Attendance goes high tech at Ontario school

A Canadian school is hooking up with wireless access and handheld devices, allowing its teachers to keep track of student attendance in real-time.

Using palmOne's Tungsten C devices, which allow for wireless connectivity, North Grenville District High School is trying to move away from the traditional paper-and-pen attendance method and move into a strategy that will notify the school sooner if a student is not where he or she should be.

"We do period-by-period attendance, so everyday, every period, we have five periods in a day, we will have probably 25 to 30 sheets come to the office with attendance marked on them and somebody has to input all that data," explained North Grenville's principal, Steve McLean. "(It's) a waste of time and abilities and expertise."

For the teachers themselves there is essentially no change; they have to enter the attendance information regardless if it is on a piece of paper or into a Palm device, McLean noted. By putting the information directly into the handheld, the school has access to the information sooner.

Jordan Silverberg, manager of enterprise sales for palmOne Canada, said he had no idea how crucial it was for schools to have attendance information so quickly until he started talking to different school boards around the province.

"What I have heard recently meeting with boards like the Hamilton Wentworth Public School Board and meeting with superintendents is, they're saying their immediate need is for teachers to instantly send the attendance data directly through their network and into their back-end system...that to me is a bit of a surprise. I didn't realize that was a big pain point for them but apparently it is," Silverberg said.

Besides keeping track of student attendance on Palm devices, all 35 of Grenville's teachers will also have access to the entire student database by way of a student data management system product called eSIS, manufactured by Ottawa-based Administrative Assistants, Silverberg said. Teachers will have access to information including color photos of the students, emergency contact information and student timetables.

"If you are a student in my school and I'm walking down the hall and you are in some kind of medical distress ... I will have all of that information available on my Palm ... I can check my (device) and find out that the student has an allergy-induced anaphylaxis and (he/she) carries an eppy pen, and then I go from there," Grenville's McLean explained.

Having all of the students' information on the Palm devices could be seen as a security risk. However, Silverberg said that is taken care of: the handheld devices come with stringent security measures right out of the box.

"There are different levels of security that you can put in," Silverberg explained. "(For instance) you can put in electronic signature capture so you would have to sign your signature and it would have to match up for the Palm to even work, and after so many tries it just stops working."

Ottawa-based Storm Internet is implementing a Wi-Fi network for the school.

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