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    Increasing Use of Technology to Track Students

    We’ve discussed before the use of technology to track students. A few weeks ago, there was a report on a pilot program for the RFID-enabled  “BostONEcard,” which will be used to take attendance for Boston public school students and “to make it easier for some public school students to use city services by providing them with one card they can use to ride the MBTA, withdraw books from city libraries, play sports, attend after-school programs at community centers, and access meal programs at their schools.” In October, two school districts in Texas (the Spring and Santa Fe school districts) were revealed to be using RFID badges to track kids. Earlier this year, Northern Arizona University announced plans to use wireless ID card reader technology to track student attendance in classes. In September, the San Francisco Chronicle had an editorial about the use of an RFID system to track children’s attendance in a head start program.

    Now, the New York Times reports on student-surveillance technology at Northwestern University in Illinois. As I said about the Arizona university, program, I don’t think it’s a good idea to force student attendance at a college via electronic tracking. Part of the point of going to college is for young adults — and most university students are over 18 and legally adults — to learn they must be disciplined in their decision-making. If you don’t sleep in or show up on time to class or work, then you get punished with failing the test or firing — you are forced to live with the consequences of your actions. The Times reports:

    Every student in [Prof. Bill White’s “Organizational Behavior” course at Northwestern University] has been assigned a palm-size, wireless device that looks like a TV remote but has a far less entertaining purpose. With their clickers in hand, the students in Mr. White’s class automatically clock in as “present” as they walk into class.

    They then use the numbered buttons on the devices to answer multiple-choice quizzes that count for nearly 20 percent of their grade, and that always begin precisely one minute into class. Later, with a click, they can signal to their teacher without raising a hand that they are confused by the day’s lesson. […]

    Inevitably, some students have been tempted to see clickers as “cat and mouse” game pieces. Noshir Contractor, who teaches a class on social networking to Northwestern undergraduates, said he began using clickers in spring 2008 — and, not long after, watched a student array perhaps five of the devices in front of him. […]

    The remotes used at Northwestern were made by Turning Technologies, a company in Youngstown, Ohio, and are compatible with PowerPoint. Depending on the model, the hand-helds can sell for $30 to $70 each. Some colleges require students to buy them; others lend them to students.

    Tina Rooks, the chief instructional officer for Turning Technologies, said the company expected to ship over one million clickers this year, with roughly half destined for about 2,500 university campuses, including community colleges and for-profit institutions. The company said its higher-education sales had grown 60 percent since 2008, and 95 percent since 2006.

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