US university introduces electronic monitoring of student attendance

London Guardian
Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

Would students benefit from a bit more encouragement to get up in the morning for lectures? Academics in the US are debating a decision by Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff to introduce a monitoring system to check when students attend, or miss, class. Sensors will detect students' identification cards when they enter the lecture theatres. If they don't turn up often enough, they could find it reflected in their grades.

"People are saying we are using surveillance or Orwellian [tactics] and, boy, I'm like 'wow', I didn't know taking attendance qualified as surveillance," NAU's spokesman, Tom Bauer, told the Badger Herald website. Here are some contributions on the subject from Dave Farber's Interesting People email list thread:

• In my classes at Wharton, participation in class discussion was an integral part of learning, for which outside reading is not a substitute. If a student didn't attend, an important part of learning, the interaction with the professor and other students, was foregone. As a consequence, I had a rule that if a student missed too many classes, they flunked. I therefore took attendance. Usually, this uses up a lot of class time, but I was fortunate to have assistants who took it for me. There are ways to use technology to automate attendance-taking, but none of them are perfect. Counting noses is the only way that really works.

Now, I actually didn't care if a student attended class. The undergrads were there on their parents' nickel, and many were at university only for the sex, drugs and rock and roll. If a student wanted to waste an opportunity to learn that would never in their lifetimes be repeated, that was their business. But don't expect to graduate. If a student chose to cut my class repeatedly, he or she would flunk the course. Everyone knew the rules; if they didn't want to live within those rules they didn't have to take my courses.

Full article here

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