Electronic surveillance and higher education

These are only the stories that came across my radar during just the last 4 months.


Harvard secretly photographed students to study attendance (Boston Globe, 11/5/14)

Harvard University has revealed that it secretly photographed some 2,000 students in 10 lecture halls last spring as part of a study of classroom attendance, an admission that prompted criticism from faculty and students who said the research was an invasion of privacy.

The clandestine experiment, disclosed publicly for the first time at a faculty meeting Tuesday night, came to light about a year-and-a-half after revelations that administrators had secretly searched thousands of Harvard e-mail accounts. That led the university to implement new privacy policies on electronic communication this spring, but another round of controversy followed the latest disclosure…


U. online facial recognition system presents major privacy risk (The Daily Targum, Rutgers U. student newspaper, 2/12/15)

Are you planning on taking an online course at Rutgers next semester? Then you might need to download University-sanctioned software that will track your facial identity, photo ID and browser activity. According to an article published on New Brunswick Today by Daniel Munoz this past weekend, Rutgers University has implemented a recognition suite called ProctorTrack for online courses. ProctorTrack records face, knuckle and personal identification details during online courses. Munoz also notes that the system “keeps track of all activity in the monitor, browser, webcam and microphone” throughout each session…


Lynn University To Track Student Attendance by iPad Location (Campus Technology, 3/9/15)

Next spring, Lynn University in Boca Raton, FL, will pilot Core Principle’s Class120, technology that monitors class attendance by “pinging” the location of students’ iPads. (The insitution’s iPad initiative provides an iPad mini to all students on campus.) University administrators hope the implementation will help boost student performance by improving attendance rates, citing data that Lynn students who miss one quarter of their classes per semester have a 68 percent chance of earning a grade point average below 2.0…

Class120 uses geolocation technology and proprietary campus mapping to detect a student’s smartphone or tablet in class. If the device is not found at the scheduled class time, the system can send e-mail or text alerts to designated individuals. (The app does not provide actual location information at any time other than the scheduled class.) A dashboard view allows professors and administrators to track student attendance in real time.

I’m breaking from my self-imposed constraint of only writing about what I see as positive applications of technology-enhanced active learning because these stories have me very concerned. The stories, first and foremost, raise SERIOUS concerns around student privacy. Additionally, I feel like stories like this give all digital educational technologies a bad name.

Finally, I’ll add that these efforts are “solutions” to perceived problems of attendance and cheating. For me, those problems are mitigated by better, engaging pedagogy and authentic assessment. Also, trust.

So, getting back to my personal positivity promise, I’ll go back now to working to help students use digital and Web-based technologies in ways that empower them and that give them as much control over their work and their data as possible. Also, trust.

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