When Students are Absent From Class 

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Why Students Miss Class 

Attendance benefits student learning, especially when active learning strategies are used (Bijsmans & Schakel, 2018). However, students can miss classes for a variety of reasons.

  • Media, such as The Guardian, have noted that COVID-19 and other illnesses continue to have an adverse impact student health and attendance.
  • Poverty and race are predictors of absenteeism at the public school level (Marsh, 2016).  
  • Financial hardship, part-time employment, and other personal responsibilities affect attendance for post-secondary students (Paisey & Paisey, 2004).
  • Scheduling and semester timing can also impact course attendance levels.

Attendance at Conestoga 

Attendance should not be graded, and students should not be penalized for missing a regular class, as per the Evaluation of Student Learning Policy. In some programs, attendance may be one aspects of professionalism grades, and criteria for attendance should be described clearly in the rubric.

Faculty must not request sick notes or obtain personal health information from any student. See Conestoga’s Privacy and Freedom of Information page for more details.

Ways to Promote Attendance 

A combination of evidence-based strategies can create a “culture of attendance” in your course throughout the semester.

Focus on learning outcomes and assignments

Many studies on attendance and performance are correlational, which means that attendance does not guarantee better results for students (Goldin, 2011). In one example, Rodgers (2002), who experimented with an incentive scheme in his class, found that attendance increased, but student performance did not. 

As you design your lessons and activities, place priority on what generates evidence of learning and progress students towards learning outcomes. The design of your classroom experiences is likely to be more effective than incentives or simple “commitments” to attendance, which, for some students, can have an adverse effect (Weijers, 2022). 

Idea: Create learning activities and post-assessment that help students to practice with course content and types of questions they will face in assignments and exams.

Plan “added value” experiences in your class lessons 

In one study with over 800 students in an online general chemistry course, researchers found active group learning led to better attendance than class lectures (Venton & Pompano, 2021). Hands-on learning, facilitated peer learning, gamified learning activities, and post-assessment activities can help students to practice with course content and the types of questions they will face in assignments and exams.  

Idea: Reflect on what real-time activities add the most interest, use, or value to your students. Prepare lesson plans, and note the “added value” element in each lesson. 

Take attendance 

You can reinforce the importance that you place on attendance by taking attendance every class and letting students know you are taking attendance. Making an attendance plan can save you time. For instance, a semester attendance list can be created with a classlist from the Employee Portal, or you can use the Attendance tool in the eConestoga course shell.  

Idea: At the beginning of a course, create a master attendance sheet. Bring it to every class to keep track of attendance and absences. Keep the list in a secure place.

Discuss value and benefits of attendance 

Attendance and participation in class can help students to understand course content, save time preparing for assignments, build relationships, and support wellness. One study found that students who attended non-mandatory sessions experienced a greater decrease in students’ feelings of stress compared to pre-recorded online sessions (Salzman et al., 2021).  

Focus on positive, rather than punitive, language to discuss the value and benefits of class attendance (Marsh, 2016). Discussing the value you place on attendance, as part of good study habits and even self-case, can help students see the payoffs of attending class.

Idea: Email students what “added value” activities will happen in the next class. Build enthusiasm and excitement by using the ARCs method to write your message.  

Provide class lesson slides in advance 

One study that compared student attendance when sharing slides before and after class found that attendance was higher when slides were available before the class (Babb & Ross, 2009). Providing lesson slides in advance prepares students with information about the lesson and gives students time to prepare questions or answers to your questions. 

Idea: Provide lesson slides in advance, with questions embedded in the slides, and encourage students to prepare answers and ideas to share in class.  

Provide partial class notes in advance

Helping students with note-taking promotes attendance and performance. One study of a first-year psychology class found that students who received partial notes (an outline, guide, or incomplete framework into which students insert information) performed better on exams than those who received full notes (Cornelius & Owen-deSchryver, 2008). As well, students reported that they perceived their attendance was negatively affected by having complete notes. 

Idea: Provide partial notes, a graphic organizer or other visual thinking activities in advance of class to encourage students to attend and complete the notes while they engage in the lesson. 

Provide recordings of synchronous online classes 

One large lecture study found that students who attended class performed better than students who watched the video-recorded lectures instead (Schnee et al., 2019). However, the researchers found no significant difference in the overall performance of students who attended class and watched the recorded vs those who did not: “This finding may suggest that, in addition to attending class, some students may need the additional exposure to the course material provided by watching the video-recorded lectures to perform as well as other students” (n.p.).

Withholding opportunities to view a recording of your synchronous online lesson may not address the absence in your class, but recordings may benefit students who are already attending your classes. 

Build connections with students 

Research suggests that attendance can be increased by creating a safe, welcoming classroom environment that provides ample opportunities to build relationships with you and other students (Marsh, 2016). 

Idea: Share relevant professional stories about yourself, and give students the option to share their knowledge, interests, abilities, and experiences that will be relevant and appropriate to the lesson. 

See additional ideas for promoting attendance for International Students and Taking Class Attendance

Strategies to Respond to Weak Attendance 

Below are some ways to respond to patterns of student absence from class. Note that you may need a more detailed response plan to when a student is absent from group work

Explain absence reporting 

Inform students that if they cannot attend a scheduled assignment or exam, they should report short-term absences using the absence reporting system in the Student Portal. Here is a sample statement you may wish to deliver in class: 

Attendance at all classes is expected. Dates for assessments are given at the start of the semester in the Instructional Plan. If you must miss a class where an assessment is scheduled, please indicate the absences in the Conestoga Student Portal and email me as soon as possible to discuss the next steps. 

Reach out to students  

As per the Course Delivery Procedure, faculty must reach out to at-risk students as soon as a concern is noted. 

Keeping track of attendance allows faculty to monitor patterns of absence. Stucky (2007) attempted to contact students by email to positively reinforce the desirability of their class attendance when absent for two or more days or exhibited a pattern of absence. While the study found that contacting students did not significantly impact final grades, survey respondents “appeared to perceive the contacts positively, and a majority stated that the contacts influenced their attendance” (Stucky, 2007, p.67). 

Idea: Prepare or use template emails for the occasions you might contact students. If you request a meeting with the student, indicate in advance the purpose of the meeting.  

Help identify obstacles and consequences 

In your message or meeting, invite the student to reflect on what might be the barriers to attendance and the consequences of their continued absence. Consider some of the consequences of absence for the student’s success in the course. If there are academic or personal issues affecting attendance, encourage the student to contact a Student Success Advisor, who will help navigate the College’s student support services. 

In all messages and meetings, foster a positive relationship by treating students with dignity and respect, demonstrating genuine concern, and being solution-focused.  

Final Thought

Despite your best efforts, not all students may attend class. However, focusing positively on those who do will enhance both your teaching experience and their learning.


Babb, K. A., & Ross, C. (2009). The timing of online lecture slide availability and its effect on attendance, participation, and exam performance. Computers and Education52(4), 868–881. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2008.12.009 

Bijsmans, P., & Schakel, A. H. (2018). The impact of attendance on first-year study success in problem-based learning. Higher Education, 76(5), 865.

Cornelius, T. L., & Owen-DeSchryver, J. (2008). Differential effects of full and partial notes on learning outcomes and attendanceTeaching of Psychology35(1), 6–12.

Golding, J.M. (2011). The role of attendance in Lecture Classes: You can lead a horse to water. Teaching of Psychology, 38 (1), 40-42.  

Marsh, V. (2106). Attendance Practices That Work: What Research Says, What Practitioners Say. Centre for Urban Education Success. 

Paisey, C., & Paisey, N. J. (2004). Student attendance in an accounting module – reasons for non-attendance and the effect on academic performance at a Scottish UniversityAccounting Education (London, England)13(sup1), 39–53.

Rodgers, J.R. (2002). Encouraging tutorial attendance at university did not improve performance. Australian Economic Papers 41(3), 255-266. doi: 10.1111/1467-8454.00163 

Schnee, D., Ward, T., Philips, E., Torkos, S., Mullakary, J., Tataronis, G., & Felix-Getzik, E. (2019). Effect of live attendance and video capture viewing on student examination performanceAmerican Journal of Pharmaceutical Education83(6), 6897–1206.

Salzman, J., Williamson, M., Epsina‐Rey, A., Kibble, J., & Kauffman, C. (2021). Effects of voluntary attendance patterns on first-year medical students’ wellness during COVID‐19The FASEB Journal35(S1).  

Venton, B.J., & Pompano, R.R. (2021). Strategies for enhancing remote student engagement through active learningAnal Bioanal Chem 413, 1507–1512.

Weijers, R. J., Ganushchak, L., Ouwehand, K., & de Koning, B. B. (2022). “I’ll Be There”: Improving online class attendance with a commitment nudge during COVID-19Basic and Applied Social Psychology44(1), 12–24.

Elan Paulson

Elan Paulson, PhD, has been an educator in Ontario's higher education system since 2004. Before joining Conestoga as a Teaching and Learning Consultant, Elan was on the executive team at eCampusOntario. She previously served as Program Director and as an instructor in professional education programs at Western University's Faculty of Education. With a Master's in Educational Technology, Elan specializes in technology-enabled and collaborative learning to support diverse learners. She has also conducted research on faculty participation in communities of practice for professional learning and self-care.

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