Over half of selected VCU students opted out of Wi-Fi tracking program

Data collected during the Ram Attend pilot was not clear enough to continue with the program. Photo by Alessandro Latour

Katharine DeRosa, Contributing Writer

More than 50% of students in UNIV classes have opted out of VCU’s pilot attendance program, Ram Attend, according to a university spokesperson, but there are still enough students for an adequate sample size.

Associate Vice President for Public Affairs Mike Porter said in an email that 59.65% of students opted out of the program, but more than 1,600 stayed in. Only 500 students were needed for an accurate sample size.

Last semester VCU announced the new program — run by data company Degree Analytics — which was intended to promote regular class attendance by monitoring student connections to the university Wi-Fi, but it received backlash from students who said it invaded their privacy.

Students were given the option to opt-out of the program by filling out a Google Form before Nov. 21.

Freshman criminal justice major Sofia Magalhaes said in a Facebook message that her UNIV 111 class, known as Focused Inquiry, discussed the new program in class last semester.

“I thought it was almost an invasion of privacy,” she said.

Magalhaes also expressed confusion over how the attendance data would be collected.

“We weren’t sure how they would monitor that being that [a] majority of students have multiple devices,” she said.

Cierra Branch, a freshman pre-dental hygiene major, said in a Facebook message that she didn’t see the point of the program.

“I don’t agree with their way of being able to trace your location,” Branch said, “when the professor can traditionally take roll.”

Both Branch and Magalhaes chose to opt-out of the pilot program.

VCU’s website answers FAQ about the program and ensures the security of the data collected.

“It does not use connection data from access points outside the designated classrooms or while participating classes are not in session,” one answer said.

The website also emphasized that attendance data can only be collected while students were connected to VCU’s SafeNet wireless network using their phone, laptop or other devices.

VCU’s SafeNet wireless network is accessible for faculty and undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students.

The Wi-Fi coverage extends as far north as Marshall Street, near the Siegel Center, and as far south as Cumberland Street, reaching the Cary Street Gym and Cary & Belvidere residence halls.

A student’s attendance cannot be tracked if they do not use VCU’s SafeNet wireless, as the website says the program does not use cellular, Bluetooth, or GPS data.

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