By: Jordan Lancaster – washingtonexaminer.com – December 26, 2019
Administrators tracking someone’s personal cellphone to monitor their location sounds like something the Communist Party might do in China. But it’s happening right here.
Multiple colleges across the country have started tracking the exact location of their students at all times, according to the Washington Post. In a move that school administrators claim will boost class attendance and student performance, colleges have installed Bluetooth sensors that connect to students’ phones to monitor their movements with extreme precision. Universities are now able to abandon traditional attendance-taking measures in favor of this invasive new technology, SpotterEDU.
SpotterEDU was developed by Rick Carter, a former basketball coach who received a protective order from DePaul University for allegedly threatening the school’s athletic director and head basketball coach. Carter originally developed the technology in 2015 to monitor student-athletes, but now colleges such as Syracuse University and Virginia Commonwealth University have taken things a step further and are monitoring the student population to track attendance.
The idea of tracking students’ locations is already concerning. Invasions of privacy for the purpose of micromanaging adults is a problem even if only used to track attendance. But the app’s extreme precision allows administrators to go further in following their students’ every move.
The app doesn’t just mark “present” or “absent,” like many professors do already. It also tracks when students leave the classroom, arrive late, or leave early. This means schools can monitor bathroom breaks and the exact timing of each student’s arrival.
Professors have been tracking attendance for decades, which is certainly useful for educators to encourage class attendance or intervene when students miss several classes. Methods such as sign-in sheets, roll call, or even a short quiz at the beginning of a lecture have always been effective ways to both monitor and encourage attendance. Suffice it to say, a digital dystopia is not needed to tell whether students are showing up to class.
Professors are also perfectly capable of seeing when students arrive to class or get up to leave. If a student’s behavior is a problem, the professor can address the issue by speaking to them or docking points from the student’s grade.
Now, the app has outsourced attendance-monitoring to administrators who cannot have knowledge of every classroom dynamic. Obvious privacy issues aside, schools have diminished the ability of professors to decide what’s best for their students in favor of invasive bureaucratic oversight. And it’s not just this one service doing so, either.
Another tracking technology, Degree Analytics, is currently used by 19 colleges to measure “student data” — a nice way of saying that every move a student makes is tracked.
Data scientist Aaron Benz created the technology in 2017, which uses algorithms to analyze student behavior and report “discrepancies.” Benz said that the algorithm measures a student’s “behavioral state,” so someone who fails to leave their dorm may be flagged for depression or someone who avoids the cafeteria flagged for an eating disorder.
This is just creepy.
Schools have absolutely no business investigating someone’s mental health by tracking them. A student who is feeling depressed may decide to take a few days to themselves in their rooms, or someone who experiences anxiety could feel more comfortable there. Being called into an office full of administrators, who may be complete strangers, and forced to explain their mental health is humiliating and invasive.
There are plenty of ways for colleges to care about the mental health of their students, and it’s certainly something that should be taken seriously. Expanding counseling resources, educating professors about mental health, and taking students seriously when they reach out for help are basic steps schools can take to help their students. But invading their privacy and forcing students struggling with their mental health to justify their behavior will only make things worse, not better.
The purpose of higher education is to prepare students to excel in their lives and careers. But the invasive oversight of our current system is crippling an entire generation of college-aged adults. Soon, students may just be better off not attending altogether.
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