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RFID Checks Student Attendance in Arizona 554

Posted by kdawson
from the present-and-accounted-for dept.
The student newspaper at UW-Madison is running a piece about the use of RFID to check lecture attendance at Northern Arizona University. One poster to an email discussion list suggested that getting around this system would be simple if "all one has to do is walk into a classroom with 10 RFID-enabled cards in their pocket." "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. ... [The spokesman] added the sensors, paid for by federal stimulus money, initially would only be installed in large freshmen and sophomore classes with more than 50 students. NAU Student Body President Kathleen Templin said most students seem to be against the new system. She added students have started Facebook groups and petitions against the sensor system. ... One of the most popular Facebook groups ... has more than 1,400 members." What are the odds that the use of tracking RFID will expand over time on that campus?
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RFID Checks Student Attendance in Arizona

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  • security / isecurity (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @03:45PM (#32089788)

    This seems to be a completely opposite approach than on my school where one can unlock classrooms (that have not been blocked by priviledged cards) with ANY card from an unrelated issuer (of course with the same standard)

  • by alta (1263) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @03:48PM (#32089834) Homepage Journal

    all one has to do is walk into a classroom with 10 RFID-enabled cards in their pocket.

    Not so easy...

    Step 1. Threaten each student with expulsion if they try to defeat the system.
    Step 2. Install a turnstile to make sure people enter at the optimum rate (maybe not even necessary)
    Step 3. Set the scanner up to sound alarm and flash a light like it's walmart if it ever detects multiple cards at once. (thresholds adjustable)

    Problem solved.

    As a student, yes, I would hate that I would actually have to attend that class. Yes, I'm paying for it, so why shouldn't I come and go as I please.

    And as a school, yes I have the responsibility to vouch that said student did actually come to the classes they claim they did when they show you that way overpriced framed piece of paper. Otherwise, I'm not better than some 2bit school selling degrees.

  • Re:Why? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by DarkKnightRadick (268025) <the_spoon.geo@yahoo.com> on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @03:55PM (#32089928) Homepage Journal

    you mean they don't already do that? I know my local community college does for exactly that reason (and has done so since before I attended).

  • by socz (1057222) <socrates AT ghettobsd DOT org> on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @04:00PM (#32090022) Homepage Journal
    I had the exact opposite effect in my poly sci classes when I wish others wouldn't be there disrupting the class. Sure, we only had pagers and useless laptops at the time but they couldn't sit still, stop bothering others or stay quiet.


    One of the best teachers (in philosophy even!) didn't take roll until the end of the class, when a lot of kids would sneak in and say "here." At least THAT way they didn't bother anyone (being useless in group activities).
  • by RichMan (8097) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @04:12PM (#32090234)

    Wrap your card in tinfoil and keep it in your pocket and go to class.
    Then ask to see the attendance record immediately after class, before leaving the class. Because you are worried about the attendance being correctly recorded.
    You will not be on the list. Just pull out the card to prove it was on your person.

    System proven to fail. Go on record as protesting the failure of the attendance system to accurately record your presence.

    For bonus points:
    Then have everyone bug the system every time after every class to confirm their attendance, so they don't get deducted by the system for not being present.

  • by theJML (911853) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @04:18PM (#32090330) Homepage

    Why do people have to jump to suing over something like this. It should be thrown out. If you didn't learn anything in the class and you complained while you were there and had valid claims showing that you were there, perhaps talked to the dean of the college about the professor's policies or whatever issues caused you not to be able to learn, then they'd probably look into it and reassign you or credit you. It's not lawsuit material, I don't care if it's a public school or not. I know when I went to college, professors wanted feedback and if they didn't like the feedback, their superiors always liked to hear it as well.

    On the flip side if you do nothing, learn nothing, and continue to pay, then that's sort of a plus for your chosen money dispensary. And as a fellow student, I'll enjoy the extra oxygen in the room due to your absence.

  • by coaxial (28297) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @04:27PM (#32090442) Homepage

    In college, I've been in exactly one class that took attendance. It was Art and Design 101, a 200+ lecture that fulfilled a humanity requirement. The only reason, the prof even said, why she took attendance. No one would show up otherwise.

    Compare this to CS 101, where by the end of the semester 15 people would regularly attend lecture, and 150 would attend the exams.

  • by kevinNCSU (1531307) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @04:28PM (#32090452)

    I had a friend who believed the same thing. What he found out when he went into teaching was that the school required him to take attendance because many of the students had grants that required them to miss no more then two classes or else they would lose them and they'd be given to students willing to actually show up.

    Like it or not, Higher Education, at least in public universities and community colleges, is no longer a pay your own way and we don't care if you don't make it sort of deal. They are heavily funded by tax payers and there are many programs designed to try to get underprivileged and underrepresented groups more interested and involved in higher education. This leads to making sure people are honestly TRYING, a much harder metric then whether they are succeeding, and often they turn towards attendance to make sure grant programs and taxpayers are getting their money's worth.

  • Re:Why? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cdrguru (88047) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @05:04PM (#32090912) Homepage

    Attendance is required for a lot of reasons but two that I can think of immediately are:

    1. Student loans administered by the government. If the student isn't going to class then the regulators in charge of administering the loan program are going to have the impression that their money is being wasted.
    2. Huge usually remedial classes for freshman - which is what the summary mentions - are a filter for the rest of the student's time at the college. If they can't bother to attend, they are going to eventually fail anyway. So why not cut the process short and waste as little of everyone's time and money as possible?

    The main point of the first year in most state schools is to get rid of the students that do not belong there and are attending at state expense. Most states have a school like that where 25% of the freshman class isn't there after the first semester. I do not know what NAU is like, but it wouldn't surprise me that it is Arizona's version of Carbondale in Illinois where more like 33% of the freshmen don't come back.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @05:08PM (#32090952)

    defending facebook et all with ad hominem attacks on those who rightly criticize it doesn't make you look smart either. makes you sound like some groupie defending his bandwagon. You can use it, but don't pretend you're special because you're the one in your e-clique with some celebrity on your list.

    See what I did there?

  • by misexistentialist (1537887) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @05:58PM (#32091542)
    I think at this point every soldier could have chosen not to be part of the occupation. Anyone who chose to enlist and lay his life at the feet of Bush and Cheney is quite suspect to begin with.
  • by LateArthurDent (1403947) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @06:08PM (#32091650)

    With many students being denied entry into a particular college/university/etc. because they are at their supposed maximum capacity.. I, for one, would think it entirely that college/university's business to say "If you're not going to attend, gtfo - we'd rather have somebody who does." as a deterrent to future students who plan on low/no attendance.

    Being bored to death in a classroom setting does not imply a good student. I fully support fair exams which weed out the people who are not learning, giving way to better students. If you already know your material / the class isn't challenging you, but you are still required to take the course in order to get your degree you have a duty of skipping and not wasting your valuable time.

    If you think you can skip and make the grade, and then it turns out you can't, it's your own fault for being irresponsible. Then you fail, and if you do that enough times, drop out, leaving room for that good student you're talking about.

    If you want to complain about having crappy students taking space, complain about grade inflation, and the propensity of graders to "curve." Why should everyone's grade go up because there were a lot of mediocre grades? Either you think your evaluation was unfair, in which case you need to give them a fair one, or your evaluation was fair and everyone sucked, in which case they need to get the grades they deserve.

    In my experience as a TA in grad school, there were an awful lot of people who showed up to all the classes, to all the review sessions, who showed up on office hours asking question, and still could not grasp the material. They're wasting as much space as the dude who's going to fail because he doesn't have the responsibility to do the work. The people who show up and do well are exactly as valuable as the people who don't show up and still do well.

  • by bcrowell (177657) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @07:28PM (#32092330) Homepage

    >>If they're wrong, they'll be punished at exam time.

    >Or, they turn around and blame the professor (and the school) for failing to teach them. And ask for their money back. If the school can demonstrate, that they have not attended the classes, they can defend themselves.

    IAACCP (I am a community college professor), teaching physics. Parent is sort of on the right track, although wrong about the specifics.

    Students at my school hate -- hate hate HATE!!! -- any course in which the grade in the course is based 100% on exams. Why do they hate it? Because it's unfair. Why is it unfair? Because their grades on exams are always unfair. Always. They deserved more partial credit. The exam problems weren't the same as the ones in the book. The exam had a problem on that one chapter that they didn't understand, and that wasn't fair, because they understood the other chapters. Also, the student's friend got a bad grade too, and that proves that the exam was unfair, because that shows that nobody could do it.

    As a professor, I do not have the option of doing something that is perceived as unfair, even if the perception is totally based on self-delusion and wishful thinking. It's not, as the parent suggests, that the students will sue. It's simply that they will choose not to enroll in my classes. Then all my sections will get canceled. Yeah, I have tenure, but my life is going to get pretty miserable if every class I teach is canceled every single semester.

    So what I have to do is cover my exams with a figleaf of other graded work. In my physics lecture/lab classes, 75% of their grade in lecture is based on exams. The other 25% doesn't really have any effect on their grades, but it's enough to convince them that their grade wasn't completely based on those horrible, unfair exams. I've always collected homework papers and written comments on them, but the psychological perception of fairness requires that these papers count for some tiny amount of credit (16% is what I'm doing these days). It's not satisfactory to the students just to get comments written on their paper so they have feedback; they feel that it must count for some pathetic number of points, or else the course is unfair. I've explored some of the other psychological parameters of what they perceive as fair. For example, I've tried (a) giving four equally weighted exams, and (b) giving two "practice" exams that didn't count much, plus a midterm and final that counted a lot. Option b was considered extremely unfair, so I had to switch back to a.

    So I have absolutely no option but to have something like 25% of their grade be based on something other than exams. As long as I'm doing that, what the heck does it matter whether or not I take attendance? My school requires me to take attendance, and drop students who don't attend. I don't have a problem with that. I just use homework to determine attendance, and anyone who's not turning in homework (or other written work) gets dropped. If they do the homework but get their friend to drop it off for them, I don't have a problem with that.

    What TFA seems to be describing is the kind of thing that happens in a particular sort of class at big state universities. This is the kind of class where there are 300, 400, or 500 students in a gigantic auditorium. State universities teach a bunch of their freshman classes this way because it saves them a ton of money. Students' perceptions of fairness and unfairness are determined by different criteria in this type of class. Everyone knows that lectures in this type of class are a complete waste of time. Everyone knows that this type of class represents an extremely poor quality of education. Given that the whole thing is a sham, it makes sense to do silly stuff like using RFID for attendance, because the whole thing is just a cynical exercise, so why not do the thing that minimizes costs? And students, of course, do not have the option of voting with their feet, because these 500-person classes exist by virtue of the fact that they're required courses, and freshmen have no other options.

  • by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @09:12PM (#32093080) Homepage Journal

    In Nanny states...

    I doubt you have much of a case for Arizona being ground zero for the "Nanny State".

  • by xaxa (988988) on Wednesday May 05, 2010 @07:42AM (#32096228)

    Students with helicopter parents want to get away from them, IME.

    I had moderate helicopter parents, and if my university had been offering any interaction with parents at all I'd probably have chosen a different one. As it is, they don't know anything unless I tell them. (They once rang my personal tutor about something. She refused to discuss anything with them, told me they'd called, and emailed other senior teaching staff reminding them to do the same.)

    I set a custom ringtone for my parents anyway. It was called "beep, then silent."

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