I was looking for a technology that would allow me to take attendance, record classroom participation (contribution) and conduct homework. I’ve been searching for a solution for several years that would 1) save my students time, effort, and money; 2) simplify grading for myself and my TA, and 3) be easy to use and efficient.
I teach in the management department at the McCombs School at UT Austin. My two subjects include organizational behavior and corporate strategy. Both courses are case-based (i.e., we use real-world cases to understand the course concepts). This strategy requires that the students do the reading the night before class, answer a few questions in essay format about the case, and be prepared for an open/directed discussion in class the next day.
Over the years, I’ve tried various methodologies, from having the students self-report their contribution on index cards to using different kinds of technology to accumulate and track homework submissions (ForClass, most recently). I noticed several of my colleagues here at McCombs were using Squarecap to handle attendance, so I thought I’d check it out this semester to see if maybe I could knock out all three objectives with the one product.
Here’s what I have discovered; and with the help of the wonderful folks over at Squarecap, what I’ve been able to accomplish.
The attendance feature I was looking for needed to be easy to use for the students, my TA, and me. I also wanted the technology to be affordable for my students because they are already paying for tuition and books.
For each class day, I set up a single session in Squarecap that has two questions, one for attendance tracking, and one used for classroom participation (contribution—discussed below).
The attendance question has three parts to it, but I ask the students to answer any or all that are relevant to them for that day:
The open response question format allows for 10,000 characters which is plenty of room for my students to fully answer. When students log in to answer this question at the beginning of class, Squarecap generates a unique join code, records the time that they log in, and also flags students if they are not physically in the room.
Asking these questions during the first few minutes of class reinforces the previous material covered and allows me to discover if anyone didn’t fully understand essential concepts. I can choose to leave this question open the entire class or close it after the first five minutes to encourage students to be on time.
At the beginning of the semester when I set up Squarecap, I cloned these questions for each of the class sessions, so my set up time is now very minimal. Squarecap is fully integrated with Canvas, so all of my attendance records are automatically sent to my grade book with a one-point value after the session closes. My TA moves this session to a group we have created in Canvas Assignments called “Attendance.”
This method of taking attendance has encouraged my students to be present in each day for class, and I have noticed that the attendance in my 8 am class is remarkably as good and consistent as for my 2 pm class. Also, the feedback my students are providing me each day allows me to focus on the topics they either didn’t fully understand or with which they needed additional explanation. My TA also reports that documenting attendance is much quicker now than when we relied on student-reported index cards.
To encourage students to participate in the face-to-face discussions which constitute a substantial portion of my class, I have added a second question to the end of each session.
Students are instructed to answer this question either during class (in bullet or brief format) or at the end of class. I leave the lecture open for 30 minutes after class is over so they can finish their entries.
My TA can easily export these responses into a spreadsheet and sort it alphabetically by student last name. She can then assess as to the value of each student’s contribution and assigns a daily grade of 1, 2, or 3 points. This grade is then entered into a Canvas Assignment called “Class Participation” which has entries for each class session. At the end of the semester, a grade is manually computed based on the student’s average score as it compares to the average for all students in the class.
My students are encouraged to participate in classroom discussions by asking questions, answering questions or launching an idea or debate. Using Squarecap, I can easily keep track of their contributions, and my TA tells me that grading these interactions is much easier than when we relied on student-reported index cards.
Using Squarecap as a homework tool encourages my students to come to class prepared for the day’s material by having read the case the night before.
To simplify this process, I set up a Squarecap session for each of the eleven case studies that my students will read this semester. Each session/case has five questions, each worth 1 point. The students are given credit for any reasonable response; however, if a student only answers three out the five questions, they will only receive 3 points.
I started all of the homework sessions at the beginning of the semester, which allows students to work on them at their own pace. Once we walk into class on the due date, I turn them off. Squarecap will soon be adding an automatic start/stop feature to the homework assignments which will make this process much easier.
My students are encouraged to read the cases before coming to class and are therefore prepared for the classroom discussion. My TA glances over the student’s responses to make sure their answers are rational, and they didn’t employ what I call “the cat walked over my keyboard” method of answering the questions.
Using Squarecap, I’ve been able to combine my needs for attendance, participation, and homework into a single piece of technology that students can use with their laptops or their smartphones. Squarecap charges the students a minimal one-time semester fee, regardless of how many Squarecap classes in which they participate. While Squarecap still has improvements to make for their homework feature, the lower cost and other available features justify any shortcomings.
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