The effect of random extra credit quizzes on student attendance in an undergraduate course on the psychology of learning was examined. A B-A-B reversal design was used to measure quiz effects. The results indicated that student attendance increased by 10% when the quizzes were in place. In addition, student attendance was positively correlated with overall course score, and student response to the extra credit quiz system was favorable. The results are discussed in terms of the use of positive reinforcement-based approaches to increasing student attendance.
A number of studies have shown that student attendance positively correlates with student performance in high school and college courses (Buckalew, Daly, & Coffield, 1986; Kooker, 1976, Turner, 1927; Van Blerkom, 1992). However, a dearth of research exists on methods to increase student attendance. The few methods of increasing attendance that have been examined have focused on manipulating social or academic contingencies. For example, Noonan and Thibeault (1974) assigned "reinforcing agents" (i.e., peers) to students identified as chronic absentees in a high school in Kentucky. The reinforcing agents delivered social praise contingent on attendance in class and statements of concern / disapproval contingent on absences. The results showed an increase in attendance when the program was in place.
Quizzes have also been examined for use in increasing student attendance. Hovell, Williams, and Semb (1979) examined the effects of three different quiz contingencies that varied in terms of the number of quizzes and exams that students took during the semester. Each quiz contingency was implemented in a separate undergraduate psychology course. The authors found that student attendance hovered around 90% for class meetings with a quiz and around 55% for non-quiz meetings across the courses. They concluded that grade-related contingencies maintained high overall attendance.
Although these methods have been shown to be effective in increasing or maintaining student attendance, they involve a situation in which students must either avoid a potentially aversive event (e.g., social disapproval, missed quiz points) by attending class or are confronted with one of these potentially aversive events contingent upon absences. In other words, student attendance may be at least in part maintained by negative reinforcement and student absences may be reduced via punishment with these systems. An alternative approach is to use positive reinforcement to increase and / or maintain student attendance. Although one published study (Beaulieu, 1984) compared the effects of different rewards on student attendance, a baseline or a control group was not employed. Thus, the extent to which the various rewards improved attendance is unknown. The purpose of the present study was to evaluate a positive reinforcement-based approach to increasing student attendance by examining the effect of random extra-credit quizzes on student attendance in a college course.
Participants and Setting
Participants included 32 students in a psychology of learning course at a private comprehensive university in the western United States. Ninety-four percent of the students were psychology majors. Approximately 13% of the students were sophomores, 53% were juniors, and 34% were seniors. The class met three times per week except during holiday periods. Attendance on exam days (which were scheduled for every other Friday) is not included in the data. The experiment was conducted during 12 weeks of the 16-week semester. It was not conducted during the first 3 weeks because a number of students were adding and dropping the course. The experiment was also not conducted during the last week of the semester due to final exams. The lecture format of the course remained constant throughout the semester.
Dependent Measure and Interobserver Agreement
The dependent variable in the study was the percentage of students in attendance at each class meeting. …