Show of hands

Boston Globe article on new handheld transmitters in UMass-Amherst lecture halls:

"To connect with students in vast auditoriums, professors sprinkle multiple-choice questions through their lectures. Students point and click their transmitters to answer, pushing blue buttons numbered 1 through 9 on their keypads. A bar graph appears on the professor's laptop, showing the number of right and wrong answers; teachers can slow down or backtrack when there are too many wrong answers. Each device is registered and assigned a number, so professors can check who is present, and reach out after class to those who give wrong answers frequently."

"... Students have already started asking friends to carry their transmitters to class for them so they can skip. Professors, in turn, have learned to guard against double-clickers by doing a head count and figuring out whether there are "extra" answers."

I remember how my first real PI would never wear a pager or give out his vacation home number. He would always say, "If we need to talk, I will contact you." In the future, maybe status will be noted by the absence of these transmitters. It reminds me of the dispatchers who can see their truckers dithering via GPS. Whether it's GPS or these PRS education interfaces, employers and profs are collecting more and more data on the individuals under their guidance.

Location, attendance, tardiness, right answers... It used to be that if you knew the right answers on the final, if you filled your quota on your routes, you'd get by. Now, in the name of catching problems early and limiting liability, underlings are going to have to accept more tracking. And more motivation to succeed: maybe, if they're good, they can have a tracking-free holiday or weekend.

When you combine this with Wal-Mart's proposed inventory-tracking RFID system, the possibilities are endless (indulge me for a minute, will you?) A course book or laptop with course-specific software can send a TXT message back to the coordinator, letting those in charge know whether you took your work home with you or accessed materials. Just like Word docs can already time how long each person has spent editing a file, profs will know how long you actually had the books open or read the online materials.

Seems unnecessarily meddlesome, doesn't it? The issue used to be whether you know the material or not, whether you get the job done or not -- so it didn't really matter if you crammed it all in the last week, or got special insight from your roommate instead of your TA. It seems that if they can track attendance, attendance will start to count -- 5 or 10%, maybe. How many times your computer hits the course website will be another 5 or 10%. The points you for actually knowing the material will shrink relative to the points you get for showing up and going through the motions. This might be good for grade-schoolers who need to establish good habits, but seems extravagant and wasteful for college students.