Counting for Attendance

Most research indicates that students who attend class achieve better scores (and hopefully learn more) than students with lower attendance rates. As an example, one study in economics (Chen and Lin, 2008) found that students who attended class could increase their scores by 9 to 18%. While rewarding attendance or penalizing lack of attendance will not necessarily improve performance, a policy that has students who scored below the median on a midterm exam attend class for the rest of the semester can improve achievement (Dobkin, Gil, and Marion, 2010). The greatest impact from class attendance can be seen when it encourages students to increase their study time and effort.

For courses that meet face-to-face, instructors who want to count attendance for part of the course grade can use the Canvas integrated Roll Call tool, which provides one method for taking attendance and tying the score directly into the gradebook. You can find the Roll Call Attendance tool on the left menu of any Canvas course site. It is not visible to students, although students can see their current attendance score from the Assignments page. If you do not take attendance with Roll Call, nothing happens, but when you take attendance through Roll Call, an assignment is automatically created with a default score of 100. You can change the settings in Roll Call, but make sure you do not delete, rename, or unpublish the Roll Call assignment.

Accessing Roll Call will give you the option to see your students from your course roster in a list or a grid. If students have updated their Canvas profile to include an image, the image will also show in Roll Call.

The status set for each student is associated with a percentage value. Statuses include present and on time (green check: 100%), not present (red x: 0%), or late (orange clock: by default, the value of being late is 80% of the present value. So if a student is late, the student will receive 80% for the day instead of the full 100%. The late value can be adjusted in Roll Call settings.)

Using Roll Call, you can create a seating chart and export the data for further analysis. With the data export, you can determine the aggregated number of times a student was present, late, or absent; generate a list of student names and the dates that they attended class; and with a little more Excel magic give additional credit to students who attended on specific dates where guest speakers visited or other special events occurred.

Questions about using the Roll Call App or any other questions about Canvas?


Allgood, S., Walstad, W. B., & Siegfried, J. J. (2015). Research on teaching economics to undergraduates. Journal of Economic Literature, 53(2), 285–325.

Chen, J., & Lin, T. F. (2008). Class attendance and exam performance: A randomized experiment. The Journal of Economic Education, 39(3), 213–227.

Dobkin, C., Gil, R., & Marion, J. (2010). Skipping class in college and exam performance: Evidence from a regression discontinuity classroom experiment. Economics of Education Review, 29(4), 566–575.