Video: Simplifying Attendance With Flow & PowerBI

I love PowerBI and have blogged about it quite a bit here already, as well as led some projects using it in the K-12 space in previous roles. The above video is really worth checking out if you’re a school looking to simplify the process of taking attendance as well as if you’re a software developer working in the schooling sector.

The video uses the free Microsoft Flow and PowerBI live data streams to enable students to record their own attendance in class and have that written to Azure SQL and simultaneously streamed to PowerBI for visual reporting. It’s worth checking out the custom visual designer of Synoptic Panel Designer for PowerBI if nothing else from this post. Now, as Patrick points out in the video, this is not a complete solution and end users would need to use their imagination on how to get around some of the inherent challenges in taking attendance.

The first, and perhaps biggest, is the fact that most Student Information Systems (SIS) often prevent the writing of data from external sources to the tables in the database. This is a safety precaution around data integrity and preventing corruption of the database tables due to invalid data being inserted. However, if you’re a software developer building your own SIS, or you have API that allow third party apps to safely and securely write back to the database, this can be overcome.


Screenshot showing the student app in Microsoft Flow on the left and the real time data stream report in PowerBI of the desktop layout in the classroom.

The other issue is around student integrity when it comes to taking attendance. This is a school’s biggest fear – a system that allows students to inaccurately or fraudulently record attendance. I’ve spent 2-3 minutes thinking about a few ideas that could be implemented to mitigate risk here. This is not an exhaustive list, simply a few ideas if you’re thinking of going down this pathway:

  • A student companion app could be developed by the SIS company that requires students to sign in, which identifies them rather than simply entering their name and desk number (as per the video above).
  • The SIS could generate a unique QR code per class that the teacher simply displays on the projector/TV screen and students scan that to verify they’re physically in the classroom, which would then trigger the Flow and Attendance recording.
  • Wifi data and the Wireless Access Point (WAP) could be used to verify the student was in the actual classroom when submitting their own attendance (this is actually already being used in some tertiary lecture halls as an ad-hoc attendance record. The student does nothing around recording attendance but if one of their devices accesses the WAP in the lecture hall the College can record that as the student being physically in the room).
    • This does not, of course, work if students are on cellular 4G networks instead of wifi.
  • Some level of biometric recording that feeds back into Flow to trigger the attendance. On Windows 10 devices, this could be Windows Hello or even a fingerprint scanner that students place their thumb on as they enter the classroom. I know that holding personally identifiable information like a biometric fingerprint might be frowned upon, but the actual identifiable information of that fingerprinted could be hashed and then salted so it could not be used in other scenarios at the school.
  • Visual Reporting as safety check – the fact that the PowerBI report visually shows which desk is occupied would give the teacher a very quick visual cue to scan the room for “empty” desks and see if this correlates.

This is not necessarily an easily implementable solution for schools but it hints at a future where mundane and time consuming activities like attendance checking can be streamlined allowing greater emphasis and time for teaching.

I am always keen to discuss what I've written and hear your ideas so leave a reply here...

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