The Measure of Success

Northern Arizona University to implement RFID system to track student attendance

Freshmen and sophomores at Northern Arizona University will soon have extra incentive to go to their classes. Starting with the Flagstaff campus this fall, as a tactic to encourage class attendance, the school will install an RFID system that scans student ID cards in 100- and 200-level classrooms that hold 50 or more students. The system will produce an attendance report for the professor.

The student ID cards are already embedded with passive tags and used to access residence halls and an athletics building and to purchase food.

More than 21,000 students are enrolled at NAU, with more than 13,000 at the main Flagstaff campus.

On average, seven out of 10 freshmen return the next year, which is slightly above the national average, but NAU President John Haeger would like to boost that number to eight or nine.

Research suggests that class attendance is directly related to good grades and staying in school. A 2001 study by the University of Maryland -- Baltimore County found that students who were required to sign in to class attended more often and scored higher on quizzes. Other studies show that faculty can increase attendance by basing part of the final grade on attendance and class participation. The fact is, students who complete their first year of college are less likely to drop out later. The goal of this initiative is to reduce the number of students who miss class, fall behind and drop out of school.

Many universities use classroom response systems, or “clickers,” to take attendance, but NAU will be the first school to implement an RFID system using proximity card readers for attendance-tracking purposes.

School Supplies
NAU will install HID ProxPro II proximity readers and RP40 multi-technology card readers.

The ProxPro II readers are compatible with all HID 125 kHz proximity cards, tags and keyfobs. The two-piece reader design allows for easy installation and is available with a Wiegand or clock-and-data interface.

It features a multicolor LED and internal or host control of the LED and beeper. With the RP40 reader, the university can upgrade its current card system from HID Prox to iCLASS credentials over time while incorporating the use of multiple card technologies within a single building or across multiple facilities.

The school does not currently use iCLASS technology, but if administrators decide to explore it in the future, the majority of the readers will be able to accommodate it.

The school also will use Lenel’s LNL-2220 intelligent dual-reader controllers, which combine advanced, network-enabled intelligent system controllers with full-featured, two-door reader interface modules. By eliminating the separate controller layer entirely, the LNL-2220 makes access control simpler, more powerful and more reliable.

The project was paid for with $85,000 in federal stimulus grants.

Voicing Opinions

Opponents are calling the measure “Big Brother” and claim the system violates students’ right to decide for themselves whether to attend classes, as students use different methods of learning.

A Facebook group called “NAU Against Proximity Cards” has more than 1,500 members.

Rachel Brackett, 19, an NAU sophomore who started the Facebook group, told The Arizona Republic, “My biggest problem is we are here at college to learn to become adults. I don’t think we’re all there maturity-wise, but choosing to go to class is a stepping stone in maturity.” Plus, students will just find a way around any attendance system, she said.

University administrators say professors already manually collect attendance and incorporate it into students’ grades. The RFID system is simply a timesaving measure for those who teach large classes.

“It is simply a system that helps take attendance for the instructor,” said Tom Bauer, director of the office of public affairs. “Students can still choose to attend or not attend as they see fit. It doesn’t monitor anyone’s activity other than walking into a classroom. As with university courses over the decades, there might be consequences to skipping class. We realize that some students may want to beat the system. That is why attendance would not be the only criteria for a grade. There are many ways to measure student success.”

About the Author

Sherleen Mahoney is a Web managing editor at 1105 Media.

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