Lecturers receive bar-code scanners to take register

Staff complain of being given time-consuming 'housekeeping' duties. Melanie Newman reports

October 1, 2009

A lecturer has accused the University of Derby of turning academics into administrators by asking them to check in students with hand-held scanners to monitor attendance.

Academics say that scanning bar codes on students' ID cards, uploading the data and reporting absences will take at least ten minutes each lecture.

"Lecturers' time - which ought to be available for preparation and scholarly activity - will be taken to upload the data, check that it's correct and follow up on any areas of doubt, then notify the attendance-monitoring unit of absentees," one lecturer said.

"After a stretch of different one-hour lectures, all these data have to be sorted into the relevant repositories."

He said it was another example of academics being overloaded with "housekeeping" duties.

"Each increment, we are told, is nothing at all, really, just a few minutes. But, overall, we struggle to find the time and energy to devote to academia - we're actually all administrators now."

An internal memo tells Derby staff: "In order to meet with university policy on attendance monitoring of students, a roll-out of electronic bar-code scanners is being undertaken for all academic staff ... All students at all lectures must be scanned and the data uploaded. In addition, student absences must be reported via the report function within the scanner software."

June Hughes, the university's registrar and director of student support and information services, said the scheme demonstrated Derby's "concern for student support, maintaining contact and maximising achievement potential".

She continued: "This scanning technology is quick and easy to use, training is provided and many staff are complimentary about the process."

Students have been told that they must carry ID cards at all times.

The disgruntled lecturer, who asked not to be named, suggested that the system was too inflexible.

"We've been told that if a student has no card, we can mark them absent - in spite of visible proof to the contrary," he said.

"The scanners are hand-held. Either lecturers hang on to it, to guard against fiddling or forgetting, or they pass it round. In the former case, no teaching is carried out; in the latter, no cast-iron information is generated."

It is not the first time a university has monitored attendance electronically. In 2006, the University and College Union described an electronic-monitoring system adopted by a number of universities, including Glamorgan and Napier, as "like some kind of Orwellian nightmare".

However, all universities are now required to keep tabs on overseas students under the points-based immigration system. They must report to the immigration authorities students who persistently fail to attend classes.

Sue Morrison, senior assistant registrar for student experience at Derby, said there was growing interest in the sector about systems to help them do this efficiently.

"We have hosted visits from a number of other universities who have expressed interest in seeing this initiative and how it works," she said.

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com.

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