RFID for Student Tracking

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Nov 15, 2010 @ 12:34 PM

Tags: RFID, Access Control, Attendance Management, Student Tracking

Let Us Know What Grade You Think it Deserves

Lecture HallThe benefits of RFID-enabled student tracking solutions are clear.  In many cases, they can help schools do more efficiently and effectively what they’re already doing manually – like providing secure access to a building and recording attendance.  But at what grade level does student tracking become a privacy issue?  Is it OK to use new technologies to track minors in a public high school to deal with problems of truancy or absenteeism?  How about in a public secondary school where attendance is mandatory?  What about college classes attended by paying adults?

In a post earlier this year, we asked the question: School's out, do you know where your child is?  The post explored placing RFID readers on school buses, tagging students’ backpacks and integrating the data into an attendance and transportation monitoring system.  The goals?  To keep track of young school children in an effort to reduce the chance they get on the wrong bus, get off at the wrong stop or are left on the bus after a route is complete.  Seems like a good idea for kindergarten and elementary school level kids and most parents seem to be in favor of the idea.

The reaction is not quite the same at Northern Arizona University where students are protesting plans to monitor their attendance using RFID chips embedded in their student IDs.  The intent is to install RFID readers in class rooms that hold 50 or more students where it can be difficult to take attendance.  School officials are making the argument that the more classes a student attends, the better their academic performance.  The plan is to provide attendance data to instructors, allowing them to incorporate it into their grading system.  Note: NAU student IDs have included RFID tags for the past four years to provide access to residence halls and athletic buildings and administrators see this as an extended benefit of the technology.

In an age where the cost of higher education increases yearly and competition to attract students is stiff, one could see why universities would want to graduate more students with good grades – and leverage new technologies to help them do so.  Parents footing the bill for school may also find their kid’s attendance data interesting.  Opponents, however, question the use of identification and tracking technologies in a place where young adults are expected to learn use their best judgment and make sound decisions on their own.

Share your thoughts with us.  What grade would you give a university that uses RFID to track student attendance?  How about an elementary school installing RFID on busses in an effort to provide safe transportation for their young students?

RFID Takes a Ride on School Buses

Posted by Ken Lynch on Fri, Sep 03, 2010 @ 01:59 PM

Tags: RFID, Student Tracking, RFID + GPS

School's Out, Do You Know Where Your Child Is?

4-year-old left on school bus”.  Headlines like this one from the September 3, 2010 issue of the Joliet, IL Herald-News seem to be repeated several times every year.  Imagine the panic experienced by a four year old who thought they were going home, but find themselves in the bus parking lot hours later.  Imagine the feeling a parent has when their child does not get off the bus at their designated stop.  Not to mention the resulting calls for the resignation of otherwise responsible school bus drivers and lawsuits filed against schools.

School BusTo help avoid frightening and potentially costly mistakes like these, several school systems have deployed or are considering RFID-enabled solutions to help monitor children when they are traveling to and from school on buses.  Through the combination of RFID tags placed on students' backpacks and equipping school buses with RFID readers, schools can monitor student movement and automate in-transit attendance.  By combining the data form RFID readers with data from GPS tracking devices that are already installed on most buses, school administrators can look up the ID number of a specific student, find out what bus they boarded, the location of that bus and whether they exited the bus or not.  Some systems even send text alerts to parents, letting them know when their child gets on and off a bus and provide an online view of the buses while en route.

Privacy Concerns

The adoption of RFID by the education markets comes with privacy concerns.  Some parents object to electronically tracking their children’s whereabouts, suggesting that it might compromise their privacy.  Despite the fact that passive RFID tags carry little information about the person carrying them and are unable to transmit signals over long distances, these concerns are well founded and must be addressed by solution providers and schools alike.

With the right privacy safeguards in place, during emergency situations or as part of a standard transportation attendance process, RFID-enabled solutions can help schools do more efficiently and effectively what they’re already doing manually.  And, in the case of tracking children on school buses, puts parents' nerves at ease.

For examples of schools implementing RFID solutions to track students on buses, check out the following articles:

Technology Tracks Schoolbus Kids

Indian Schools All Set to Implement RFID and GPS Based Tracking System

Would you be open to your child’s school implementing an RFID-enabled system to monitor and report your child’s whereabouts?   While mistakes happen, I can’t think of one parent, teacher or school administrator who would want to be caught up in the headlines.

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