New students at the University of Missouri will be required to participate in a tracking program designed to measure and enforce class attendance, according to a new report from The Kansas City Star.
Despite privacy concerns, officials defended the decision as one to the benefit of students, as the school's athletics department has already been using the same app, SpotterEdu, to track certain student-athletes.
“A student will have to participate in this recording of attendance,” Jim Spain, vice provost for undergraduate studies at MU, said in a statement to The Kansas City Star.
Individual professors have to opt-in to using the app, but once they do, students in those professors' classes will not be able to opt-out.
SpotterEDU, developed by a former basketball coach, is designed to monitor a user’s attendance by "pinpoint[ing] students within a classroom until they leave, providing continuous, reliable and non-invasive attendance," according to the app's website. While the app ensures that students are in the classroom during class times, it claims it does not track students' locations anywhere else.
"We only care if students are in class during class; no GPS tracking means we can't locate them anywhere else," the app's website states.
However, the app is not incapable of tracking students' locations outside the classroom.
"From labs to auditoriums our technology can expand to cover any size of space accurately and precisely," the app's website adds.
In a statement to The Washington Post, SpotterEDU chief Rick Carter said that his company works with nearly 40 schools, including major schools such as Auburn, Central Florida, Indiana, and Missouri. Most schools only use SpotterEDU to track their student-athletes; however, many colleges are starting to use the app with their student bodies, like Missouri.
According to the Post, colleges use the data to ensure that student-athletes who are receiving scholarships are attending classes regularly. The program emails professors automatically if a student is not in a class, or shows up more than a few minutes late. Carter told the Post that professors can look specifically at attendance patterns for "students of color" or "out of state students" for retention purposes.
Some in academia, though, have reservations about colleges using this technology.
Indiana University assistant professor Kyle M. L. Jones told the Washington Post, “These administrators have made a justification for surveilling a student population because it serves their interests, in terms of the scholarships that come out of their budget, the reputation of their programs, the statistics for the school."
“What’s to say that the institution doesn’t change their eye of surveillance and start focusing on minority populations, or anyone else. [Students] should have all the rights, responsibilities and privileges that an adult has. So why do we treat them so differently?”Jones said.
Robby Pfeifer, a Virginia Commonwealth University student, echoed Jones' sentiment.
"We’re adults," he told the Washington Post.
"Do we really need to be tracked? Why is this necessary? How does this benefit us? And is it just going to keep progressing until we’re micromanaged every second of the day?”
“It embodies a very cynical view of education, that it’s something we need to enforce on students, almost against their will,” Erin Rose Glass, digital scholarship librarian at the University of California-San Diego, said, according to the Post.
“We’re reinforcing this sense of powerlessness...when we could be asking harder questions, like: Why are we creating institutions where students don’t want to show up?”
Sara Baker of the ACLU of Missouri told the Kansas City Star the group has "deep privacy concerns about this."
“Any time you use surveillance technology, the question always is who is watching the watcher," Baker said, adding that such technology could be used for abusive purposes “like monitoring which students are participating in protests."