On Campus

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University installs scanners to track attendance

With back to school parties and the generally lax approach taken in the classroom, convincing students to attend class during the first week of university is always a bit tricky. For students at Northern Arizona University, however, they may have little choice. The school has installed digital scanners at classroom doors to track attendance.

Funded with $85,000 worth of federal stimulus money, the pilot project will see scanners posted outside 20 classrooms. So far the program, which requires students to swipe their id card at the door, is being limited to larger first and second-year classes, with at least 50 students. “NAU believes it will save instructors valuable time from calling roll,” Thomas Bauer, director of public affairs, told Maclean’s. Although the university has no generalized attendance policy, instructors will be encouraged “to make attendance and engagement part of their syllabus.”

The hope is that making it easier to track students will encourage them to become engaged and help to improve retention and graduation rates. Approximately 30 per cent of NAU students leave after finishing their freshman year. “Students can’t be engaged if they are not there,” Bauer said.

The program has generated no shortage of opposition from some students who say the scanners are condescending. “Having students make it their own decision to go to class is part of the process of becoming mature adults,” Rachel Brackett, a third-year chemistry student, said. To oppose the plan, Brackett has started a petition that already has more than 2,000 signatures.

While professors have always had the option to take attendance, Brackett fears that the scanners will be misused. “A teacher can take attendance, and only that teacher will know,” she said. “With this new system, attendance will be in a data base that, in theory, many people in the university can access and track a student’s whereabouts.”

Bauer says such fears are based on a misunderstanding. “The program is a tool for professors to use if they choose. Additionally, any type of student information is protected by federal law and can only be used within those limits,” he said.

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