TECHNews

The Office of Information Technology's blog.

Attendance Tracking Scanners for UM Classrooms

Posted on: January 16th, 2013 by Deetra Wiley

Symbol MK500 Attendance Tracking Scanner

Symbol MK500 Attendance Tracking Scanner

The Class Attendance Guidelines Policy discusses the importance of attendance relative to learning.  Instructors are asked to report cases of freshman students missing three or more class periods as part of the Freshman Attendance-Based Initiative (FABI) program.   The Academic Support Center follows up on these cases to connect students with resources.  Yet, taking attendance for large classes can create an administrative burden for the instructor and also take away from critical class time.

For all of these reasons, the Office of Information Technology (IT)  has been in search of a solution to minimize the time required for instructors to check class attendance, especially for very large classes. “We looked at several methods, but discarded them for various reasons, e.g., they did not support Mac and PC,” says Kathy Gates, Chief Information Officer. “We considered having students check in with cell phones, but some instructors do not want cell phone usage to be part of the solution due to their potential to distract.” The search ended when IT employees Nathan Robbins and Ron Savell found the Symbol MK500. “The Symbol MK500, a small computer with a barcode reader and network connection, is similar to what is used in retail stores for checking prices,” says Robbins. “After researching the scanner and its compatibility with our existing systems and equipment, e.g. SAP, ID Center barcode generator, etc., the Symbol MK500 seemed to be an ideal option for our attendance tracking requirements.”

The scanner works as follows:  (1) First, the students scan their student IDs by placing them face-up under the scanner so that the ID barcode is readable. (2) The attendance scanner reads the student ID information and sends it to SAP using the SAP Netweaver Gateway system. (3) SAP then  processes the records to update class attendance based on the location, time, class, and student in near real-time. (4) The results are made available to the instructor using the new “Manage Attendance” option within the Class Rolls and Grades interface in myOleMiss.

Christopher Reichley, Senior Technical Architect, who developed the software to support the attendance scanning process, states “Our aim is to support student retention efforts while lowering the administrative burden on instructors through the use of the Symbol MK500.”  During Fall Semester 2012, Reichley headed the piloting of the attendance scanner in two large University classrooms –Nutt Auditorium (Mus 100, Charlie Miles) and Bryant 209 (Pol 101, John Bruce).  Miles and Bruce reported that the attendance tracking scanners brought about positive changes, e.g., fewer student tardies, increased number of students present, and absolutely no time spent calling roll or passing around a sign-in sheet.   Thirteen additional classrooms are planned for January 2013: Bishop 209, Bondurant 204C, Shoemaker 303, Coulter 200, Peabody 206, Lewis 101, Farley 202, Anderson 21, Advanced Education Center 252 (Tupelo Campus), Turner 205, Fed Ex 207, Brevard 134, and Meek 138.  “The criteria for deciding the location of the attendance scanners within the classrooms include: (1) the location of current network connectivity or ease of installation of the new connection (2) easy access without interference to the normal traffic flow of the classroom and (3) an unobstructed view from the instructor to insure valid scans and curb falsified scans,” states Johnny Price, Classroom Technology Specialist.

The attendance scanner system will be integrated with the FABI process to automatically update freshman class attendance information. “Teaching mostly freshmen, FABI has always been a hassle to maintain with a class of 220,” states  Charlie Miles, UM Adjunct Instructor. With the attendance tracking scanner process, FABI will be automatically updated in myOleMiss when students scan their UM IDs. “It seems the attendance scanner makes it much easier,” states Miles.

UM Pilot Faculty Reactions

John Bruce, Political Science Professor:

On Attendance

Attending class is what makes the University of Mississippi experience different from attending some online degree program.  When students are in class, there is an interaction that takes place between the students and the instructor, as well as with other students. When issues arise with a student expressing difficulty with the material, the first thing I do is go check to see how often they have missed class.

On the Attendance Tracking System

 The scanning system is ideal.  There is simply no down side for faculty. Students scan in as they arrive. The system automatically notes their arrival and populates any number of databases that need this, such as freshman retention. It can be used to show the attendance on any given day, or the attendance record over time of any give student. I would love to have this in every room in which I teach.  

The scanner is a relatively unobtrusive way to gather information on attendance, which can be used to increase retention, identify students with problems, and comply with Athletic Department queries on student-athlete performance. I heartily embrace this application of technology. I have tried a lot of alternatives, and this is – by far – the single best approach I have yet seen. The goal was a system that was easy to deploy, not disruptive in the classroom, and required little oversight once in place. This is that system. The positive effects of taking roll are potentially large. The scanners make universal adoption essentially costless to faculty, which is a winning proposition for the University.

Charlie Miles, Adjunct Instructor:

On Attendance

Attendance for my class is 25% of the final average. There is a very strong correlation between class attendance and overall final grade. 

On the Attendance Tracking System

Initially, I was skeptical about them because of my past experience using clickers for attendance, but I was very pleasantly surprised with the scanners. The scanners make it much easier to maintain class attendance for medium and large classes whereas calling roll each day is impractical. The scanner results are easy to use, basic, and straightforward. Now that I’ve seen them in use, and have seen they are reliable, I have no reservation at all about recommending them. I’m using them exclusively for class attendance for the Spring semester.

The results are easy to work with and straightforward. It’s very basic, which is a good thing. It is very easy for a user interface to be very elaborate and frankly hard to use, especially for teachers who aren’t very heavy technology users. I always prefer the basic approach.

UM Pilot Students’ Reactions

Both faculty, Bruce and Miles, indicate that students have been overwhelmingly receptive and/or unresponsive. One of Miles’ students referred to the scanner as the “cool scanner” on the wall. Miles stated that the attendance scanner “makes the students be responsible for making sure they have their ID each day” considering so many of them always forget to bring their books, scantrons, IDs to class. According to Bruce, he did not have a single complaint or negative comment from students. “In fact, their response was basically a non-response,” says Bruce. “They swipe their ID to get into the recreation center, the dorms, and so forth. Swiping in class is just one more place.”

Upcoming Training

Upcoming training for faculty teaching in classrooms that now contain scanners will be held Thursday, January 17th at 9am and 1pm in Bryant 209. The training will introduce the faculty to the barcode scanners and how they operate so that they may better assist the students. The training will also demonstrate the use of the new myOleMiss functionality for configuring their classroom and viewing the attendance records.

Inquiries?

Faculty may contact the Faculty Technology Development Center for questions and assistance. Students may contact the IT Helpdesk at (662) 915-5222 or helpdesk@olemiss.edu regarding scanner usage and general questions.

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