Global Constant
Steve Nay's ramblings

Check-in attendance

Today this article came through on my Twitter stream (via lnxwalt):

Students at Northern Arizona University will have a hard time skipping large classes next fall because of a new attendance monitoring system.

The new system will use sensors to detect students’ university identification cards when they enter classrooms, according to NAU spokesperson Tom Bauer. The data will be recorded and available for professors to examine.

Some quoted in the article decried the development as “Orwellian,” others found nothing wrong with the practice.

The main concern was that the system could potentially grow to include not only recording attendance in certain large classes but also tracking students’ presence across the entire campus, potentially enabling university personnel to know the precise location or behavior of any given student. While I don’t envision such a system running that wild, it does raise interesting privacy issues.

Many colleges uses i>clicker devices in large underclassmen courses for providing quick feedback on in-class quizzes, etc. They can also be used as a means for recording student attendance, a fact referenced in the article. Interestingly,

Using an i>clicker is voluntary (even though it may have obvious bearing on a student’s grades). This eliminates the “privacy concerns” raised by the opponents of such attendance-tracking systems.

Why not implement a check-in attendance system, perhaps with the RFID cards used at NAU, perhaps with smartphones, perhaps with single-purpose devices like i>clickers?

I have pondered this possibility before. College-age students regularly use smartphone applications like foursquare and Gowalla to track their attendance at social functions. “Checking in” to a restaurant, a bar, a movie theater, or a concert has become second nature to them. I even use foursquare to “check in” to various academic buildings at my university.

Rather than trying to track students against their will, why not turn it into a self-driven system of checking in to class? The system wouldn’t necessarily have to use smartphones. Indeed, RFID checkpoints at classroom doors (similar to those used in public transit systems) would likely be a simpler and more reliable solution. It then remains (as it should be) the student’s responsibility to ensure that she is in class on time.