Smart Campus: University Tracked Students' Movements to Identify Dropouts

The University of Arizona has openly announced it is monitoring pupil behavior via their student cards in a bid to prevent people from dropping out.

According to the university, students leave time and location stamps on their profile whenever they visit a library, café or other campus locations and scan their card. Professor of management information systems Sudha Ram wants to use this information to monitor students and identify those "most at risk of not returning."

"By getting their digital traces, you can explore their patterns of movement, behavior and interactions, and that tells you a great deal about them," Ram said.

The CatCard—the university-issued student ID—can even have money loaded onto it to spend at cafeterias or vending machines. Almost 700 places on the campus will accept the CatCard. “It’s kind of like a sensor that’s embedded in them, which can be used for tracking them,” Ram said.

University of Arizona CatCard The University of Arizona issues freshmen a student card known as a CatCard. Bob Demers/University of Arizona News

“It’s really not designed to track their social interactions, but you can, because you have a time stamp and location information.”

The information recorded from the CatCards, along with other factors such as demographic and an analysis of social interactions, helped identify dropouts at an accuracy rate of between 85 and 90 percent.

“Of all the students who drop out at the end of the first year, with our social integration measures, we’re able to do a prediction at the end of the first 12 weeks of the semester with 85 to 90 percent recall,” Ram said. “That means out of the 2,000 students who drop out, we’re able to identify 1,800 of them.”

Ram said the traditional method of studying results and grades was flawed because students who decide to leave make the choice in the first 12 weeks.

“There are social science theories that indicate when these students come in, they need to establish a regular routine, learn how to manage their time, and they need to get socially integrated,” Ram said. “Those are some of the reasons they tend to drop out—they’re not socially integrated and they haven’t established a regularity of routine on campus.”