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Study: Remote Attendance Shrinks Absenteeism

student working on computer

Making videoconferencing available to students who can't attend class in person can improve attendance and student satisfaction, according to a two-year project that took place at Indiana University. In fact, absenteeism dropped by more than half.

As described in a paper about the experiment, the university used software that allowed students to call in to lectures via a browser, using a web-based videoconferencing platform from Pexip. Students who participated remotely could see dual views of the instructor and classmates, delivered via two cameras facing in opposite directions. Drop-down microphones attached to the ceiling enabled the remote students to hear the instructor and any student speaking in the class. A high-definition screen-sharing feature let them view whatever was being projected in class. And the instructor could see the remote students, who could speak in real time and be heard through classroom speakers. For team work, the remote students could be isolated from those in the classroom to allow them to collaborate, including talking to each other and sharing notes, without disrupting student teams physically present in the classroom doing the same.

The project, named a "remote attendance policy," launched in spring 2015, after a team of instructors worked with the university's Information Technology Services group to add the essential hardware to specific classrooms. Besides an existing classroom computer, that included cameras, microphones, monitors, speakers and interfaces.

Over a period of two years, some 500 students participated in the study, which was led by Harry Vasilopoulos, a lecturer in the South Bend campus's School of Business and Economics. At the end of each semester, they were asked to fill out an anonymous survey, either on paper or online, depending on whether they were in the class or remote.

University researchers found that over the course of two years, remote attendance increased markedly, absenteeism was halved, and there was no correlation between course grades and attendance option.

Specifically, remote attendance rates were negatively correlated with absenteeism; more students were likely to attend class if a virtual option were available. Over the course of the two years, absenteeism dropped from 11 percent to 5 percent.

The usage rate for the remote option increased from 3 percent to 42 percent over the duration of the experiment.

Also, student attitudes toward the option were "overwhelmingly positive." Both those who attended remotely and those who attended in person said they believe the remote attendance option was a positive solution that contributed to the learning climate and should be offered in more courses.

Finally, grades didn't appear to suffer from remote attendance. They showed no significant difference between physical and remote attendees. However, the report added, grades were lower for those students with higher absenteeism rates than those who attended more frequently, whether physically or remotely.

"Incorporating remote attendance in traditional classes is technologically feasible, economically practical and academically valuable," the report concluded.

Indiana University and Pexip will host a webinar on Aug. 29, 2019 to explore the study's results and share key takeaways. The study is available with registration through the Pexip website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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