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.
Bauer said the university’s main goal with the sensor system is to increase attendance and student performance.
“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,” Bauer said.
University President John Haeger is encouraging professors to have attendance be a part of students’ grades, but he added it is not mandatory and up to each professor to decide, Bauer said.
Haeger 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.
NAU sophomore Rachel Brackett created one of the most popular Facebook groups, “NAU Against Proximity Cards,” which has more than 1,400 members.
Brackett said she chooses to go to class, and it is a right she hopes to preserve. She said not being forced to go to class is a part of the college experience.
“I feel as though having students make it their own decision to go to class is part of the process of becoming mature adults,” Brackett said.
Adam Kissel, director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said this is the first time he has heard of such a system.
Kissel added if the school is strictly using the system for taking attendance in classrooms there would probably be no harm.
Kissel said with enough sensors, the system could be used to track students’ presence on campus 24 hours a day, which would be a problem for students’ rights.
“One thing that we find here at FIRE is that if the rule is there or the technology is there, the university will probably use it,” Kissel said.
Brackett said she feels the sensor system is an invasion of privacy. She said in theory, with the recorded data, many people in the university would be able to track students’ locations.
“It’s just one more step in the wrong direction…. I am finding out the more I study this particular issue,” Brackett said.
While some say the system is Orwellian, it is similar to an existing University of Wisconsin practice. Some UW classes use electronic clickers to take attendance and have students answer questions during class.
UW professor Dana Geary, who uses the clickers for one of her classes, said the clickers do not seem to affect the number of students who attend class.
Geary added the attendance grades were useful in helping her make decisions in grading for students whose grades were right at a boundary level.