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Viji Sathy

Teaching Associate Professor, Psychology and Neuroscience
Special Projects Assistant to the Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education

Viji Sathy

Viji Sathy

When you and your students piloted the UNC Check-In app, how did the app work out?

The app worked beautifully. I am not one to shy away from trying technology in the classroom, so I expected that there would be some glitches as we got the app tested in a large classroom, but there were very few! Jeremiah Joyner (of ITS Teaching & Learning) was kind enough to come to the first day of class where we got students signed in and helped troubleshoot any instances when the app wasn’t working for a student. There weren’t many issues and most of them were ironed out within the first couple of weeks. The ITS team was very receptive to changes I suggested to the user interface as well as the files that can be downloaded for instructors to use for grading purposes. It’s a great app!

How does the app help you do your job and how does it benefit students?

This tool is significant, for a number of reasons.

I’ve been teaching large enrollment classes (100+) for 10 years now. I know from my own work and discussions with colleagues who teach large enrollment classes that keeping track of who is in class is no small feat. This may seem like a trivial issue, but it’s not. Through my work as Special Projects Assistant to the Senior Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education, Abigail Panter, I realized that it was becoming increasingly challenging for instructors of large enrollment classes to comment on who is failing to attend class.

In the Office of Undergraduate Education, we were in the process of creating a new online system for instructors to submit Academic Progress Reports (APRs) for students in the event that a student needed to be connected to University services such as the Learning & Writing Centers, Academic Advising and Undergraduate Retention, or to provide positive feedback to foster student success.

In the class sizes I and my colleagues worked with, it was difficult to get a quick snapshot of who was missing class frequently. I wanted to develop an easy way for instructors to quickly track attendance records. Knowing who is not in class is a vital way to ensure that our students are thriving at UNC. In my years of teaching, I’ve realized if a student is not attending class regularly, it could mean that there are issues that the student is encountering and oftentimes they aren’t aware of campus resources that are available to them or how to navigate the issue.

For example, students may not feel comfortable telling an instructor they are struggling with mental health issues. But for an instructor, knowing that a student has missed three classes in a row, for example, could tip them off that they may need to check in with the student. There are so many of us instructors who want to ensure the success and well being of our students, but that is challenging when the classroom has 200 students in it, such as my statistics class has.

There are other tools that can be used to track attendance, but they aren’t full proof. After having some trouble ensuring that students responding to classroom polls, for example, were actually present in class (the polls can be answered remotely), I had worked with (ITS Teaching & Learning Director) Suzanne Cadwell in Spring 2015 to determine if we could track attendance via a Sakai quiz enabling only certain IP addresses (again, aiming to limit out of classroom participation). It wasn’t easy to set up, identify all of the IP addresses, and there were always a few for whom the quiz wouldn’t work because not all of the addresses could be identified in advance.

I’ve really enjoyed meeting regularly with the ITS team who built the app as they modified and expanded the app with my feedback and class experience. It was a delight to pilot it in Spring 2018 and see this idea come to fruition.

In Spring 2016, I met with (CIO) Chris Kielt and discussed this challenge we faced in tracking attendance and pitched the idea of a more full proof way to take attendance. I am delighted they decided to pursue working on the app.

In discussing this tool, we had considered ideas such as ‘swiping’ in with a OneCard, but considering the size of the classes, doing so would have been cumbersome as well. Using a Bluetooth beacon, however, provides a quick, easy and nearly full proof way to ensure that students are in class.

Initially, we worked with a computer science class (COMP 523) to develop the app. In Spring 2017, they built a prototype that worked, but it needed to be expanded and reworked in ways to accommodate more users and platforms.

I’ve really enjoyed meeting regularly with the ITS team who built the app as they modified and expanded the app with my feedback and class experience. It was a delight to pilot it in Spring 2018 and see this idea come to fruition.

Another use for the app in the future could be related to curricular changes. For the two years, I have served on the coordinating committee for the General Education Curriculum Revision for the College of Arts and Sciences. Some of the changes proposed tracking students’ attendance at certain events (such as a play or concert). Eventually, an app like this can help ensure students receive credit for attending events, for example.

I foresee a number of really great uses of the app—for example centers or help sessions could keep track of who ‘checks in’ and this can enable us to understand where students are going and what services they are using. Ultimately, we can improve offerings for students when we know more about where they go, when they are there, etc.

What feedback did you hear from your students?

My students had little feedback. When an administrative app works well, it’s a good sign when the user doesn’t tell you much about it. Students found it easy to check in. The only time it didn’t work well is when students forgot to check in at the start of class. Based on that feedback, I worked with the team to create a manual check in option and now an instructor can enter a list of usernames for students who forget or have technical difficulties checking in.

Will you use this again in the Fall 2018 semester?

Absolutely. In fact, we’re looking to pilot it with other instructors in different rooms to test it further.

What else would you like to say about ITS and this app?

I’m thrilled that ITS was able to take an idea I offered and bring it to fruition in this way. I’ve enjoyed collaborating with the group. It’s a great example of what can happen when practitioners and technology specialists work together to create a solution for a challenge we face in the classroom. I hope we have more collaborations like this in the future!