MU testing new attendance app

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COLUMBIA - The University of Missouri is testing a new way to monitor student class attendance.

Spotter was released in 2016 by former MU basketball coach Rick Carter, who developed it as a way to ensure his athletes were attending their classes. The app works through Bluetooth rather than GPS.

Spotter staff members upload the student's class schedule to the app, which then activates during the times the student should be in class. The Bluetooth connects with a beacon in the classroom to broadcast the student's attendance, and the app notifies students if they are not connecting to a beacon during their scheduled class time.

However, MU is using the 2020 Spring semester to expand Spotter usage from beyond the athletic department. New university students are being added to the program, with roughly 15 faculty members volunteering their classes to to test the system.

Christian Basi, the director of the MU News Bureau, says the app is not just to incentivize students to actually go to class, but also to help professors easily recognize when something might be out of the ordinary.

"Say a student suddenly stops going to class one day," said Basi. "The professor will have a record of the student being gone and will more easily be able to reach out and make any arrangements that need to be made."

Many professors, not just at MU, include an attendance record as part of their grading process, and a 2016 study published in the International Conference of Higher Education Advances found "attendance is demonstrably related to learning outcomes."

Spotter is also already being used at several other universities, with Syracuse University and Abilene Christian University being listed on its website. Abilene Christian's entry claims "with the assistance of SpotterEDU, we reached the highest GPA ranking in consecutive semesters, hitting a 2.98 GPA mark in the fall, followed by a 3.01."

To soothe concerns the use of Spotter would constitute an invasion of privacy, Basi compared the app to a Bluetooth connection on a smartphone.

"The app does not keep sending your data somewhere like a GPS," he said. "It stops keeping track of you the moment you leave the room."

Although only a handful of MU classrooms are currently using the system, students seemed unconcerned about any invasion of privacy on the part of Spotter or the university.

"It shouldn't be an issue," said MU sophomore Lauren Williams. "If it's not tracking you outside of the classroom I don't think it should be an issue if you're going to class anyway."

"It's more efficient," said MU student Hanna Bergstrom, "and it does keep you more reliable, so I would be willing to use it."

Basi says MU will reevaluate Spotted's success at the end of the spring semester and will make a decision on the app's future use.

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