application is $25 if the applicant applies online. Let’s say that all 4,300 freshmen applied online. That’s $107,500, enough to cover the cost of 23 card-swiping machines.
Andrew Mendelson, chair of the journalism department, says, while interesting, the “swipe method” isn’t much more advanced than having a sign-in sheet or offering in-class assignments, which he does.
“People could show up, swipe and leave.” Mendelson said. “Nothing but the material in the lecture and the professor’s ability to make it interesting really compels them to stay.”
True enough, but having spent enough time hidden in an oversized classroom listening to the occasional droning professor, swipe-in attendance might be the motivation students need to attend lectures.
Jeff Appelblatt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org