Are college campuses the new Big Brother?

January 05, 2020 3 min read

Are college campuses the new Big Brother?

Colleges across the United States are beginning to roll out methods of surveillance that challenge the free-thinking space that higher education was based on. The roll-out of applications like SpotterEDU are changing the atmosphere of college classes and even the campus.

While many colleges can track student's location due to their connectivity to the school's WiFi from their phones, that does not mean they are actively monitoring it or using it to affect the student's academic life.

However, schools like Syracuse University are forcing students to install this SpotterEDU app and installing sensors in classrooms that track when students enter or leave a classroom. These sensors are smaller than a deck of cards and designed to be hidden in plain sight and allow the teacher to know if a student arrived late, left early, or even went on a break, and act accordingly on their end.

The school sends all of the students' school schedules to SpotterEDU and then the applications checks this data with students' attendance. Sending notifications to the professor when they arrive more than two minutes late or do not go altogether. This application was originally started to make sure that student-athletes attended class and were still able to play, taking the place of "class checkers," but has since taken on a new life.

The teachers that have adopted this technology in their classrooms have changed their attendance to a point-based system that is pushing students to show up more from fear of affecting their grade then wanting to learn the material. The officials at these schools credit this system to help enforce "student success" and work towards model students across the board. Some schools are "taking action" against truant students that receive scholarship funds. Furthermore, with the new data, they are segregating students of color to "look for patterns in academic retention and performance." 

The schools that want to go a step further bring in Degree Analytics, who analyzes WiFi check-ins to track the movement of around 200,000 students across 19 schools. Their tagline being that everyone can graduate with '" a proper environment and perhaps a few nudges along the way."'This company uses this data to track any unusual movements by the student such as avoiding the cafeteria because of insecurities or skipping class because of depression. This data is then shared with the schools and given to their discretion to act on it.

But all this does not come without its hesitance and problems. One student mentions how the application is not very accurate and has tendencies to mark students absent when they are in class or marking them late. While teachers are able to override this, it seems to be contradictory to have to double-check your attendance each day.

As a recent college student, I find that this goes against my own interpretation of college or what I was taught going into it. My belief is that as a college student you should be completely on your own, whether you show up or not, or do the work will relate to being in a work environment later in life where you will need to take your actions seriously. The college environment acts as a testing board to naturally weed out bad habits and increase good habits for later on in life. The constant monitoring that is being adopted by these schools, seems to take away any adult responsibilities that are curated over the course of the 4 or more years and instead pushes a culture of fear and constant surveillance.

This serves as an example of how precisely you can be tracked by those that are in the position to do so. Faraday Sleeves are the easiest way to travel from A to B without being tracked.

Brandon L
Brandon L

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