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, 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 has 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.

While 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 volunteered for the pilot if the card only controlled internet access.

“The smart card also disguises a student’s identity on the internet,” Gerold said. She explained that the card creates a “mock identity” for each student, so web sites can’t track a student’s identity. Students “come back as clean as they went out,” she said.

As students go out on the internet, they are given a one-time identity consisting of a long string of digits, explained Maged Atiya, chief technical officer for the ScholarChip Co.

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

The ScholarChip card also acts like a thin-client system, meaning a user’s work is saved on a central server and can be accessed by inserting a card and PIN. The card 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 said.

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 would be issued temporary cards.

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. And, 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.

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 privacy advocates concerned about the amount of information district officials 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 supposed to know,” Atiya said.

Links:
Los Angeles County Office of Education
http://www.lacoe.edu

Aqcess Technologies
http://www.qbenet.com