No Word Count: VCU Wi-Fi tracking program + Tea Time with Tagwa

Illustration by Sammy Newman

Contributing writer Katie Hollowell sat down with Managing Editor Andrew Ringle to discuss her latest story on Ram Attend, the VCU pilot program that will monitor class attendance through students’ Wi-Fi connections.

Plus, Opinions Editor Tagwa Shammet reads her column, “Tea Time With Tagwa: They’re Watching You” in the third episode of No Word Count.

An excerpt from the interview is below. Questions and responses have been edited for clarity.

Andrew Ringle: Why does VCU say that this kind of program is important?

Katie Hollowell: Well, they think attendance is very important. So they started piloting this program in the focused inquiry classes, where attendance is mandatory. And so they really just want to start at the bottom with the freshmen to be able to see patterns and if it’ll be able to be like an alert system for all the advisors and faculty to have access to this data to see at what points in the semester kids were skipping or if they need to be checked in on to see how they’re doing in life and how they’re adjusting to college. This is one way to be able to find that out. 

AR: Why has it upset some students? 

KH: Because a lot of students think it’s an invasion of privacy. And since VCU has actually gone on record saying that they already track us for different reasons that we don’t really know, they think it’s just like another level of invasion of privacy. Because why do they need our Wi-Fi location for class attendance? Why can’t they just manually record it like they’ve been doing for the last, however, decades? 

AR: And the university said that they aren’t sure what the data will be used for in the future. Right now it’s just for attendance and just for those pilot classes like you mentioned, but it could be expanded to affect other students. So I guess now the question is that the deadline has passed to opt-out, what are the implications for students who did not opt-out of the program?

KH: I think a lot more will be shown next semester with how that will affect students in not opting-out by November 21. I don’t know if they’ll send out another kind of like general press release, since this has become like a big uproar on campus, to give every student the option to opt-out next semester, and how — if the program that they think it’s been successful enough in the last month or so — if they’ll expand it to bigger classes, which was their goal, to get into the bigger size lecture halls. So I’m not exactly sure, we’ll have to wait and see if they send out anything at the beginning of next semester.

For the full interview, listen to No Word Count episode three above. For Tagwa Shammet’s column, visit this link.

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