Within the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin, attendance and participation are vital to student success. Students are expected to attend class every day just as they would at their future place of employment. Management professor Dr. Katie Pritchett appreciates these attendance expectations, yet also believes in the importance in defining the difference between simple attendance and genuine engagement.
To accomplish this goal, Dr. Pritchett teaches by purposefully engaging students with direct experiences and case studies that are designed to increase knowledge and expand their capacity to contribute to class discussions and group projects. This philosophy of "Experiential Learning" is intended to maximize student growth and understanding, yet is nearly impossible to replicate via email or office hours when a student is absent.
MAN 336- Organizational Behavior. A required course for every business major on campus
To facilitate this process, Dr. Pritchett found it necessary to keep accurate attendance records so that she could have a precise account of who had attended each class. She soon found it very inefficient and time-consuming to collect and input scores from the physical sign-in sheets in her 50+ student class. Even more frustratingly, when one or two sheets went missing, students would come asking, “Dr. Pritchett, why do I have a zero in attendance for this day?" At that point, there was no way to verify if a student had been to the class or not.
In the fall of 2015, Dr. Pritchett became one of the early adopters of Squarecap, the student engagement tool that allows her to engage students effectively and take attendance simultaneously. Squarecap automatically tracks student attendance by location verification, so that she has an accurate picture of who is and isn’t in class on any given day. Other systems can take attendance by join code, but this can be abused by some students who text the codes to absent friends so that they can falsely be counted present. Squarecap solves this problem and also automatically uploads scores to the Canvas gradebook, saving Dr. Pritchett much needed time and effort.
As Dr. Pritchett grew more familiar with using this classroom technology, she also started using the system to engage with more students in the class material, especially those students who were hesitant to speak out in front of the entire room. She now administers a warm-up question at the beginning of each class to help better understand if students are learning the homework material and to help guide discussions throughout the lesson.
Students respond to Dr. Pritchett’s warm-up question via their laptops and cell phones. After the warm-up is complete, she asks them to put away all technology until the next time it will be used.
While most professors offer "Pop Quizzes", Dr. Pritchett administers around ten unannounced “Engagement Checks” throughout the semester that are designed to see if students can apply the readings to what they are learning in class. While the concept is essentially the same, Dr. Pritchett uses the term “engagement” to help guide the conversation around what it means to be present versus what it means to be engaged… a life lesson that she hopes her students will carry with them beyond the educational setting and into their professional lives.
Squarecap also allows Dr. Pritchett to interact with her students in ways beyond simple attendance and quizzes. One of the reasons she chose Squarecap over the use of basic clickers is that she now has the flexibility to ask open-ended questions beyond a simple ABCD answer. Recently, in her Organization Behavior class, a required course for business majors, she guided her students through a “Blink Exercise” in which they were instructed to respond to a series of questions with the first response that came to their mind.
The purpose of this was to help students understand how people can interpret open-ended questions in many different ways. Questions like "Your neighbor bought an expensive car, how much was it?" or "There were a lot of people in line, how many were there?" can elicit many different responses depending on the backgrounds and life experiences of the person answering. As students were completing a project on how to create usable surveys, they needed to learn how to carefully craft their questions; so that usable data could be collected and analyzed.
Dr. Pritchett discusses the word cloud for the open-ended question: “Your neighbor bought an expensive car...how much was it?”
During this exercise, students enjoyed seeing the word clouds that were generated within Squarecap and comparing their answers with peers. Dr. Pritchett then leveraged this same activity to debrief some theoretical concepts included in the textbook chapter that students were assigned to read before class. She used the Squarecap word cloud to describe how organizations should best communicate in times of uncertainty and used it as a launching point to explain the theories behind how different employees may “decode” the organization’s message depending on their position within the organization. It was a great learning experience for everyone to see the range of responses that were given to each question.
Through the use of Squarecap, Dr. Pritchett has been able to facilitate a meaningful conversation with her students about the meaning of levels of engagement-- both in class and in business organizations. She has seen a significant decrease in student issues with attendance points and an increase in participation because of the interactive tool. There is no doubt that Dr. Pritchett cares about her students and is working to prepare them for the real world with every lesson that she delivers. The feedback that she provides to her students, as well as the feedback they give her using this technology, helps to increase their skills as business communicators and will serve them well in any future career path.
Activate your free trial with Squarecap by signing up for a brief demo at https://squarecap.com/book_a_demo.