Through the use of short-range mobile phone sensors and WiFi networks covering the entire campus, universities across the United States can more accurately track the location of hundreds of thousands of students than ever before. Today, dozens of American universities are using this technology to monitor students’ learning performance, analyze their behavior or assess their mental health.
Take Syracuse University as an example. When freshmen walk into the introductory information technology class of Professor Jeff Rubin, the seven Bluetooth beacons hidden around the lecture hall of the Grant Auditorium lecture hall will be linked to an application on their smartphone. SpotterEDU is connected to urge them to attend. SpotterEDU also records student skips and transfers their absence records to the campus database, which may reduce their grades. The app also reminds Professor Rubin to contact students and ask them where they went.
Students disagree about whether the campus tracking system violates privacy, and some people think they have nothing to hide. But some students complained: “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?”
Regardless of whether campus tracking systems are supported, almost everyone has the feeling that the technology is becoming ubiquitous and that the people being monitored are actually powerless to do so.
Many education advocates believe that these surveillance systems represent new and invasive technologies that have massively violated student privacy. They worry that this tracking system will make students appear naive where they grow up, causing them to view monitoring as a normal part of life, whether they like it or not. It also undermines the independence of students and prevents them from developing hobby interests because they worry about being monitored at all times.