Help me design a cheap timecard solution for a classroom
April 22, 2015 5:59 PM   Subscribe

I am looking for a sub $100 way to keep track of the attendance of 20-30 students

I teach in a work-readiness program [populated with students who have a wide variety of backgrounds], and one issue that seems to come up with graduates is that of Being On Time.

Yes, we do attendance [5 times a day!], and yes, I've tried various schemes to encourage being on time, but I always end up being too lenient and I want to fix this with technology. [I know, I know]. I was thinking of a punch clock. Then I thought of an RFID reader. Then a magnetic swipe card reader. Whatever the solution, it has to be implementable for <$100CAD, output to something legible, and keep track of time individually by student. I want them to get in the habit of punching in / out.

Arduino is acceptable, Raspberry Pi is acceptable, Android is acceptable [I have an old tablet thing that could be donated to the cause], and there is a computer with unused USB ports that it could be hooked up to if that helps. If it needs rfid chips or swipe cards, then there has to be a way to write identifying info onto them so that each card corresponds to only one student.

I won't be implementing this until September, so shipping from China [like from] shouldn't be a problem. There seem to be many available on eBay, but I'm not really sure what features I want or how to tell the bad from the good.

Any ideas?
posted by Acari to Technology (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: ClassDojo?
posted by oceanjesse at 6:24 PM on April 22, 2015

Best answer: Might be worth a try.
posted by jcatus at 6:36 PM on April 22, 2015

Response by poster: Forgot to mention: the students are all adults, and [typically] very sensitive about anything that makes them feel as though they are being treated like children [for many, they were last in school as children - many left before a grade 7 equivalent, and almost all before finishing high school].

This makes the class rules about being on time and others [no food/drink, no cell phones] particularly tricky to enforce. Trying to couch it in work-centred terms is the best idea I have right now.
posted by Acari at 6:43 PM on April 22, 2015

Best answer: My work had some large, mandatory training sessions that had everyone sign in using their employee badge. You waved your card over a dongle. This was obviously a commercial system so probably not useful directly, but this was totally normal in my workplace.

Sparkfun sells RFID cards for $2/ea, somewhat cheaper in bulk. They also sell readers and breakout boards for same. You could happily interface this with an Arduino. Sparkfun is a well known hobbyist store, so 1) they're probably not the cheapest, but 2) are going to be able to sell you a good product.
posted by BungaDunga at 7:16 PM on April 22, 2015

Best answer: Another lower-tech option is Plickers - basically, you print cards and assign them to students and then they hold them up and you scan them with your smartphone. Pretty cool, actually.

And that isn't something that would seem too young for your students, I think.
posted by guster4lovers at 8:19 PM on April 22, 2015

Best answer: This is a little off-topic, but ... technology will tell you who is showing up on time, but it will do little to reverse a lifetime of not being in a time-sensitive work culture. Have you considered what will truly motivate your students to show up on time? Maybe you could institute some kind of reward structure. You could ask a local restaurant or locally-run business to offer a discount to students with a good track record of timeliness. Carrots, in my experience, work better than sticks.

I say this as someone who has worked with transitioning people from subsistence farming families to understanding work culture. Showing up on time can be a real challenge -- it's a culture thing, and I don't like using negative reinforcement. I'm guessing these folks are not from rural Central America, though, so YMMV.
posted by ananci at 9:29 PM on April 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Respectfully, if you're already taking roll 5 times a day and the problem is that the roll-taker is being too lenient, it might make more sense to work on the leniency issue first and foremost. or, how would technology help with this?

Separately, at my office, we do this informally via Skype log-in times (available on skype = at work station). Can you do something similar?
posted by samthemander at 10:55 PM on April 22, 2015

I've heard teachers wish they could do a clock in/out thing but we never did because of the arguement it was training them to be working class, preparing them for a job at McDonald's. your adult students might feel patronized, in fact I can almost guarantee it!
posted by pairofshades at 5:27 AM on April 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: A tech-school class used a punch-card machine with a paper card for each student.

Everyone with few absences got an "attendance and punctuality award" at the end of the class.
posted by sninctown at 6:20 AM on April 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think I would actually try to work on this issue more directly, in that it seems like with this population you need to try and really understand what's causing the lateness and actively work with students to solve this issue. I feel like technology is just going to push the leniency issue to a later stage -- as in, you look at the computer record of their on time-performance, you prepare to give whatever the consequence is (a lower grade? getting kicked out of the program?), they beg you to not do the consequence, and you give in because you feel bad. It seems like there could be a lot of things at play here -- just not caring about being on time, needing to rely on unreliable public transit, issues with traffic/finding a parking spot, getting young kids off to daycare or school, etc. etc. Each of these actually does need to be figured out when these folks enter the workforce (even if we might have more sympathy for the kids person versus the "don't care" person), but I think they all have different types of solutions you can walk through with students.
posted by rainbowbrite at 6:57 AM on April 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

"I want them to get in the habit of punching in / out"

Okay, I am back to say a little more about how this is maybe not really pc these days. I am a former educator and have experience working in deprived areas, as part of my education we went in depth into how education differs for minority populations vs. schools in more socio-economically better off areas.

Will you find a teacher asking students to punch in and out at a school in Beverly Hills? No. I am sure that some parents would be in uproar about how it wasn't taking into account their child's personal situation, that it was patronizing, that its something people are forced to do at a blue collar job where employers don't trust their employees to manage their own time.

Some people feel the same way about school bells and in a lot of places they have been phased out because they don't want the students being treated like factory workers.

The whole idea is that certain populations are put in educational systems that perpetuate the socio economic divide and keeps them poor and others rich.

So really think about the messages a punch in punch out culture sends.

Does it send a message of respect? For their realities of childcare and public transport? For their abilities as adults to manage their own time? Does it send the message that you, their teacher, thinks very much of their potential? I don't think so.

Great teachers don't have to resort to these kinds of strategies... there is an atmosphere of respect in their class that supports the learning goals.

Instead of going down this route, I really urge you to find a different strategy, like starting out with a long warm up to give students time to arrive, meeting one to one, having a class discussion, doing a project on time management and communication. And reflect on yourself as an educator.
posted by pairofshades at 8:15 AM on April 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I hear and feel everyone's concerns. I struggle with the same issues myself.

The fact remains that this is a program designed for students who are coming from diverse cultures [yes, rural central america has made an appearance!], and immediately placed in blue collar positions where they do have these expectations. The most common reasons for students to not get hired after their job placement are punctuality and using non-approved electronic devices in sensitive environments. Not getting hired means real financial hardship because at that point they are no longer in the program [thus no longer receiving living expenses].

It is precisely because the culture is so different [for some] and that we have only 4 months together that I am modelling this to be as work-like as possible. Even though I also have a strong distaste for negative consequences.

My main reason for not being so strict has been out of respect for the students and their difficult and busy lives. Many are working nights [under the table as their government funding prohibits this], taking care of children or parents, and [frequently] dealing with adjusting to a new culture. I have been reflecting on this, and I feel that being less strict in class has been setting them up for failure at the worksite. I still feel conflicted about this.

In other programs and courses, I am more free to focus on each individual's learning and to disregard these issues. I have set up numerous accommodations to work with students' personal lives [come later / come early / work from home and check in online, challenging exams where possible], but these are distinctly Not An Option here.

Responding to people who actually answered the question [!]
Thanks! I will look into your options, especially the sparkfun one, and plickers.
Students with perfect attendance already get some perks, including an award, but I might consider making that a monthly thing.
posted by Acari at 10:11 AM on April 23, 2015

I think you should use a punch clock that shows how many "points" (i.e. pay they x points per hour and have it down to the minute) they earned and have some reward ready bi-weekly for perfect point values. Grocery store or coffee gift card maybe?

I'm surprised so many people in this thread think this is a bad idea. I'm an educated middle class woman and I have to punch in and out every day. If I'm one minute late i get an "occurance" and if I get 7 of them in any rolling calendar year I get fired. The real world doesn't give a shit if I have to deal with sporadic transportation, childcare, or anything else because I'm just a disposable corporate cog that could be replaced with the next round of recently laid off workers. Time clocks suck. Work sucks. Reality sucks. But its just something we plebs have to learn to deal with, which is what it seems like you are trying to teach (thankfully in a less pessimistic way than I've laid it out here!)
posted by WeekendJen at 1:02 PM on April 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh I just thought - you could make it a group thing where if x% of the class has no "occurances" you'll bring in coffee and donuts on Monday for the whole class.
posted by WeekendJen at 1:04 PM on April 23, 2015

I really hate to bring this up, but be careful with any electronic or automated solution because cheating with them is A Thing. Universities around here use something called an i>Clicker for some classes, and it's really trivial to bring in your friend's clicker and check in more than one person. This also happens in the working world, with employees punching other employees' time cards for them, to show that they clocked in or ended a break earlier than they actually did. (Search terms "i>clicker cheating" and "time clock cheating".) The only practical ways around cheating here are either extreme supervision of everyone who's checking in or some kind of biometric (fingerprints or iris scan) check-in... but those will only escalate your student dissatisfaction problems.

If you really want to go with something electronic (that's not 100% secure, as in students could cheat it if they want to), try looking for NFC chips. NFC is a subset of RFID which is big right now. For example, here are some NFC cards which are on Amazon for 25/$12.50. You'll also need a reader/writer to set them up the first time and then read them when students "badge in", some modern smart phones will do this or you can get a reader that plugs into your computer (no recommendations here, I use my phone but that is definitely over your budget--just read the reviews to make sure your reader is good with reading the type of chip you get--here's a brief comparison of some of the different chip types).
posted by anaelith at 6:01 AM on April 27, 2015

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