Government Technology

University Plans to Install Electronic Sensors to Track Class Attendance


May 5, 2010 By

A plan to electronically track attendance at an Arizona university is being framed as a way to encourage going to class and participation, but privacy experts and some students are wary the technology could become a security and privacy concern.

Northern Arizona University (NAU) in Flagstaff, will start using "proximity card readers" in some lower-division classes in fall 2010, to record student attendance, said NAU Spokesman Tom Bauer. Using $85,000 in federal stimulus funds, the university hopes such a tool will push professors to incorporate attendance in their grading systems, he said.

"I think there's a misunderstanding of what this is," Bauer said. "It's just a tool for professors to take attendance, just like a roll call would be. We're trying to dispel the notion that we're getting too close to being a 'helicopter parent'" -- moms and dads who swoop in and out to make decisions for their child.

Proximity card readers are commonplace on campus, Bauer said, and ID cards with embedded chips have been used to access resident halls, and purchase meals and other items on campus for several years. But the attendance-tracking plan, which will be used at professors' discretion -- is what has some wary of its intended or unintended uses.

"It's a trend toward a surveillance society that is not necessarily befitting of an institution or society," said Adam Kissel, defense program director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. "It's a technology that could easily be expanded and used in student conduct cases."

There appear to be limitations of its use, however, as Bauer explained. Only freshmen and sophomore courses in classrooms that can hold more than 50 students will potentially use the technology, he said. Such an attendance tracker will never be used in a graduate or upper division class, he said.

"The idea is clear: Students who attend class and participate are more successful," Bauer said. The idea came from a university vice president, he said, to help the campus operate more efficiently.

But the backlash is already viral. A student-created Facebook page opposing the plan, "NAU Against Proximity Cards," had nearly 1,500 members as of Wednesday, May 5. "I feel it violates our rights as students to choose whether or not to go to class and control our own success," the page's description reads. "Plus, it allows the school to keep track of our whereabouts in a 'Big Brother' way."

Electronic Privacy Information Center Associate Director Lillie Coney said students should be able to opt in to the system and be part of the decision-making process. "It's not how people with good intentions use technology that concerns 'privacy people,' it's how that information is collected and can be abused," she said.

For example, a student who's been the victim of stalking or identity theft or just simply doesn't like the idea of private information being stored on their ID should have alternatives, Coney said.

"[Students] need to be fully informed of the technology -- they should be able to opt in," Coney said, adding students' data should also be encrypted.

The way the readers work is pretty simple. They are placed near an entrance, and whenever a card is waved nearby, the proximity reader recognizes it and sends the data through an Ethernet system, which is then transmitted to NAU's software, Bauer said. A green light on the reader signals the ID card was read.

Bauer said it's recommended that students take their cards from their wallets, purses or pockets when entering a classroom equipped with readers, but noted doing so isn't essential to the technology's sensors. "It's not necessary, but you may want to make sure you get a 'green' light," he said.

On top of the increasingly popular Facebook page, students opposing the plan have also started collecting signatures in hopes of halting the scanners' installation. The online conversation, however, shows students with ranging views:

"People need to realize its [sic] going to happen no matter what," one student wrote on the student-created Facebook page.

"I go to class, I get no credit for it," another student wrote on the page. "So if 'school is going to make attendance a mandatory part of your grade in classes with 50 students or more' that means free points for what I'm doing anyway."

Others, however, took a more humorous approach: "BRB, failing a class because I lost my card."

 


| More

Comments

Michael    |    Commented May 6, 2010

Students PAY for the class, they do the homework, pass the examinations, then beyond that it not kindergarten. Attendance is the students prerogative at the university level and the professors teaching style that may dictate attendance. This sounds like a better idea for high schools, but they're broke.

Michael    |    Commented May 6, 2010

Students PAY for the class, they do the homework, pass the examinations, then beyond that it not kindergarten. Attendance is the students prerogative at the university level and the professors teaching style that may dictate attendance. This sounds like a better idea for high schools, but they're broke.

Michael    |    Commented May 6, 2010

Students PAY for the class, they do the homework, pass the examinations, then beyond that it not kindergarten. Attendance is the students prerogative at the university level and the professors teaching style that may dictate attendance. This sounds like a better idea for high schools, but they're broke.

Advanced Degree Recipient    |    Commented May 6, 2010

MOST college kids across America are under age 21, so they're by law considered NOT FULL ADULTS. Thus, universities, as do high schools catering to underage individuals, can and will conduct protective surveillance mechanisms if immature high-school-style student behaviors dominate and disrupt a "mature" academic learning environment expected by many (and the general public) from higher education. I've already seen these actions at community colleges ("glorified high schools") across America. Fortunately, most graduate and Ph.D programs root out these bad behaviors in advance, as part of even more intensely selective admissions processes not seen in undergrad programs.

Advanced Degree Recipient    |    Commented May 6, 2010

MOST college kids across America are under age 21, so they're by law considered NOT FULL ADULTS. Thus, universities, as do high schools catering to underage individuals, can and will conduct protective surveillance mechanisms if immature high-school-style student behaviors dominate and disrupt a "mature" academic learning environment expected by many (and the general public) from higher education. I've already seen these actions at community colleges ("glorified high schools") across America. Fortunately, most graduate and Ph.D programs root out these bad behaviors in advance, as part of even more intensely selective admissions processes not seen in undergrad programs.

Advanced Degree Recipient    |    Commented May 6, 2010

MOST college kids across America are under age 21, so they're by law considered NOT FULL ADULTS. Thus, universities, as do high schools catering to underage individuals, can and will conduct protective surveillance mechanisms if immature high-school-style student behaviors dominate and disrupt a "mature" academic learning environment expected by many (and the general public) from higher education. I've already seen these actions at community colleges ("glorified high schools") across America. Fortunately, most graduate and Ph.D programs root out these bad behaviors in advance, as part of even more intensely selective admissions processes not seen in undergrad programs.

Anonymous    |    Commented May 11, 2010

Seems pretty silly. One: It can easily be bypassed - just give a friend who does attend the class your card. Maybe an imbedded chip, as used to track pets, would be the answer. Two: Some classes are so innane that it may be a waste of time to attend. Students who have mastered the material just turn up and take the tests. I did this in a number of classes and graduated with a 3.865 GPA without cheating. Three: It really is a bit Orwellian. (Look it up.)

Anonymous    |    Commented May 11, 2010

Seems pretty silly. One: It can easily be bypassed - just give a friend who does attend the class your card. Maybe an imbedded chip, as used to track pets, would be the answer. Two: Some classes are so innane that it may be a waste of time to attend. Students who have mastered the material just turn up and take the tests. I did this in a number of classes and graduated with a 3.865 GPA without cheating. Three: It really is a bit Orwellian. (Look it up.)

Anonymous    |    Commented May 11, 2010

Seems pretty silly. One: It can easily be bypassed - just give a friend who does attend the class your card. Maybe an imbedded chip, as used to track pets, would be the answer. Two: Some classes are so innane that it may be a waste of time to attend. Students who have mastered the material just turn up and take the tests. I did this in a number of classes and graduated with a 3.865 GPA without cheating. Three: It really is a bit Orwellian. (Look it up.)

Anonymous    |    Commented May 11, 2010

Michael has it right.

Anonymous    |    Commented May 11, 2010

Michael has it right.

Anonymous    |    Commented May 11, 2010

Michael has it right.

Anonymous    |    Commented May 11, 2010

By NAU Grad: I skipped boring classes, took the tests, and ended up with a 3.865 GPA in a difficult major.
1) The fact is, some professors are almost insufferably boring, and the material just not that difficult.
2) The system is easily circumvented. Several students can just give their cards to a friend attending the class. That is, unless the university intends to have the chip surgically implanted. Of course, if the professor notices the room has 5 students while electronically 50 are indicated, he or she might catch on. 3) It does seem just a tad Orwellian. Shades of 1984!

Anonymous    |    Commented May 11, 2010

By NAU Grad: I skipped boring classes, took the tests, and ended up with a 3.865 GPA in a difficult major.
1) The fact is, some professors are almost insufferably boring, and the material just not that difficult.
2) The system is easily circumvented. Several students can just give their cards to a friend attending the class. That is, unless the university intends to have the chip surgically implanted. Of course, if the professor notices the room has 5 students while electronically 50 are indicated, he or she might catch on. 3) It does seem just a tad Orwellian. Shades of 1984!

Anonymous    |    Commented May 11, 2010

By NAU Grad: I skipped boring classes, took the tests, and ended up with a 3.865 GPA in a difficult major.
1) The fact is, some professors are almost insufferably boring, and the material just not that difficult.
2) The system is easily circumvented. Several students can just give their cards to a friend attending the class. That is, unless the university intends to have the chip surgically implanted. Of course, if the professor notices the room has 5 students while electronically 50 are indicated, he or she might catch on. 3) It does seem just a tad Orwellian. Shades of 1984!

KeepPrivateThingsPrivate    |    Commented May 13, 2010

As Ms. Coner with the privacy center correctly pointed out, "It's not how people with good intentions use technology that concerns 'privacy people,' it's how that information is collected and can be abused". Sooner or later, well-meaning university and government leaders will realize that such data can also be used to decide who qualifies for financial aid and university jobs, who in a funding cutback situation should be allowed to continue their studies, who might need further surveillance if crimes occur during the times the absent students were supposed to be in attendance at class - that is only a start. Most people have never seen the rich variety of war on terror-related executive orders that have come out recently, but in light of those, there is not much limit to how RFID data like this can be used. Your ox may not be gored by this university's particular proposal, but there are those who plan to gore multiple oxen one day with this kind of technology. It is coming.

KeepPrivateThingsPrivate    |    Commented May 13, 2010

As Ms. Coner with the privacy center correctly pointed out, "It's not how people with good intentions use technology that concerns 'privacy people,' it's how that information is collected and can be abused". Sooner or later, well-meaning university and government leaders will realize that such data can also be used to decide who qualifies for financial aid and university jobs, who in a funding cutback situation should be allowed to continue their studies, who might need further surveillance if crimes occur during the times the absent students were supposed to be in attendance at class - that is only a start. Most people have never seen the rich variety of war on terror-related executive orders that have come out recently, but in light of those, there is not much limit to how RFID data like this can be used. Your ox may not be gored by this university's particular proposal, but there are those who plan to gore multiple oxen one day with this kind of technology. It is coming.

KeepPrivateThingsPrivate    |    Commented May 13, 2010

As Ms. Coner with the privacy center correctly pointed out, "It's not how people with good intentions use technology that concerns 'privacy people,' it's how that information is collected and can be abused". Sooner or later, well-meaning university and government leaders will realize that such data can also be used to decide who qualifies for financial aid and university jobs, who in a funding cutback situation should be allowed to continue their studies, who might need further surveillance if crimes occur during the times the absent students were supposed to be in attendance at class - that is only a start. Most people have never seen the rich variety of war on terror-related executive orders that have come out recently, but in light of those, there is not much limit to how RFID data like this can be used. Your ox may not be gored by this university's particular proposal, but there are those who plan to gore multiple oxen one day with this kind of technology. It is coming.

Anonymous    |    Commented May 26, 2010

If the University wants professors to track attendance, then make it mandatory to track. If they have a copy of the enrollment list, there is no need for electronic surveillance because the professor will get to know the students. Also, if a student is paying for a class and does not attend, it is on that student. If the University is concerned about specific teachers low attendance, they should talk to the teacher and perhaps send in a 'mole' to take the class and find out if there is a reason why 25% of the registered students are not in class, especially if they are passing while the ones in class don't have as high scores.

Anonymous    |    Commented May 26, 2010

If the University wants professors to track attendance, then make it mandatory to track. If they have a copy of the enrollment list, there is no need for electronic surveillance because the professor will get to know the students. Also, if a student is paying for a class and does not attend, it is on that student. If the University is concerned about specific teachers low attendance, they should talk to the teacher and perhaps send in a 'mole' to take the class and find out if there is a reason why 25% of the registered students are not in class, especially if they are passing while the ones in class don't have as high scores.

Anonymous    |    Commented May 26, 2010

If the University wants professors to track attendance, then make it mandatory to track. If they have a copy of the enrollment list, there is no need for electronic surveillance because the professor will get to know the students. Also, if a student is paying for a class and does not attend, it is on that student. If the University is concerned about specific teachers low attendance, they should talk to the teacher and perhaps send in a 'mole' to take the class and find out if there is a reason why 25% of the registered students are not in class, especially if they are passing while the ones in class don't have as high scores.

Eric martinson nels    |    Commented February 22, 2011

I Like this app

Bailout4RFID?    |    Commented August 17, 2012

For the amount of people who protested against the bailouts in 2008, there is no way they wanted bailout funding to go to Universities to surveill adult attendance paying EXORBITANT tuitions for their classes. Obama's not flush enough with our money to carry every University without students. Students - if you don't want to adopt RFID -drop your enrollment and go to another college worth the education you pay for.


Add Your Comment

You are solely responsible for the content of your comments. We reserve the right to remove comments that are considered profane, vulgar, obscene, factually inaccurate, off-topic, or considered a personal attack.

In Our Library

White Papers | Exclusives Reports | Webinar Archives | Best Practices and Case Studies
Redefining Citizen Engagement in a Mobile-First World
Today’s consumers are embracing the ease and convenience of anytime, anywhere access to the Internet from their mobile devices. In order for government and public sector organizations to fully engage with their citizens and provide similar service quality as their consumer counterparts, the time is now to shift to mobile citizen engagement. Learn more
McAfee Enterprise Security Manager and Threat Intelligence Exchange
As a part of the Intel® Security product offering, McAfee® Enterprise Security Manager and McAfee Threat Intelligence Exchange work together to provide organizations with exactly what they need to fight advanced threats. You get the situational awareness, actionable intelligence, and instantaneous speed to immediately identify, respond to, and proactively neutralize threats in just milliseconds.
Better security. Better government.
Powering security at all levels of government with simpler, more connected IT.
View All

Featured Papers