Friday, March 11, 2016

Do Not Implement Device Location for Student Services

In "Local universities tap device location for student services" (Stephen Withers, IT Wire, 9 March 2016), several senior Australian university staff are reported to be enthusiastic about technology for tracking students on campus, via their mobile devices. This is a very bad idea. Perhaps the staff should try it themselves, before subjecting students to such an unnecessary privacy intrusion.

On a visit to a research lab in Cambridge (UK) I remember being issued with an active badge the lab had developed. In theory, this tracked everyone in the building. But this was so intrusive everyone took them off as soon as they got to work.

The applications discussed in Stephen Withers' article do not need intrusive tracking of individuals. As an example, you do not need to track students to know when there is a vacant study space in the library. Nor do you need to track the students, in order for them to be able to ask a librarian a question.

Students can use e-leaning tools, or their own social media, to contact their study group members. They do not need the university reporting their location to other students. The risks of having student's locations being broadcast to potential attackers, on a campus operating 24 hours a day, should be obvious.

The idea of personalized information on digital signs is, apart from being Orwellian, a waste of money. If you want to send the student personalized way-finding information, then send it to their phone. There is no need to breech privacy by displaying personal information on large public screens.

There is no need to track every student in order to measure room occupancy.

A surveillance system tracking every student on campus
would do not improve safety. Simple layout design changes do.

Rather than language specific custom video signs, universities should implement standard international way-finding symbols on low cost, low energy fixed signs, so everyone can find their way.

A tacking system would be pointless for detecting if a student has every used the library, as libraries moved on-line years ago.

Student engagement can be easily measured in well designed courses. In such courses there are regular activities for the students, for which the students are provided with feedback. It is then very easy to see which students are not engaged. As an example, see my "Evolving an International Online Course

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