You are probably sick of hearing me going on and on about attendance registers; I’m afraid this is another strand of my ongoing obsession.

How many hours have I spent over the last 20 years talking about attendance capture? Far too many, I am sure, but it’s so interesting. Well, I think so.

Recently, I was presented with a problem by one of my favourite customers. (Should I have favourites? Hmm. I’m not sure about that! 😊) Anyhow, they taught a lesson with units and needed to know the first time a student studied each unit.

Each lesson can, in theory, hold all the units available in the timetable, but the units change all the time and there was no way to track who did what within a lesson. So, from a timetabling perspective, this was a nightmare.

CELCAT already has functionality to overcome this. We can easily attach the units to all the sessions of a lesson and then, alongside the attendance register, capture information about each student and each unit. Sadly, in practice, the screen presented was just too overwhelming for staff to use within a lesson.

This comes back to my frequently used statement with regards to attendance capture, “Keep the process simple for the staff at the front end,” by which I mean:

  • Use as few mark options as you can get away with (e.g., Present, Absent*, Late)
  • An easy-to-use solution to capture marks
  • Where possible, use multiple ways to identify students (e.g., name, student id, picture)

The new step to the process presented a screen with a list of students and units to be completed by the staff taking the lesson (in which they were supposed to enter the date), but presented the following issues:

  • An overwhelming list of data displayed
  • No clear indication what was required from the staff member
  • Confusion over which date format should be used

So it was back to the drawing board. Well, yes and no. The spirit of what the screen captured was what we needed, but required a better user experience.
CELCAT, like all software companies, is constrained by what we can and can’t develop. But we have an ace up our sleeve, the Consultancy Team, who can produce small solutions for problems just like this, fast and efficiently.

Working with the customer, we considered what the user experience should be like. How simple could we make it whilst still capturing what was needed. This led to some goals:

  • Display the units available within a specific lesson
  • The ability to indicate a unit was delivered within this lesson (tick box)
  • The ability to override a unit delivery for a student within a lesson (i.e., Student A did not take Unit 1 in this lesson)

Those goals didn’t address the main goal (the date the student first took a unit), but we had that already. We knew the student was present in the lesson, so combine that with us knowing the unit was delivered and… Well, you can join the dots. We have what we need.

The solution we created sits on top of the existing CELCAT database; using timetables already created, picking up the same units the original screen did. We just have a new screen sitting next to the attendance register.

All of this was only possible because of previous developments by the CELCAT Live developers. A great example of CELCAT as a whole, working together over time, to create a flexible system for all.
Now, the reason I am blogging about this development is not just because we, quite frankly, did an amazing job in a very short period (modest I know). This situation, and the problem that the client had, got me thinking. For a long time I, like many, have grappled with situations where tracking what has been taught matters. I am now going to use two dreaded terms, Key Skills Maths and English! These are notoriously hard to track due to the nature of the lessons, levels, and student’s progress.

From a timetabling perspective, it’s really hard to keep track of students who may be in the same session week after week but studying different levels and, possibly, different subjects.

Another great example is a rotation, where students start studying a specific part of a Module for, say, 1 week, switches to another the following week, and so on. It always starts well, until a student misses a session and requires their own rotation. Suddenly, that timetable has become a minefield.

This new solution we have created is not perfect but does, for the first time, give us an opportunity to capture more information at the time the attendance is being captured. Through a combination of timetabling and data capture, we can now attempt to track what was previously very difficult, if not impossible.

I am keen to work with others to explore this further, so please get in touch and let me know what you think.

*For ‘Absent’, you can capture an explained (or authorised) absence elsewhere; applying it to your attendance data at a more appropriate time