Some universities are happily going along with new tracking technology. Let’s turn their cell phones into electronic snitches!
Short-range phone sensors and campuswide WiFi networks are empowering colleges across the United States to track hundreds of thousands of students more precisely than ever before. Dozens of schools now use such technology to monitor students’ academic performance, analyze their conduct or assess their mental health.
But some professors and education advocates argue that the systems represent a new low in intrusive technology, breaching students’ privacy on a massive scale. The tracking systems, they worry, will infantilize students in the very place where they’re expected to grow into adults, further training them to see surveillance as a normal part of living, whether they like it or not.
I agree with that last paragraph. I do not take attendance in any of my classes — the first couple of days I try to get to know them, but I literally tell them in the syllabus that I do not care if they don’t show up for class, except that I do contribute information that will help them pass the exams, so it’s probably a good idea to show up. We also have occasional quizzes and exercises that contribute to their grades. But otherwise, it is their responsibility to show up for the classes they are paying for.
Wouldn’t you know it, though, part of the drive for installing these surveillance systems is college athletics.
SpotterEDU chief Rick Carter, a former college basketball coach, said he founded the app in 2015 as a way to watch over student athletes: Many schools already pay “class checkers” to make sure athletes remain eligible to play.
Here at UMM, we have an appropriate level of monitoring of athletes: around mid-semester, they come around with a form to report their preliminary grades. That’s fair. More is silly. We also have systems set up where we can inform the administration if a student’s grades are slipping, information which is also passed on to the student’s advisor. I don’t need to know where a student is if they skip out on my class — that is none of my business, or the university’s.
Also, I already know when and why my attendance drops: first day of hunting season, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, or the Friday before a fall or spring break. If someone wants to miss my scintillating lecture to spend time with family or friends, I don’t begrudge them that at all.
It will still be on the exam.