University of Missouri tests student-tracking tech to boost attendance

The school hopes this will offer early detection for students who may be struggling

Playing hooky is becoming a thing of the past.

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The University of Missouri is expanding the use of its student-tracking technology that marks attendance through a mobile phone connection. The program is run through the app "SpotterEDU," which allows attendance records to be non-invasively collected by faculty.

Spotter connects with students’ phones through Bluetooth and emits sensors that communicate with beacons planted in the classroom, so professors know when students arrive and leave class, or if they've attended at all. There’s no GPS tracking necessary, so students cannot be tracked once they leave their lectures. Beacons also have the ability to be turned on and off.

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University spokesperson Christian Basi told FOX Business on Tuesday that this is an “opt-in situation only” and students will not be required to participate. The program is currently being tested on about 20 classes and less than two percent of students will opt-in.

After the initial testing semester, student leadership will weigh heavily on the university's decision to implement the program fully. Upon implementation, students will still be given the option to participate. Regardless, Basi said, Missouri will "always find a way to accomplish what we want through alternative methods" like old fashioned paper-and-pencil attendance.

The program has been used at the university for the past four years with new and academically troubled student-athletes. Since its implementation, the system has produced positive results, according to Basi. Now, professors at Missouri are responsible for analyzing whether the program improves attendance. So far, Basi said, there haven't been any complaints.

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Missouri not only hopes that the program will boost attendance, but also that it will offer early detection for students who may be struggling.

“One of the first signs a student is struggling is when they start to skip class," Basi said. "This could potentially be an early warning that a student is struggling. So [the program] provides an early intervention warning system."

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Still, the idea of tracking students has raised concerns about privacy, though the university maintains the technology will be used only to take attendance.

“The app simply records the presence of students in the classroom, that’s all it’s recording," he said. "No other information is being sent or provided to Mizzou … it's simply an opportunity to have an efficient way of taking attendance in classrooms that already required it.”

The Missouri Students Association said the school and its administration have done a "great" job including the organization and students thus far through the pilot phase, and once the program progresses, the student body president will visit classrooms.

“As student leadership, our initiative is to monitor and watch how the program is being used, what data is used to make sure that it’s a non-invasive approach,” Matt McCabe, the communications director for the Missouri Students Association, told FOX Business.

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The University of Missouri was founded in 1839 and is currently home to more than 30,000 students and 2,000 full-time faculty members. During the 2017 school year, the university spent $138 million on financial aid and $58 million on student employment.

This story has been updated with comment from the Missouri Students Association