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Roll Call! Piloting an electronic attendance-taking system

Piloting an electronic attendance-taking system for events at Ross

Last summer, during routine meetings held by the Ross BBA Program Office and other units around the school, a common problem was identified over and over again. There had to be a better way to keep track of student attendance at events sponsored by Ross in such a way that also allowed for the meaningful collection of data and statistics.

Paul Kirsch, Managing Director of the Ross BBA Program, volunteered to start asking questions and attempt to identify a potential solution.

“For years, the way we’ve figured out what students were at which events was basically a paper sign-in sheet,” Kirsch said. “But, sign-in sheets get lost, they get passed around and left behind, students may not sign-in, they may sign-in for others who aren’t actually there, and so it wasn’t the most beneficial or efficient use of everyone’s time or attention.”

Kirsch reasoned that an electronic means of attendance taking must be available, so reached out to Computing Services for input. Geordie Calhoun, a member of the Ross Helpdesk team, volunteered to look for potential solutions.

They determined that the easiest way would probably be to scan something like a barcode when the students walk in.

“We identified a few different kinds of scanners,” Calhoun said. “Right now we’re using a device from Wasp, [a barcode technology company], but there are many others out there. We may try a Bluetooth device soon that would route everything into an iPad the person would carry, but for now this works pretty well.”

Once a barcode scanner was obtained, all that was needed was something to actually scan.

WATCH: Geordie Calhoun Demonstrates "The Wasp"

“We chose the M Card, since as freshman everyone is issued one and it’s required to carry. We figured it was the one ubiquitous piece of data we could use that everyone would have on them,” Kirsch said.

Paul Townsend, an Application Programmer in Computing Services, developed the database that keeps track of the data being scanned.

“Every M Card has a barcode,” Townsend explained. “So someone like a student volunteer could easily stand at the entrance and scan the cards as people enter. Then, the codes would get checked against a database and translated it into a unique identifier, so we can log it.”

Since the “log” of names exists as a database, the possibility exists to pull more specific data. For example, Kirsch said they may be able to query a student and see how many events he or she has attended.

“If we find out that there are students who aren’t going to anything, it gives us an opportunity to flag and figure out what’s happening and why they aren’t taking advantage of it,” Kirsch said. “Maybe they just don’t know [about it].”

The data has the potential to be not just logistically beneficial, but functionally as well. Services around the school could tell if a student attended a particular workshop and then expand on the knowledge presented later, in one-on-one situations.

“Career Services may have a very strong interest in knowing if a particular student showed up for a resume workshop,” Kirsch said. “It’s helpful for them to have that information when meeting with students during advising sessions. Without this scanning technology, the academic advisors would have to sift through [potentially inaccurate] paper records to see who’s attended what, something that might take the whole appointment just to find out.”

BELOW: Paul Kirsch Explains the Genesis of the Project

Both Townsend and Kirsch caution that the electronic sign-in process is still a pilot program, with a few lingering kinks that need to be worked out.

“At this point, it’s simply to replace the old paper sign-in process,” Townsend said. “And even after we open it up for the entire school, the more advanced functionality will still need to be developed.”

Kirsch expects that once this service is ready, the school may have six or more devices that departments could check out from Computing Services as an equipment loan. Both Kirsch and Townsend said they expect this technology to officially roll out sometime during the first part of 2013.

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