There was a day when radio frequency identification (RFID) was cutting-edge technology that allowed manufacturers to track products on the assembly line. That same technology made it easier for retail operators to track their inventory and logistics companies to monitor assets. Suffice it to say that tracking technology has grown up.

RFID is still relevant in 2020, but it is not the only way to track people or things. There are so many other ways to track – including cell phones and their on-board wi-fi and Bluetooth capabilities. It turns out colleges and universities are using those technologies to track their students.

They Know Where You Are

According to a recent Washington Post story, Syracuse University is just one of dozens that now monitor student activity via their cell phones. All across the campus there are untold numbers of Bluetooth and wi-fi sensors that keep track of students by way of an app they voluntarily download and install on their devices.

Do you attend all of your classes on a consistent basis? If so, the system knows. And it rewards you with points. Skip class too often and you will lose points. Yet it doesn’t end there. The system can tell how often you frequent the library. It can tell when you’re on campus and when you are not. All of this data is fed to a central system that analyzes it and spews out the results.

Those who defend the system say it represents a way to better manage the student population. It helps to foster an environment in which every student is an ‘ideal student’. Those opposed to the technology see things differently. They do not think it’s good that school administration can learn so much about students just by tracking their cell phones.

Data Analysis and Baselines

From a technology standpoint, student monitoring systems rely on a ton of data along with comparative analysis. That data requires some sort of baseline to be useful. For example, notifying a student that he or she isn’t spending enough time in the library begins with setting a standard for library attendance. That is the baseline. The same is true for awarding points for class attendance.

Rock West Solutions, a California company that develops signal processing and sensors for commercial applications, explains the baselines can be whatever developers want them to be. This reality paints a troubling picture for critics of student tracking.

Who sets the baseline for class attendance or library work? Administration. That means school administrators get to decide what constitutes an ideal student. It also means that administrators have the opportunity to determine – for everyone – what constitutes ideal behavior on a college campus. Is this really a wise idea?

Micromanaging Student Lives

Another thing that critics point out is that constant student tracking gets students used to the idea of their lives being micromanaged at nearly every level. They correctly cite that college is supposed to be an environment in which students learn to take responsibility for themselves as adults. But how can they do so if school administrators treat them like children?

Tracking students at the university level may seem like a good idea for increasing class attendance and encouraging students to be more serious about their studies. But the cost at which such tracking comes seems a bit too high. Maybe we don’t need minute by minute tracking of young people. Perhaps we would be better off going back to the days when we trusted them to take responsibility for themselves. Maybe we should trust them to become the adults we want them to be.