Have any of you made class attendance optional (i.e., that there are no grade penalties for absences, neither is there any requirement to drop the course after a certain number of absences)?
It sure does put a damper on a class when significant numbers of students aren't prepared or when they're obviously distracted by various distractions. And maybe -- maybe -- making attendance optional, while still having high standards for class preparation, could be an effective response to that problem. Maybe it signals, "you don't have to be here, and there's no penalty if you're not; but if you are here, then you'd better be focused, not surfing the Web, and ready to go", and makes good class sessions more likely.
But especially in a small-ish class, it could also put a damper on things when you don't know from one day to the next which permutation of enrolled students will be in the room. If there are even a small number of students who attend erratically, then could also, I think, make it hard for the class to gel as a class: for students to achieve the kind of familiarity (if not also comfort) with each other that help them to engage more respectfully and intensively in the discussions that are an important part of many Philosophy courses.
Enough "maybe"s and "could"s. What are the actual experiences of those of you who have optional attendance? What were your reasons for making it optional? What have the effects been?
(I'm talking about classes with fewer than 30 students, by the way.)