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

Navigating the Airport

Gatwick Airport, way too early in the morning

In a world first for an airport, Gatwick has installed two thousand indoor navigation beacons enabling augmented reality wayfinding.

One part of the Jisc Intelligent Campus project is to reflect on the landscape in this space, and one part of that is what is happening elsewhere, in retail, entertainment and transport.

Learning from other sectors and provide useful guidance and inspiration on what is possible and we can evaluate the potential for applying new processes and technologies in an educational context.

Gatwick Airport is the UK’s second largest airport and one of the busiest single runway airports in the world. The two thousand beacons have been installed across Gatwick Airport’s two terminals providing an indoor navigation system that is much more reliable than GPS and that enables augmented reality wayfinding for passengers – a world first for an airport.

The lack of satellite signals makes road-based navigation systems – such as Google or Apple maps – unreliable indoors, so Gatwick has deployed a beacon based positioning system to enable reliable ‘blue dot’ on indoor maps, which in time can be used within a range of mobile airport, airline or third party apps.

The beacon system also enables an augmented reality wayfinding tool – so passengers can be shown directions in the camera view of their mobile device – making it easier for passengers to locate check in areas, departure gates, baggage belts etc.

The new navigation technology is currently being integrated into some of the Gatwick apps and the airport is also in discussion with airlines to enable the indoor positioning and wayfinding tools to also feature on their app services.

No personal data will be collected by Gatwick although generic information on ‘people densities’ in different beacon zones may help to improve airport operations including  queue measurement, streamlining passenger flows and reducing congestion.

Airlines could go further – and with the consent of their passengers – may send reminders on their airline app to late running passengers, for example, or find out where they are and make an informed decision on whether to wait or offload their luggage so the aircraft can take off on time.

Retailers and other third parties may also use the beacon system to detect proximity and send relevant offers or promotional messages, if the passenger has chosen to receive them.

Battery powered beacons kept logistical complexity and costs low, with deployment taking just three weeks, followed by two months of testing and calibration.

The new technology is part of Gatwick’s £2.5 billion investment programme to transform the airport.

Abhi Chacko, Head of IT Commercial & Innovation, Gatwick Airport, said:

“By providing the infrastructure we’re opening the door for a wide range of tech savvy airport providers, including our airlines and retailers, to launch new real-time services that can help passengers find their way around the airport, avoid missing flights or receive timely offers that might save them money.

“We are proud to be the first airport to deploy augmented reality technology and we hope that our adoption of this facility influences other airports and transport providers so that it eventually becomes the norm.” 

The tech stack comes with an indoor map which shows up to date content, positioning with +/-3m accuracy, and navigation technology that is dynamic and recognises, for example, areas currently under construction, or multi floor navigation including when taking lifts, proximity to retailers etc.

You can immediately see the application of such a technological rollout to a college or university campus. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I said

With the forecast growth of apprenticeships and degree apprenticeships, colleges and universities will find their campuses awash with apprentices who are only on campus for a day a week or for blocks of a week or two. These learners will have the challenge of finding their way round, but not having the luxury of exploring the campus that full-time students often have.

This kind of beacon technology combined with apps from the college or university admin could make life easier for all students (and visitors) who are on campus.

You can also imagine how retail outlets and academic departments, could like the airlines in the Gatwick project could use the technology to provide real-time services (and in the retail space offers) for students.

What are your thoughts on this kind of technological development?

Image Credit: Gatwick Airport, way too early in the morning, by Dan Taylor-Watt, CC BY 2.0

I know what’s good for you…


I like to try and get 10,000 steps into my daily routine and weather permitting I am usually successful. I have started for example parking further away, getting off a stop early on the tube and walking the rest of the way, walking further to get coffee or lunch.

It was whilst talking to Jisc’s Matt Ramirez about the intelligent campus space that I realised that it would be useful if my iPhone (which I use to measure the steps) could be more helpful in helping me reach my daily steps target.

If I ask Siri how to get somewhere, it helpfully tells me the shortest route, or the closest place. I did wonder if I could get Siri to help me reach 10,000 steps by rather than showing me the closest place for coffee, show me a place (that serves decent coffee) but the round trip walking would result in me walking 10,000 or 5,000 steps.

This got me thinking about how an intelligent campus could (with consent) support learner’s health and wellbeing.

Imagine the scenario where a learner has requested the university intelligent agent to help them be more healthy. The learner arrives on campus and asks Siri or their university intelligent agent where can I get on a computer, the university intelligent agent doesn’t send the learner to the closest free computer, but recommends the learner go to a computer lab on the other side of campus.

After two hours the university intelligent agent then recommends the learner take a break and provides a voucher for a free or cut price healthy snack and drink in the coffee shop on the other side of campus.

The result, the learner is given the opportunity to walk further and eat healthy foods through incentives on their device.


The university can use the resulting data (with consent) to analyse what interventions are successful and which ones aren’t.

Overall the result will be learners who are healthier, potentially happier (wellbeing) and this could have an impact on the overall learning experience.

I didn’t know I needed to ask…


Do you remember your first day at University or College? What about the first week?

Arriving at a new institution is a disorientating experience. As students walk around the university or college campus they are faced with problems that need to be resolved in order to help them settle, provide a satisfying experience and even help them on their learning journey.

Transition is hard, for most learners going to an FE College the last time they moved between educational institutions was when they left primary school and moved up to secondary. Transition to an FE College is for many learners a huge leap.

Similarly transition to University can be for many students a challenge, especially when moving away from home (often for the first time).


With the forecast growth of apprenticeships and degree apprenticeships, colleges and universities will find their campuses awash with apprentices who are only on campus for a day a week or for blocks of a week or two. These learners will have the challenge of finding their way round, but not having the luxury of exploring the campus that full-time students often have.

There are the known problems, such as where is my next lesson? What books would be useful for this topic? When is my tutor free for a quick chat on assignment? Do I need to come into college today?

Even simple questions could result in a complicated route to multiple online systems. Imagine asking the question, where and when is my next lecture, what resources are available and are there any relevant books in the library on this subject? The module design or course information system (or more likely this is a dumb document) would have the information on what would be next. Timetabling systems would be able to inform the learn which space and when the lesson was. The campus map (which could be interactive) would provide the information on where the space was on the campus. Imagine the extra layer of last minute changes to the information because of staff sickness, or building work resulting in a room change. As for what resources are available, this may be on the VLE or another platform. As for additional resources then this could be on the library systems. Add in a social platform, say a closed Facebook group, or a collaborative tool such as Slack, then you start to see how a simple question about what am I doing next and where is it, becomes rather complicated.

One big assumption we make in all this is, we assume the learner knows about all our system, knows how to use them all, has access to them all, and has a connected device to do all this!


There are also the unknown problems, these are the kinds of problems that learners don’t even know they have and haven’t thought to ask? Could the university or college push information and notifications to learners based on where the learner is on campus, when the learner is on campus, and how far the learner is on their learning journey? Would this extra information confuse the learner, or could it help to reduce the disorientating experience?

So how are you supporting learners in this area?

If the walls could talk…

lecture theatre

Across colleges and universities there are a variety of rooms and areas in which learning takes place, sometimes there is teaching and sometimes there isn’t.

Lecture theatres are used to deliver lectures, students use the library to read and discover and classrooms can be used for a range of activities.

If the spaces we use for teaching and learning could speak to us, what would they say?

Would we want to listen?


There is an institutional memory within those walls that is inaccessible and lost every time the learners leave the room. The room doesn’t remember what worked well or what could have been better. The spaces, if they could store experiences and feedback, would know what was the ideal environment for different learning activities.

What could we do about it?

The spaces across colleges and universities are core to teaching and learning. Are we using them effectively to enhance and enrich the learning journey?

One question that gives different responses is, does the environment in which we learn have any or a significant impact on that journey?

Some people say that they can teach anywhere and often do. Other people say that all teachers can remember a time when they tried to teach in a poor room.

We know learning can happen anytime and anywhere, the key question is does the environment in which it is happening, make that more effective or does it impair the learning process?

Could we use data gathered from teachers and students, as well as space usage, to inform and improve teaching and learning?

What would those improvements look like?

Teaching staff often have little power or control over the spaces they work in. However could we change that?

Could Jisc help build the tools required to make the gathering and analysis of that data easier as well as exploring how to best act upon the insights produced to make changes?

Consultation Workshop Discussions

We recently ran a consultation workshop as part of our discovery phase in the Intelligent Campus space.

We covered many different use cases and scenarios across this area.

Some of the issues that arose out of our discussions.

The intelligent campus is intrinsically cross-campus, cross-faculty and cross-service. Any intelligent campus initiative will require a holistic approach from an university or college and involve stakeholders from academia and professional services.

Often initiatives are undertaken in isolation, with limited or single needs. To take advantage of the potential benefits of the intelligent campus, single function projects may need to consider other facets and needs of other areas of the university of college. The reality of actual challenges students face may be invisible to significant parts of the institution.

Students often offer objections to data gathering when it comes to the university or college, but may off little or no objections to commercial data gathering from apps and mobile services. Often this dichotomy is down to the inferred benefits that data gathering may or may not provide. Incentives to engage must be obvious to students.

We also discussed smart building design. One aspect of the intelligent campus is can physical design be mapped to react to data to build efficiencies? Or nudge positive behaviours? There are aspects of will notifications actually encourage the behaviours and that you want from students (and staff) or will they be ignored and seen to be spam.

These consultation and discussions are an useful mechanism to support the discovery phase of the project and can continue online by looking at the future use cases we will be publishing to the blog as well as the draft guide.

Future City Predictions – A glimpse at Cities of the Future

So this video talks about the cities of the future. What do you think the university and college campuses of the future will be like? Let us know in the comments.

Do you ever wonder what cities will be like in the next few decades?

With over two thirds of our population living in urban areas by 2050 the demands on cities’ services will increase significantly.

Technological improvements to our infrastructure will change the way citizens interact; artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things will allow the city to become smart; perhaps even allowing cities to think like a human brain.

What changes can we expect?

  • Cities will become greener and have more cycle and walking space along with less pollution
  • Buildings will generate their own energy from renewable sources and their design will be continually optimised thanks to smart data
  • The high street will offer richer, interactive shopping experiences with augmented reality changing rooms

What can we learn from the TFL?

London Tube

At Digifest 2017 , the closing keynote was from Lauren Seger Weinstein, chief data officer at Transport for London (TFL).

Lauren Sager Weinstein, head of analytics at Transport for London, has responsibility for the analysis of customer data, supporting operational and planning areas in delivery of services to TfL’s customers. She joined TfL in 2002, where she has held a variety of roles.

During her time at TfL, Lauren has worked on a number of projects: the establishment of TfL’s first long-term funding package for infrastructure investment; the successful delivery of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games by providing analysis on travel patterns; the launch of contactless payment card acceptance on the TfL network; and the creation of TfL’s ODX tool that provides a multi-modal picture of customer travel patterns.

In her talk she covered how TFL was gathering data about how users were using the transport network. Using unique wifi device data, oyster cards and other mechanisms, they were able to see how people were travelling and the routes they used.

TFL Poster

They were hoping to use the data to be able to improve the network and the user experience across the network.

There had been an article in Gizmodo too on the same subject, it also had more detail about the trial.

To have had your data collected in the trial, all you needed to have was your wifi switched on – then the various wifi hotspots around the Tube network would be able to pick up your phone (or tablet, or laptop, or whatever)’s unique MAC address that enables you to be identified.

The good news for the paranoid is that TfL appears to have gone out of its way to make sure everything is above board. In the documents that Giz UK has seen, it makes clear that it is only MAC data that’s collected (ie: they’re not monitoring the websites you visit) – and that this data is stored as encrypted hashes – so even if hackers could somehow break in and obtain the collected data, they wouldn’t be able to get any MAC address data.

So what can we learn from the big data testing for the London transport network and build into how (or even if) we can track learners and use that to support campus design, improve the use of learning spaces, social spaces and informal learning spaces.

One thing that was very apparent from TFL is that they ensure that privacy of their customers is core to their collection of data.

No personal identifiable data is used to track devices as they move across the TFL network. So they can track devices, but can’t identify the device or the individual holding the device.

Reaching out to their customers, they got some interesting feedback as reported in the Gizmodo article.

What’s interesting though is that the cache of documents contains the results of research that TfL commissioned from a company called 2CV aimed at analysing customer attitudes to tracking their data – which makes for interesting reading.

For example, it revealed that customers are much more okay about sharing data when they feel that they are making an “informed decision”, and that many people are “apprehensive” about mobile tracking, because it is so new. The sharing of location data in particular is “viewed differently” to other private information too.

“It is clear that communicating the technology and raising awareness of its use will be critical in driving acceptance of TfL using it”, the research notes. Apparently once people understand the benefits, they are much more accepting of it.

Any similar project across a university or college campus should consider the ethical and privacy implications of tracking students and how that data will be used.

So are you tracking technology across your campus? What did you do about the ethics or privacy issues?

Is there any space in the library?

In my previous blog post I asked the question

So do you already have such a system in place, does it do what it’s supposed to do, what would you do differently?

Using the power of the Twitter I received a few responses, one was from Ruth MacMullen.

The University of York Library has a page outlining availability of seating. When I checked the page you could see there was minimal seating available.

The University of York Library has a page outlining availability of seating.

The information is not live and is updated hourly.

What I didn’t realise when I wrote my previous blog post (and used an image of Costa) was that Google was also providing a similar information view on the University of York Library. It is this information which is used to inform the availability page.

Google was also providing similar information

I did wonder how Google was measuring the “busyness” of the place.


“based on visits to this place”

So to compare I did look at how busy Google thought other university libraries were.

Down in Plymouth, at roughly a similar time, not so busy.


Up in Stirling, well not at all busy, for all we know the library is empty, but somehow I think not.


As I said in my previous blog post was that historical data is useful in predicting future usage, but if you could combine it with live data as well, you might provide a better experience for learners.

I’m sorry that’s my seat!

I’m sorry that’s my seat!

As we start to reflect on the possibilities of the Intelligent Campus for Higher Education and Further Education, it is useful to lift our heads above the educational parapet and see what is happening in other sectors. When we see what others are doing we can learn from them and come up with new ideas and concepts.

One of the early thoughts we had as we looked over the Intelligent Campus was simple things such as informing learners about availability and capacity of learning spaces in the library (or even a coffee shop). The learners could be informed through a mobile app, or even on screens.

Virgin Trains at Euston have a system and a process that uses a visual indication of the availability of unbooked seats on their trains that is shown on the departure boards.

Virgin Trains at Euston have a system and a process that uses a visual indication of the availability of unbooked seats on their trains that is shown on the departure boards.

This is what many would call a dumb system as it doesn’t show actual availability, as the availability is based on the reserved seats, not on people actually sitting on those seats. Those who travel by train will know that not everyone who reserves a seat always sits in that seat on that train. Likewise there will be people sitting in the unreserved seats already (and the system won’t take that into account). With trains, the information is only needed for a short time, so these issues aren’t problematic. Using a similar system for, say a library computing booking system, could cause frustration for learners. If the library computer availability is based on bookings then you can imagine scenarios where learners could be frustrated.

One scenario, is a learner who accesses the board or app sees that all the computers are booked, assumes they are all being used and isn’t able to do their studying. The reality may be that thought the computers are booked, the learners who booked them have either finished early or didn’t turn up.

Another scenario, has the learner checking the availability from home, seeing that there are plenty of free (or non-booked) computers available, makes a journey to the campus and then finds that there is no availability as the computers are all being used by learners who popped into on the off-chance that the computers would be free.

You can see then that any system dependent on bookings or reservations is quite limited. If you could add to the system computers which are actually being used and this live data is added to the system then this will be more accurate in informing learners about availability. Though this is only useful for the current time, planning for the future availability is back to being dependent on bookings.

What could make this more useful is, if historical data was added to the system , so that as well as knowing the bookings, the learner is informed of when the space is busy and when it is more likely a computer will be available. Google has a similar concept if you search for a retail outlet.

Costa Coffee

This is also useful if you have banks of computers that aren’t available to be booked.

Any such system needs to be useful to learners, so in the first instance it can be advantageous to check if you have a problem in the first place that would need a solution. If there is demand for such a solution, ensure that you have the right data and any interpretation of that data is accurate. As with any new system review and evaluation should be undertaken to check that it’s all working and that it is useful to learners.

You may also want to consider the usefulness of the data to others in the organisation, obviously IT, but also estates (for cleaning access) and catering (for peaks in demand for coffee in the nearby coffee outlets).

So do you already have such a system in place, does it do what it’s supposed to do, what would you do differently?