A New York school district is piloting the latest generation of “smart card” technology to document a number of student and staff member activities, including internet access, taking attendance, permitting entry into the school, buying lunch in the cafeteria, and signing out books.

The technology “incorporates many things into one tool,” said Roberta A. Gerold, superintendent of Miller Place School District. “We can collapse so many tasks into one system.”

District officials hope the smart-card system, developed by the ScholarChip Co., will help them keep track of where students are and what they are doing, easing the workload of staff members so they can focus on teaching.

In May, the district issued a ScholarChip card—a credit card-like device with an embedded computer chip—to every person, including teachers, custodians, administrative staff, cafeteria helpers, bus drivers, the superintendent, and nearly 3,000 students. Each ScholarChip card shows the owner’s photo, name, school, district, an identification number, a bar code, and a gold-colored computer chip.

“We are going to use them initially to allow access to the internet,” Gerold said.

The district also installed a smart-card reader at each computer. Now, when students or staff members use a computer, they must insert their card into the reader and type in their personal identification number (PIN).

“It’s kind of like an ATM card—you input the card, and then you input your PIN,” Gerold said. With the ScholarChip card, the district will know who is using a computer and when.

On the internet, a user can only access sites that have been permitted by the school and “set” on each person’s account. ScholarChip has eight different categories consisting of millions of blocked IP addresses that are updated every day, and schools can choose which categories to block. ScholarChip has contracted with another company to review the sites personally. Teachers can control their students’ access to certain web sites or the internet simply by modifying the settings in the students’ accounts.

Gerold was so impressed with the internet filtering feature of ScholarChip’s smart card that she said the district would have gotten involved with the pilot if the card only controlled internet access.

“The smart card also disguises a student’s identity on the internet,” she added.

She explained that the card creates a “mock identity” for each student, so web sites can’t track a student’s identity. “It was wonderful for us that no one could attach themselves or a cookie to a student,” Gerold said. Students “come back as clean as they went out.” As students go out on the internet, they are given a one-time identity, which on the internet appears as a long string of digits, said Maged Atiya, chief technical officer for the ScholarChip Co.

“We essentially prevent tracking by predators, or marketers, or what have you,” Atiya said. “And the school, of course, gets detailed reports of how much time was spent and what was accessed.”

The ScholarChip card also acts like a thin-client system, meaning that a user’s work is saved on a central server and can be accessed by inserting a card and PIN. It also remembers internet bookmarks and eMail addresses, so every person’s internet experience is more personalized.

“Eventually, we will use it like a debit card for our cafeteria,” Gerold said. Students who are on the free- and reduced-price lunch program no longer will be singled out, she said, because all students will pay for cafeteria food using their ScholarChip cards.

“High-school kids tend to be embarrassed by free- and reduced-price lunch programs, so they don’t sign-up for them,” Gerold said. The system also will save time on end-of-year reports that require a tally of the number of free- and reduced-priced lunches served, she added.

Parents will be able to add money to their child’s account for food, and they’ll have different options for customizing how this money is spent. For example, if a parent doesn’t want her child to have a lot of sugar, she could set up the account so it cannot be used in the school’s vending machines.

Gerold said the district also plans to monitor attendance using the cards on a period-by-period basis. Students would swipe their cards each time they entered a classroom. Substitute teachers and visitors also would be issued a temporary card.

After school, students could use their cards to enter the building, letting school officials know exactly who is entering and leaving and when. “Of course, kids could bring other kids with them, so it’s not a strong security piece, but it’s stronger than what we have right now,” Gerold said.

The ScholarChip cards will be used in the library as well, she said. The cards not only would be used to sign out books, they’d also be used to perform searches on the school’s computer system. School officials could even keep track of what students searched for and when, if they wanted.

Bus drivers will scan the students’ cards before they get on and off the bus. A swipe of a card could notify a driver instantly that a student was suspended from school and denied transportation privileges.

In addition, the district hopes to use the card to help students develop the habit of voting by getting the students to vote regularly on key issues, such as the school mascot and what’s for lunch.

“The neat thing about being a pilot is that a good idea can become a reality,” Gerold said.

As an incentive for keeping track of their ScholarChip cards, students are charged a fee for losing them. If a student forgets his card, he’s issued a temporary card that is only activated for that day.

For the ScholarChip system to function as the Miller Place School District envisions, officials will need a card reader at every computer, a bar-code reader in the cafeteria and library, and a proximity reader at the entrances.

For those concerned about the amount of information district officials potentially could collect about students, Atiya said, “It’s well within their privilege.

“I’m not concerned with the fact that the school knows where a student is, that’s what they’re suppose to know.”

Links:

Miller Place School District
http://www.millerplace.k12.ny.us

ScholarChip Co.
http://www.ScholarChip.com