Katie Hollowell, Contributing Writer
This month, VCU is piloting Ram Attend, a program that tracks student Wi-Fi connections to automate class attendance.
Through the program, when students connect their devices to the VCU Safenet Wireless network, a Wi-Fi access point is automatically recorded, which is then compared to class times and locations to specify attendance.
According to VCU’s student success page, Ram Attend is being introduced to track regular class attendance, “one of the most important indicators for student success.” The pilot is being used in smaller classrooms to test accuracy before introducing it in larger classes.
The website states that connection data is not used outside of designated classroom locations and times. The current pilot is using data for attendance, but it is unclear if the data will be used for other purposes.
Some VCU students and faculty members are concerned about the prospect of student data being used for attendance by the university.
Thinking about this in relation to the newly unveiled RamAttend system at VCU which will track some students’ class attendance through their wifi connections. Our librarians are NOT about it, nor are many students and faculty. https://t.co/Ljh649UFP4 https://t.co/4yank9u0tz
— Erin White (@erinrwhite) November 14, 2019
VCU STUDENTS: if you receive/have received an email titled “Important: Your class is piloting a new attendance tool” you MUST opt-out or the school will be tracking you every time you connect to VCU safenet wifi. they’ll be using it to see if you go to class or not&whatever else
— erin. (@eriinnicolee_) November 8, 2019
“Aggregate (de-identified) data may be analyzed at the university level to improve other areas of student success,” the website states. “Additional details will be available after the fall 2019 pilot.”
Only focused inquiry classes — UNIV 111, 112 and 200 — are testing the new program. Since these classes are generally smaller in size, the professors can take attendance manually and compare it to Ram Attend results.
Students are protected through the Family Educational Records Protection Act, or FERPA, and the guidelines set by the vendor, Degree Analytics. FERPA gives students the rights to their education records.
University officials will not have access to the data unless it is required under their job duties, such as a teacher and advisor.
If a student decides to opt-in to the program, Degree Analytics will only record when the student logs in to the Wi-Fi for their class time and then filter out the rest of the data.
Before the data is sent to the vendor, it will strip the student’s eID and only show a V-Number.
Students can opt-out of having their attendance and Wi-Fi connection tracked. Their information will be filtered out before data is sent to Degree Analytics. Members of the classes selected for the pilot program have until Nov. 21 to opt-out via this form.
How you gonna use that data?
Okay but how?
Don’t know yet but will know in the future! But legitimately!
— Tressie McMillan Cottom (@tressiemcphd) November 13, 2019
VCU wants to virtually track peoples attendance by whichever WiFi signal people connect to and to be honest I think that’s a v slippery slope…? Not okay with that
— Fin (@ogfinward) November 14, 2019