Utilizing RFID and Web 2.0 Services in Higher Education: A First Look

March 20, 2007 by Josh · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Bluffton, Lifehacks, MBA, Tech, higher education 

The new influx of cheap and revolutionary information technology into the business world has the chance of greatly changing even businesses with the most stringent budget. The beauty of the ideas behind the web 2.0 movement is that the barriers to entry are small which results in often free or very cheap services that even the ivory tower of education can take advantage of. Another implementation which can be undertaken and in some ways led by higher education is the use of RFID tags and ubiquitous computing. This paper will discuss the additions which could be made to Bluffton University in order to fully leverage ubiquitous computing and the many new social networking features and web 2.0 services. I will focus on two main areas, the student experience and the advancement division which impacts alumni as well.

The use of RFID tags at Bluffton could drastically change the way students interact with the entire environment. These RFID tags could be used to monitor their class attendance and could be used as an identifier when checking grades or scheduling classes. This is similar to an initiative which started in California to monitor classroom attendance in order to cut down on teacher administrative time (Greenfield, 2006 p. 56). The program did not succeed due to privacy concerns, which raises an important point. Privacy is an important part of our everyday lives however if the information stored on the RFID chip is protected adequately and it is a unique identifier but not one that can be used to access other student information in the primary campus system by an individual then some fears can be put down. For example each student has an RFID tag which ties to the campus system, however the access to the system is only allowed when a trusted reader reads an RFID tag. The RFID tag would not contain the student’s ID or the student’s Social Security Number. Other additional steps would be taken to safeguard the individual’s information. The other concern is that students could be tracked across campus (pg 56). This is a harder problem to solve, in that to fully utilize the RFID solution it would be not only linked to classroom attendance but to student meal plans, their door locks, and campus vending machines. This would blanket the campus in RFID readers raising privacy concerns. This is loss of privacy as we currently know it is also discussed in Everyware by Adam Greenfield (2). The question is, whether we will give up this privacy and whether an institution should ask its employees and students to do so. Overall the benefits far outweigh the negatives in this instance form my experience as a student, this relies greatly on the trust one has in the system using an RFID system though, and could not easily be transferred from Bluffton to a random organizational body and retain the same level of trust. An added bonus to implementing such a system is that RFID’s use in the University setting at this early stage is that manufacturers and backers of RFID could be convinced to cover implementation costs in order to study the system and use it as a showcase of RFID on a campus.

This is my personal vision of how RFID tags could change the university experience.

When you arrive for your freshman year at Bluffton you are handed your ID card which is equipped with an RFID tag, you are also given the option of implanting one on yourself. This tag is linked securely to a central serer and it can perform many functions. First off it is how you get into your dorm, and how you get into your dorm room(no more lost keys), after your first week the dorm room has gathered a significant amount of metadata on your in interactions with the “smart” in room technology form the phone to the wall mounted television, the server even knows not to auto on the lights when your roommate is fast asleep and you just got back from all you can eat Pizza at Luke’s. Now when you are in a friends room your tag tells the room phone you can be reached there and the switchboard automatically routes your calls with a personalized ringer to that room. This can happen on any campus phone, though you have the option of disabling certain phones or blocks of phones from having your calls routed to them.

Its lunchtime now and you and your newfound friends head over to Marbeck to get something to eat, you are really thirsty so you stop in the lobby and use your tag to purchase a bottle of water with your “Beaver Bucks”. Once you get to Marbeck you are “swiped in” by simply walking through line, your RFID chip did all the work, and soon you are on your way to enjoying some “fresh” pizza.

After lunch you head to Bob’s Place the student union on campus to get a Edy’s Ice cream sundae with your RFID tag once again and sit down at one of the computers. Your are automatically loged into the network with a mirror image of your desktop, this is available on any campus computer with your info being stored on the network. You check out your classmates for Intro to C, and realize you better get to class, with the RFID tags being used for attendance even your busy professor knows who is late.

These are just a few of the conveniences I could think up off the top of my head relating the use of an RFID tag or similar ubiquitous computing solution on a University Campus.

Paul Rademacher made housingmaps.com by merging two freely available sets of data and Google Maps’ API to create a simple interface for browsing craigslist home listings on a map for ease in finding a home you want, in a location you want (Tapscott, 2006 p. 184). Bluffton University could leverage the open API of Google Maps to show alumni where they can find other alumni in order to meet new people in an area they recently moved to or to reconnect. This would need to be done on an opt-in basis for alumni to respect privacy wishes. Bluffton could also use Flickr’s open API to create a photo sharing site for alumni and students of Bluffton. This would be a low cost way of providing a popular service to our constituency. The low cost of this option makes it even more attractive.

Bluffton could also make use of a internal wiki as a policies and procedures manual. This wiki would allow for several super users to edit the main content but would allow any faculty staff to add to the page in order to transfer knowledge regarding specific situations and or procedures. This practice is similar to the eureka database developed at Xerox to share information. Departments can also use wikis to document the set up their own policies and procedures manual to track tasks which require a specific set of actions in order to be accomplished correctly. I plan to begin using a wiki to document how certain mailings and activities are performed, not only for myself but for others who do similar work and for someone who will eventually do my job.

These are only a few of the ideas Bluffton can initiate and benefit from. The ideas range from easily implemented and cheap to pricier and more involved editions. In any case Bluffton should pursue the use of open APIs to create better services for the students and alumni it serves.


Greenfield, Adam Everyware, The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing, New Riders Press, 2006

Tapscott, Don, Wikinomics, Portfolio (Penguin Press), New York 2006

These ideas are currently only at Bluffton University in my head, we don’t plan on implanting students with RFID tags or attaching them to ID cards, though I think that under the right circumstances they could drastically improve the college experience.

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