Computer Science team develops ‘Roll Call’ app to track attendance

Posted on Tuesday, July 31, 2018

TSU News

(Left to right) Anthony Powell, Dr. Oscar Criner, Joshua Holley and Jamaal Roby discuss developments with the RollCall app.

When Texas Southern University Computer Science professor, Dr. Oscar Criner sat down with his students in 2013 to develop new software, he urged his students to assess the market and see where the programming application needs were.

“We were looking at problems, primarily in education,” Dr. Criner said. “Since I’m a teacher, I’m looking at it from my standpoint. I’m looking at what do I need to have.”

Dr. Criner looked at the stack of attendance logs on his desk and had his answer.

“One of the big problems we have as teachers is just keeping track of the roll,” he said. “We have to make sure that we satisfy the university requirements, but the way we do it is very difficult. Most of the time, teachers pass around the roll, students sign it. And soon, you have 50 sheets of paper and you have to go through by hand.”
Keeping track of students, especially the ones who had been absent so many times, was a daunting task with so much paperwork. Dr. Criner, who kept thinking that there had to be a better way, came up with a text messaging tool. “I was teaching a computer science class and thought it would be a good exercise to compile the data on student attendance via text,” he said. “But no matter how hard you try, you can’t teach people to do it the same way every time. That was a real problem. There are some things you have to do the same way and it wasn’t coming together like that. I was getting garbled data.”

Enter the STEM Enchantment program, a Texas Southern summer program for middle and high school students, where Dr. Criner and his students taught kids how to program on Android smartphones and tablets.
“Everyone has a phone, so we decided to design a mobile App to collect data and interface with the attendance system. We designed an application where students could simply log in to the mobile app and mark themselves present,” Dr. Criner said. “We called the app Roll Call.”

TSU students Jamaal Roby, Anthony Powell, and Joshua Holly were among the initial students in the Mobile Applications Development Group working on the Roll Call App, which they designed for Android and IOS smartphones.

“The way it works is simple. The student registers for a class, they install the App and set a pin and password. Sometime during each class, the professor announces a password. That password is used with the App and to sign the roll. The App sends the attendance information with a timestamp to the RollCall backend. We aggregate this information process all the data and generate a roll book for the professor,” Roby said.

 The RollCall keeps track of the attendance for the professor and it is set up so that the instructor can go back and correct any issues. It’s simply an easier way to manage classrooms and many of the professors who use RollCall say their attendance has improved, something Dr. Criner believes is a major benefit.  

“Attendance is a major issue affecting student performance,” Dr. Criner said. “School officials were concerned with the number of students making grades below C’s and we had to do something with the faculty to make improvements. One of the faculty suggestions was to make students come to class. RollCall helped professors recognize who was not present and gave them a  way to really analyze who was there.”

“As a matter of fact,” Roby added, “we had a professor identify a student who had stopped coming to class; so she reached out to the student and found out the student had some personal issues going on. She didn’t think she would have noticed that if she had been dealing with the paper roll book.”

Currently, the app is only used on a voluntary basis by those professors who choose to use it. Those who do, notify the RollCall team and their classes that they’ll use the app for attendance. Dr. Criner and his team hope that RollCall will expand to become a sanctioned tool with the university. Then, branch out to schools all over the country.  

“We are continuously working out kinks. We tried to think of as many things as possible before we launched,” Roby said. “But we know for certain there are improvements we can make but it takes time, resources. It’s been a work in progress. But we’re excited about the app and the potential that it holds.”

The RollCall app is free for students and available in the app store at iTunes, for iOS users and at the Google Play store for Android users.

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Last updated: 09/25/2018