The Gryphon asks: Is the Bluetooth check in system fair to students?

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Yes – Sophie Wheeler

Just over two weeks ago the new Bluetooth system went live, causing a massive shake up on campus. Leeds is following the general trend towards taking attendance more seriously, with policies such as mandatory attendance to pass classes being introduced in other areas of the U.K. The new Bluetooth system is an innovative way of monitoring attendance which is quick and easy to use tool which helps the University monitor attendance effectively and in turn forces students to start taking their attendance seriously.

There have been suggestions that the system which allows the University to monitor your location may be used to spy on students. As if the University of Leeds were becoming some form of technologically advanced Stasi. However this idea is absurd. For starters the University already holds a lot of personal data on where you live, your contact details and perhaps even your financial circumstances. However this data is stored safely away from prying eyes in accordance with the 1998 Data protection act.

Instead the University can use the data, as it does with other stored information to maximise student welfare. Chronic lack of attendance may suggest that a student is falling behind or may be dealing with more serious issues such as mental illness. The University could use this data to check that students are attending, but also to check whether they may need to extend a helping hand out to the student.

It has also been suggested that the Bluetooth system is discriminatory against students who don’t own smartphones as the system requires users to download an app only available on smartphones. However it must be acknowledged according to an EDUCAUSE report that 86% of undergraduates owned a smartphone in 2014. This percentage is likely to increase year on year, demonstrating how for the vast majority of students the app will be accessible. Even for those who do not own a smartphone there are over 40 computer clusters available all over campus where they can go to record their attendance. Sure, it may not be as convenient as the app however the point is that the onus is placed firmly on the students to register their attendance.

Finally it goes without saying that attendance is important. Many studies suggest a positive correlation between attendance and grades received. The new system is designed to motivate students to attend their lectures and whether you agree with it or not it does appear to be working. Audge Zidi, an engineering student, said “knowing my attendance is being monitored encourages me to go to lectures that I might have not gone to had the system not been in place.” At the end of the day university is expensive, we are paying £9,000 a year just for the privilege. So it’s important to get the most value out of it as possible and that means attending your lectures, engaging with the material and talking to your lecturer. In the words of Busted, that’s what I go to school for!

No – Bronte Farenden

So, this year, we have really stepped our technological advancements up a gear here at the University of Leeds – that’s right, we now have a brand-spanking new Bluetooth attendance monitoring system. Sounds fancy doesn’t it? Well, let me tell you, that is, in fact all it is. Fancy. It is certainly not fair.

At first glance, the new system may appear to signal a leap into the modern age of technology-based surveillance; using the UniLeeds app, students can now check-in to lectures and seminars without experiencing the ‘hassle’ of waiting to sign their name on a physical register. Due to its ‘convenience’, this new method of registration is claimed to be far more efficient in terms of attendance monitoring for both students and staff (see last week’s Gryphon). However, it has created several problems that, for students, has undoubtedly made the signing in process far more complicated than it needs to be.

Perhaps the greatest and most fundamental issue presented by the new system is exclusion: if a student does not own a mobile phone, they are unable to participate in Bluetooth attendance monitoring, placing them at a disadvantage in comparison to other classmates. Furthermore, not only is it necessary for students to own a phone, but they must also own a specific type of phone that supports both the UniLeeds app and Bluetooth activity. For those without an Android or iPhone, the process of checking-in must be completed by signing in to a university computer, meaning that after their session has finished, students then have to locate an available computer (sometimes a challenge in itself) to register their attendance at. Subsequently, not only does this waste the student’s ‘free time’ but it also means that those who are unable to participate in the new system must always schedule checking-in into their daily routines.
For students who do possess the ‘appropriate tools’ for check-in, everything seems hunky dory, right? However, this week has proved that even then, students may still experience problems. Due to their temperamental nature, the Bluetooth beacons placed throughout the university do not always work meaning, subsequently, students have to register elsewhere in order to successfully check-in.

Ultimately, whether you own the ‘correct’ phone or not to partake in this supposedly more efficient system, you will undoubtedly find yourself feeling downright frustrated by it at some point this year as it is, quite simply, unfair on students. Standing around cross-armed and pursed-lipped somewhere on campus, waiting for an available PC so you can check-in to a class you’ve already attended, was not what you were planning on doing. You should, in fact, have been home 20 minutes ago getting stuck into the fourth episode of Stranger Things. I mean studying, obviously.

(Image courtesy of Mac World)

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