When Syracuse University freshmen walk into professor Jeff Rubin’s Introduction to Information Technologies class, seven small Bluetooth beacons hidden around the Grant Auditorium lecture hall connect with an app on their smartphones and boost their “attendance points.”
Short-range phone sensors and campuswide Wi-Fi networks are empowering colleges across the United States to track hundreds of thousands of students more precisely than ever before. Dozens of schools now use such technology to monitor students’ academic performance, analyze their conduct or assess their mental health.
This style of surveillance has become just another fact of life for many Americans. A flood of cameras, sensors and microphones, wired to an online backbone, can measure people’s activity and whereabouts with striking precision, reducing the mess of everyday living into trend lines that companies promise to help optimize.
Americans say in surveys that they accept the technology’s encroachment because it often feels like something else: a trade-off of future worries for the immediacy of convenience, comfort and ease. If a tracking system can make students be better, one college adviser said, isn’t that a good thing?