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'A stupid policy': The University of Newcastle will be monitoring attendance of first year students with geolocation, and some aren't happy

Sharon Masige
  • The University of Newcastle has introduced an app which tracks whether students have attended their class.
  • The app records attendance for all first year students in tutorials, laboratory sessions and seminars in 1000 level courses.
  • It has caused contoversy among students, with one telling Business Insider Australia they believed it was a "stupid policy."
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

The University of Newcastle (UoN) will be monitoring first-year student attendance through an app during 2020.

The university announced that first-year students attending in 2020 must have a compulsory 80% attendance in tutorials, laboratory sessions and seminars for 1000 level courses. Online learning sessions and lectures, however, aren't included.

"Many courses already have minimum attendance requirements, so this levels the playing field for all," the university said in a statement.

In addition to this, the university will be monitoring attendance through an app that uses geolocation services to record a student's location when they check-in.

"The University will use your location records and any other information you have provided in this application (including personally identifiable information) for the purpose of monitoring your attendance against the mandatory attendance requirement," the university said in an email to students.

"Such records and information may also be analysed by the university to assist us in making better decisions regarding the operations and services around mandatory attendance."

How it works

UoN began a pilot attendance check-in on January 28, before it will roll out the system during the first semester of 2020.

Students can check-in using their phones or their laptops, desktops or tablets. And they have to be in the classroom when they do it.

The app uses geolocation to confirm that the student is in the location of the class.

"The app only records a student’s location at the time of checking in to a class," the university said in a statement. "It does not track movement outside of the classroom."

Students have the option of using the app to check in, or can go directly to the class tutor who will sign them in. Using the latter method won't record a location.

The university said it introduced the app to get "the best outcomes" for its students.

"This decision is evidence-based and about getting the best outcomes for our students. There are well documented links between high attendance and student success. Students benefit from the exchange of knowledge and ideas that small group sessions provide, as well as the experience of collaborating and communicating with peers."

Many students are opposed to the policy

Speaking to the ABC, UoN student union's education officer Luka Harrison said students believe it's an "invasion of privacy".

"We believe it's a gross invasion of privacy on the part of the uni against the students and it points to a growing trend of the corporatisation of unis all around Australia."

One student who wished to be anonymous told Business Insider Australia via Facebook they have been studying at UoN for five years and even took part in redesign testing for the app.

While the new monitoring system doesn't affect them, they called it a "stupid policy".

"If there is a problem with people not attending class, address that rather than just make it compulsory," the student said. "Most of us are paying between $500 - 1200 for the class, so there's usually a reason for not attending beyond laziness."

Another student, Kya Branch, told Business Insider Australia the policy "feels like a violation of student privacy."

"This system isn’t going to work the way the university has intended, and I do not think students should be monitored," she said.

However, one student believes the GPS services won't work very well on campus anyway.

Kastor Morgan, who has been in enabling courses at UoN for two years and will study a Bachelor of Secondary Education this year, told Business Insider Australia via Facebook that while the app "is a smart idea", the GPS tracking may not be suitable because it is "dodgy" on campus.

"[It's] a bit silly because it relies on GPS tracking to see that we're in class, but from what I've found the GPS on most phones on campus is extremely faulty so many people will probably not be able to check into classes even when they're in the room."