One of the only explicitly teaching-related iOS apps that I use is Attendance, a straightforward program by David Reed, a computer science professor at Capital University. I reviewed the app for Macworld.com upon its first release, and have used it religiously over the intervening 18 months.
Attendance has such a straightforward purpose that, frankly, I haven’t paid much attention to the features added in recent updates. It turns out that Attendance is a universal app, in that it runs on iPhones, iPod Touches, and the iPad. While re-installing a copy on my iPad to get ready for summer teaching next week, and with a new version available in iTunes, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a fresh look at the app.
I liked the app because, with a 4/4 teaching load, I need things to be simple and convenient. Once you have the student names entered (more on this in a second), Attendance is dead simple to use: You open the app, pick the class, add a new date, and tap the list of students to mark them as absent, late, present, etc. At any time, you can e-mail yourself the record as a CSV file, readable by any reasonable spreadsheet program. My favorite feature has been the ability to get a name at random–handy for those times when you want to call on someone, but no one wants to talk! Those features have always been in the app.
Getting names into the app has always been the trickiest bit. In the original version, you could add them manually, or import them as a group from Address Book. (Of course, that meant getting them into Address Book . . . .) I always just add them manually, in part because it gives me a chance to mentally rehearse pronunciations. In a typical semester with 4 classes, I might have 100 students, so this isn’t too big a hassle. The appearance of big lecture classes would probably change that calculus a bit!
Recent versions of the application have added some new functionality that makes the app even more attractive to iOS-orientated faculty:
- The ability to make a quick note about a class, or a student, directly in the app. Sometimes, I’ll forget to take attendance, and so automatically count everyone as present. (Because I don’t like to punish students for my disorganization.) It’s nice to have a place to record that.
- Recent versions have more communication options: in addition to e-mailing a class’s attendance record to yourself, you can e-mail an individual student their record, and you can e-mail all students absent on a given day, right from the app. (Provided, of course, you’ve captured their e-mail addresses.) In the brand-new iOS4 version, users can send SMS messages from the app, too! (This feature not available on iPads currently.)
- Those notes and communication features support TextExpander!
- Recent versions provide an in-app alert system: Once a student accumulates a certain (user-customizable) number of absences, their name turns red in the app.
- You can now customize the labels for present/absent, etc.
- There are more options for getting data into the app: can copy-and-paste CSV files from an e-mail, or retrieve them from a website–or by copy-and-paste from previous courses.
- In addition to the random student feature, you can now get randomly-generated student groups.
The app is $3.99 on iTunes, which to my mind is a bargain for an app that you use for every meeting of every class you teach.