Sensors track who's in class

Northern Arizona University will use ID-reading sensors to monitor attendance in lecture classes. It’s all in Community College Spotlight.

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  1. And there is research underway to see if you can use sensors to gauge student interest, and to see whether student learning has some physiological “signature”. . .

  2. Michael E. Lopez says:

    The interest research sounds… well, *interesting*. But the attendance technology?

    Tracking attendance at the collegiate level — even in a community college — seems like an exercise in ego. Is your class really so important that a student’s grade should depend on their presence?

    I suppose maybe if you think the class is supposed to impart skill rather than (or in addition to) knowledge, AND in addition, your evaluation methods only measure knowledge retention, so that you have non-evaluated skills that the students are supposed to pick up. Then you might require attendance as some sort of proxy measure for picking up the relevant skill set. (Something like oral philosophical skills comes to mind as an example of what might count as a “non-evaluated skill”.)

    But the proper response there would be to change your evaluation techniques, not to start taking attendance like it was high school. On the other hand, it may be impossible to measure the skill sets for 200 students every term — in which case maybe taking attendance could be justified.

    But generally speaking, if your course is structured in such a way that it’s possible to pass it, even do well, without showing up — then either there’s a problem with your course design or (more likely) it’s just personally annoying to the professor to have students call him or her on it by not showing up.

    The latter doesn’t strike me as a good enough reason for treating adults like cattle. It’s bad enough when we do it to teenagers. AND IF MAKING ATTENDANCE MANDATORY WAS ENOUGH TO INSTILL GOOD HABITS, THEN THE HABIT WOULD HAVE BEEN PICKED UP IN HIGH SCHOOL. Trying to make better students out of dross by dressing them up as good students and having them show up to class is a classic correlation/causation error.

    (ADDENDUM: It occurred to me that this could be a useful technology for collecting data about attendance:performance correlations, and that such data may very well be useful for determining if a course or a professor is really providing anything of value. To that extent I would heartily endorse it. But student identities need not be known in such a case — and that certainly doesn’t seem to be the intent of the project.)

    PS — Loved the book, Mr. Willingham. I’ve been lending it out to my colleagues and encouraging people to read it. (I know, I know… I should be encouraging them to BUY a copy. Not going to happen.)

  3. Is the next thing going to be putting shock collars on them to give them “negative reinforcement” if they skip too much, or surf the web during class time.

    90%-95% of the chronic “skippers” in my classes wind up failing miserably, so I tend to feel like the attendance problem sort of takes care of itself. And if someone’s going to “check out” of class and maybe carry on a conversation or read the newspaper or something, I’d just rather they didn’t attend, then have them show up and telegraph to the other students that it’s OK to be disengaged.

  4. Michael – one of the “service” classes I teach was made (against my will – it was a majority vote of all teaching it) mandatory attendance.

    I find attendance is NO BETTER now than it was before, and I have the added headaches of:
    – taking attendance every class
    – dealing with students who want an “excused” absence for things (e.g., it shouldn’t count against their “four missed days of classes”)
    – dealing with complaints at the end of the semester (“You marked me as being absent five times and I SWEAR I only missed three!”)

    I think a lot of these measures put a lot more burden on the faculty, continue to infantilize the students, and really don’t improve the real problem (retention or students graduating unprepared for their careers)

  5. This is classic example of someone making a correlation vs causation problem. They found that students who attend class do better, so administrators assumed that attendence causes good grades, not that both are the result of other non-measured factors, such as self-discipline and academic interest.

    Of course students that take the time to attend every class do better, they probably also are more likely to take the time to do assigned readings and study.

    Its equivalent to the studies that show that people with a college degree earn more, so politicians proclaim that if only every student can go to college, everyone will do better. It won’t. All that will happen is that a college degree becomes watered down in worth, and a graduate degree starts to be the new benchmark employers use to weed out a certain percentage of the population.

  6. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (and undoubtedly again): the education world has seemed unable to distinguish between correlation and causation for at least three decades. Think eighth-grade algebra, foreign languages, number of books in the home, Latin, debate/art/music…