NFC on Campus: UK Pilot is a Possible Prelude To College Launch

Newham College of Further Education in London today launched the first phase of a project that could eventually see 300 teachers use NFC phones to help keep track of attendance for 16,000 students.

For a small test begun today, the vocational college has assigned NFC phones to four teachers, who will use them to take roll call of their combined 120 students over the next month.

The teachers will tap their phones to student ID cards before class starts. The 120 magnetic-stripe student ID cards will be modified with contactless stickers to transmit a student ID number when the phone reads them. Teachers will log into the system themselves upon entering the classroom by tapping their phones to an RFID tag mounted on the wall.

“We wanted to find a technology that was user friendly for the teachers, as well as easy to use by the students,” Philip Badman, college vice principal, told NFC Times.

The data from the teachers’ NFC phones will be automatically sent over the mobile network to a time-and-attendance system from Finland-based Reslink Solutions, which also developed the application that will run on the four Nokia 6212 NFC phones used in the trial. That data will be integrated with the college’s management-information software used for filing attendance reports with the UK government, which links attendance to college funding and grants to students.

Newham College believes NFC could reduce the time teachers spend taking the roll at the beginning of each class and cut paperwork for administrators. At present, teachers manually enter attendance on classroom computers.

The student-attendance application falls under the general category of NFC workforce management services, which, in fact, probably account for most of the NFC phones now in use–much more than high-profile payment and ticketing applications that are still in the trial stage.

Such companies as Reslink and Netherlands-based Nedap develop NFC applications and back-end systems for home-health agencies, security guard firms, cleaning companies and others that need to check on the progress of remote employees and to send them updated instructions or assignments. In France, Orange Business Services, part of France Telecom-Orange, recently introduced its own workforce-management offer, called Mobile and Badge.

Newham’s Badman said the NFC system also could help the college better track student tardiness and make sure teachers check in before classes start. It could then automatically send text messages to chronically late students and alert administrators if a teacher is delayed arriving to class for some reason.

Just having a network of school-assigned phones in the hands of teachers could help the college stay better in touch, said Badman.

In addition, the system could help the college monitor how efficiently it uses its 200 classrooms and other facilities because it will have more immediate access to data on attendance.

A successful four-week pilot could lead to deployment of NFC to Newham College’s two main campuses in East London and 12 teaching centers, with a total 300 teachers and 16,000 students, Badman said. The teachers would be assigned the phones and the students would be issued new ID cards containing contactless chips the phones could read, he said.

Compared with alternative time-and-attendance systems the college evaluated, the NFC phone scheme is cheaper, with estimates running about 60,000 to 70,000 euros (US$73,400 to $85,700) for a collegewide rollout. That is roughly 10 times less than a biometric system and is also cheaper than a system that mounted fixed contactless readers or NFC phones at the entry of each classroom, which students and teachers would have touched with contactless cards, he said.

Issuing new student ID cards embedded with cheap contactless chips, which would only transmit a serial or ID number when touched to NFC phones, would cost about 60 euro cents (US$.73) apiece, compared with about 18 euro cents the school now pays for ID cards without the chip, Badman said. The mag-stripe on the ID cards would continue to be used for building access. The higher cost of the contactless ID cards is included in the 60,000- to 70,000-euro estimate for the collegewide system. That figure is still being negotiated, however.

But the investment could pay off for Newham in more ways than just increasing the efficiency of its roll calls.

"The Newham template could be used within any school, college or university, I believe” Les Wright, Reslink’s head of UK and Ireland channel sales, told NFC Times. “It’s just another strategy for NFC that not a lot of people have thought about.”

But before the college and Reslink can package the NFC-based attendance system and sell it to other colleges and universities, it has to pass the test at Newham.

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