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Arizona College Aims to Catch Students Skipping Class

It’s late in the semester, and you’ve got final projects and exams staring you in the face. Now seems like as good a time as any to skip class, either to get a jump on the above-mentioned workload, sleep in, or enjoy the warmer weather. Your professor won’t miss you in that big lecture hall, right?

Come fall, students at Northern Arizona University may be missed more than usual in those big college classes thanks to the installation of a new electronic system that will measure students’ attendance. According to a recent article in The Arizona Republic, the new system will effectively mark students present by scanning their ID cards as they walk in. That system, paid for by $75,000 in federal stimulus money, then produces an attendance report for the instructor of that course.

The system will affect the most popular — and populated — courses, typically taken in students’ freshman and sophomore years. This doesn’t mean the school will be introducing mandatory attendance policies; but instructors may be more likely now to consider attendance as a factor when awarding grades. (Most instructors in smaller classrooms already count attendance/participation as part of students’ final grades.) Students are unsurprisingly upset by the plan, calling it an invasion of privacy. According to The Arizona Republic, a new Facebook group in opposition to the measure has already collected more than 1,300 members. Some students suggest that if they really want to skip class, they’ll find ways around the new system, like handing their IDs to a study buddy so that their name is counted on that day’s roster.

In response to complaints that the process was a little too “Big Brother,” administrators say they’re doing this for the students’ own good and to lower the number of students who miss class. Those who frequently miss class will probably not do as well in school, thus increasing their likelihood that they’ll drop out of college altogether. Administrators point to a number of research studies that link academic achievement with attendance to help their cause. A study in 2001 from the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, for example, found that students scored higher on quizzes if they were responsible for signing in to class each session.

What do you think? Would you try to avoid classes that scanned ID cards? Is it an invasion of privacy, or just a way to make students more accountable?

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