Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Should Professors Use GPS To Track Student Attendance?

Inside Higher Ed, GPS to Track Student Attendance:

AttendanceTom Bensky was frustrated.

The physics professor at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, had tried every way he could think of to take attendance efficiently in his large classes. He used a good old-fashioned sign-in sheet. He attempted a bar code system, where he would scan students on their way out of the classroom. Both were too time-consuming and students would forget to mark themselves present.

Then, Bensky realized he had missed something. He could rely on a tool that most college students had practically welded to their hands: a smartphone. The result of this revelation was a new mobile application and website Bensky created that tracks students’ attendance using their cellphones’ GPS.

His product, which he created last year, is relatively lightly used, with just a couple hundred other professors and officials signing up, but Bensky said he’s gotten positive feedback. He’s also heard the concerns about privacy one might expect about a system that follows a student’s location. Students in his classes must use the app.

“That’s probably my biggest email dialogue with people,” Bensky said of his skeptics. “But I can’t convince them that I’m not going to do anything with the data I’m getting. It’s just the app, server and a database, but it is hard to convince people.”

The service works like this — a professor (or a coach) signs up on the website The application is free to download, but after a certain number of student uses, the faculty member has to pay $20 for a year.

The user plots on a map where students are allowed to check in for attendance. For professors, this is most likely the part of the building where they hold classes, Bensky said. But Bensky has seen others such as coaches mark the center of a swimming pool or field. The space is usually narrow enough that someone couldn't just be in the building and sign in without being present in class.

Once students enter this radius, a “geofence,” they push a button on the app noting that they’ve arrived for class. The app, reading students’ cellphone GPS, won’t permit them to check in if they’re still slumbering in their dormitory or chowing down in the dining hall.

Students only have a certain amount of time to do this. Bensky said he’s set his system so students can check in five minutes before class begins and then up to 20 minutes after it starts. But users can adjust this window to their liking, he said.  ...

Cal Poly spokesman Matt Lazier said he was unaware of the app until a reporter contacted him. Later, he said the university has no connection to the app and he could not provide comment.

| Permalink