As we near the end of August, most of us are getting ready to begin a new semester and new year, if you haven’t already done so. One of my back-to-school rituals for the last several years has been loading my classes into the iOS app Attendance. The simplicity and stability of this app is one of the reasons I called it one of the five iPod Touch apps I can’t live without two years ago. And it’s not just me who loves it: Jason wrote a full review of Attendance, and Ryan later wrote about how it helps him learn student names and form teams for group work. It only makes sense that this app works well in the classroom since its creator, David M. Reed, is a computer science professor at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio.
Just in time for the new school year, then, I’m glad to report that Reed has released a new version of the app. Attendance2 is a completely rewritten version of the app that makes better use of new features in iOS and a simpler interface. (Full disclosure: Reed provided me with a free copy of Attendance2.)
The first thing that you might notice is that Attendance2 is a separate, stand-alone app from the original Attendance. What this means is that if you already own the original app, you will have to purchase the new app rather than just downloading an update. Reed explained his reasoning behind this when he announced development of Attendance2 earlier this year. In short, the data structure of iOS had changed so much that the rewrite was necessary, and Apple’s policies do not allow discounts to be given to people who bought a previous app. The original app will continue to function perfectly well, and Reed plans to update it so it remains functional with iOS 6, thus extending that app’s life until summer 2013.
But if you run iOS 5.0 or later, I think you will certainly want to update to Attendance2. In the few weeks that I have been playing with it, I’m struck by how much faster it runs as well as how easier it is to add information about classes, students, and more. In the previous version of the app, I found that it was easiest to add information about a class using the Contacts / Address Book software, then syncing it to my device via iTunes, and then importing that into the app. While Attendance allowed you to use CSV imports, Attendance2 makes the process much simpler. I was able to create a new class in less than 10 minutes, getting all of the information for my students without a single problem.
There are many other improvements that make the app easier and more flexible for how you want to use it:
You can create up to five fields for custom information about your students. The result is that you can have the information to hand that you want for how you work.
You can sort students by first name, last name, an identifier (I use email addresses), or any other the custom fields you’ve included for them.
You can still customize the status for each student, so you can have a lot more choices than the standard “present, absent, excused, and late.” But you can also add secondary status option, so you can mark students participation, if they’ve turned in their homework, or anything else you can imagine tracking.
- When running reports, which you can email or send to Dropbox, you can choose what fields of information you want to receive.
The ability to email students their individualized attendance reports in an all-but automated manner. It’d be hard to explain this, but trust me that it’s pretty miraculous.
When using the app to choose a random student, you can now have it cycle through the whole class before it repeats. And you can insure that it only chooses students whom you have marked as present.
The app now makes Dropbox integration simpler than ever, setting up the folder that it will use with a single in-app click.
At the moment, the only feature that is really missing from Attendance2 is the ability to have it create random groups of students with a single click. Reed has said that the next update will include this much beloved (by Ryan and myself, at least) option. It’s also no longer possible to add information to the app using Apple’s Contacts / Address Book, but that’s not really much of a loss given how much better the current CSV import is.
The help files for the app have also been improved dramatically but you might still need to read them twice however before understanding everything Attendance2 can do. It would be nice if images were included as part of the help files, using something like ScreenSteps, but Reed is publishing a series of videos (scroll down) to help with this. You just might want to set up your first class when you’re sitting near your computer so you can refer to them as needs be.
About the only thing you could fault the app for is that it isn’t the prettiest thing out there. There’s not much color to speak of and the menus are just simple text selection that takes you to the next screen. But functionality clearly trumps design, and the former is so great that I can give up dreams of whatever the coverflow equivalent of taking attendance would be. That, and the logo of Attendance2 is much, much better than the original’s.
All in all, Attendance2 is a great follow-up to its prior version. I can understand not being thrilled about having to pay to upgrade to a new version of the app since the App Store has more or less spoiled us into thinking we should get all of our software updates for free. But honestly, the $5 cost is minimal and the app is so fantastic that it’s well worth the cost. In fact, to put my money where my mouth is (since I got a review copy of the app), I’ll buy the first person who follows and @ replies me on Twitter a copy of the app.
Have you used Attendance2? What do you think of it? Let us know in the comments!