I recognise you…

lecture theatre

Use Case: Attendance monitoring through face recognition

What’s the issue?

Student attendance is a major issue for higher and further education institutions for a range of reasons including the reporting requirements of the Home Office and Student Loans Company. Attendance levels have a strong relationship with the student experience, particularly, in terms of attainment and retention. Good monitoring systems provide efficient reporting mechanisms and an early warning of possible student wellbeing issues.

What are the current solutions?

Most universities and colleges have systems in place to monitor attendance, from simple sign in sheets and electronic sign in, to scanning ID cards and fingerprint readers.

More sophisticated systems are integrating attendance monitoring with other data such as coursework submission, tutorials, examination attendance, VLE use and systems logins to create a student engagement dashboard.

However, all of the monitoring techniques have drawbacks such as students signing for friends or using multiple ID cards. Also most systems can’t cope with students leaving after being logged as present.

How about monitoring attendance with face recognition?

A number of universities are looking into using face recognition systems to monitor attendance. The technology required has become cheap and reliable.

It has the advantage of being very fast and efficient, causing minimal disruption at the start of a lecture. While no system can cover all forms of abuse it does make it more difficult to be recorded as attending when they are not present.  If the system is scanning the lecture room, rather than the entrance, it can also re-scan the audience during, or towards the end of, a teaching session to ensure students attend for the whole lecture.

What about ethical and other issues?

Clearly there are a number of ethical questions raised through using face recognition technology. The level of reliability of the system would need to be investigated since incorrect data could have serious implications both for individual students and for universities and colleges that produce reports based on this data.

The intrusiveness of this type of “surveillance” will also ring alarms bells for some. Fears of misuse of the data collected will need to be discussed and addressed. However, face recognition can be seen as less intrusive than fingerprint based systems. Most students are happy to have their image held with their students records, they may not be keen to provide fingerprints.


Are there current examples?

The use of face recognition check systems has become increasing common in the commercial world and is widely used at airport passport control. The Australian government is planning to use face recognition to help eliminate the need to even show a passport.

In the education sector, in China, Henan University and Minjiang University have implemented pilot systems. Henan University has reported 100% attendance where the system has been used.

So how could it work?

Students enter their lectures as normal and take their seats with no need to sign in, scan ID cards or provide fingerprints. Once settled, a camera records the audience and forwards the image to a face recognition system. Individuals faces are recognised and matched with the student image held on the student records system. All students identified are recorded as present at the lecture. The camera records the audience several times during the session ensuring that the students attend the full lecture. Following the lecture the attendance record is then used to provide reports to the Home Office and the Student Loans Company as required. Also the attendance data is used to help build a picture of the students engagement and wellbeing along with course work submissions, recorded logins to university systems and a range of other data.

Who needs to be involved?

To implement a face recognition attendance system a number university departments will need to work together. These may include:

  • Lecture room services
  • IT and network services
  • Student services
  • Academic departments
  • Student records management
  • Senior management

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