March 2007

Tracking Student’s Class Attendance Using Wireless PDA

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SmartChecker is the innovative platform that integrates mobile technologies into teaching and learning environment for the particularly tracking and monitoring of student's class attendance. SmartChecker, exploits the use of personal digital assistance (PDA) to provide mobile and instant graphical display. It also furnishes reports and progress tracks for determining student class attendance baselines, and improves the quality of monitoring and data captured technique, data-driven decision making and school accountability.

When Kamri, the head-teacher of class 5 AMANAH in Kompleks Gong Badak Primary School in Malaysia just finishes the morning session and is rushing to have a meeting with the headmaster, he suddenly sees Aminah, Asri's student in 5 SIDIQ, is crying in the corner. “What's up?” But Aminah refuses to say a single word. Kamri is in a hurry to the meeting, so she quickly takes out the SmartCheker. “Aminah is crying in the 3rd floor corner”, she marks down the message and then transfers it to Asri.

SmartChecker retrieves all recent information relating to Aminah from the school database, and starts to analyse if Aminah has been behaving atypically for a period of time.

Now Kamri has arrived at the president's office, where the school master is evaluating his performance. The headmaster turns his attention to the PDA screen that is now showing a system generated alert together with the ranking variation graph of the student. “I think we should pay more attention to him. He was our best student, but now I am a little disappointed about his performance in the past two months based on his attendance. SmartChecker alerted me last night, telling me his overall performance is atypical these two months, and we should find out what is wrong with him.”

Why SmartChecker useful in school environment?

SmartChecker is a mobile student performance monitoring system using wireless mobile handheld devices like PDAs that facilitates real-time access and analysis of the formative and summative performance data of students graphically. At the same time it supports performance prediction based on the heuristic information, and facilitates the improvement of the quality of teaching, learning, data-driven decision-making, monitoring and school accountability. In our work, the Data source of SmartChecker the SMM (Sistem Maklumat Murid) system, which is an online school management system and a city-wide learning data archive for all school students in Malaysia maintained by the Education Ministry. SMM maintain the student learning data for all the primary and secondary schools, storing the learning records and personal information for about all students in primary, secondary schools, as well as teaching staff.

Multipurpose functionality for school and teachers

In a school environment, there are two distinct user groups: school administrator and teachers. SmartChecker is composed of two distinct parts to serve the needs of the different groups. SmartChecker provides global views and analyses of the school performance for this group of users. The main focus is to enhance the school accountability, and to access the school continuous improvement data. Based on the quantitative analytical results, SmartChecker helps to develop teacher professional programmes that would have a quick effect in the classroom and in student monitoring. Basically, two levels of analysis results can be presented for the administrator level users. The analysis for this group is focused on the attendances scores. There are form level analysis and class level analysis. At the form level, the mean, standard deviation, and other statistical factors of the attendance results can be shown graphically and compared across years. The trends of the attendances scores of a form or the whole school can also be visualized graphically. At the class level, statistical factors of each subject within each class will be presented, which helps to facilitate the performance assessment of the students.

Framework for SmartChecker
The pilot project will help determine and confirm the following issues before developing full scale data collection software around the PDA: 1.Real-time or Batch data exchange: Is real-time sending of information to the main server really needed? How much traffic in Kilobytes will be generated? How much will that cost? Will real time information exchange help in data collection monitoring? Will daily batch information interchange suffice, or should the enumerator in the field be connected to the main database all the time and perform all information update on it directly? 2.Synchronization with main database: Will the main database be MySQ L? How will the mechanism of integration between received data from PDA, if in batch mode, occur with the main database? 3.How well will the adopted PDA perform in the field: Will the battery be enough? How will recharging happen? Is the PDA easy to use? What will be the optimum procedure to follow for its use in data collection? Will the PDA memory be enough to handle the client-side application and data storage (if batch mode is used)?

Three major technical issues needed to be addressed in any PDA system development: (a) Multiple user environment – how to categorise users into different groups with different information needs. (b) Data privacy control – how to ensure data can only be seen by the right person, and prevent from the man in the middle attack. (c) Interface designs- how to show a large amount of graphs and information efficiently and ergonomically on a very small screen.

Data privacy control

Due to the inherent data privacy concern, it is important to protect the data in SmartChecker at three levels. (a) Physical security: Protecting the device from loss or theft, and preventing access to the device operating system (OS) and the SmartChecker application if the device does fall into the wrong hands. (b) Data security: Ensuring that if the device does fall into the wrong hands and the OS is accessed, the data stored in the device cannot be accessed. (c) Network security: Preventing eavesdropping during data transmission between the device and the system server. RSA is the most widely used algorithm for public key encryption, and is believed to be secure given sufficiently long keys. Here we modify the classical protocol to take into account of the limitations of hand held devices.

The idea of this protocol is to use public key encrypting data files on server before transformation, and to decrypt by the private key stored on the PDA. Different from the classical RSA, this private key is further encrypted by a session key, keeping it from being disclosed.

System architecture and implementation

This system was developed using three tier architecture that has been chosen for monitoring of system using Internet technology. This architecture provides greater application scalability, high flexibility, high efficiency, lower maintenance, and reusability of components. In this design, each tier can be run either on a separate machine or on the single machine. It improves system processing performance. These tiers do not necessarily communicate to physical locations on different computers or networks. A typical three layer architecture is divided into Client or presentation tier, Application tier and Data tier.

Users can simply navigate and hyper-link through different graphs and data points to gain a thorough understanding of each student's class attendances, from the detailed scores, comparison to the average to the overall ranking, perform trend analysis by a set of pre-determined rules.

Presentation tier

This tier enables user to interact with the database through the web browser in a user friendly manner from remote location or using wireless device like PDA.

Application tier

Application tier consists of web server and application logic for data monitoring. The logics and rules are separately stored in the files using Web scripts. These logics and rules are properly interfaced with the main Web server in this tier. In the current development of monitoring system, Apache Server has been used as Web server.

Data tier

This tier concerns with persistent data usually stored in a database or in permanent storage. MySQL database has been used to store the entire student's class attendance data collection by wireless PDA via online application. The major benefits of three tier architecture are reusability, flexibility, manageability, maintainability,
and scalability.

SmartChecker report and alert system

SmartChecker consists of the following main functions: Querying of data in a city-wise learning data management and archive system such as the Malaysia SMM system, and facilitating comparison of data scattered across multiple databases, generate and display the results of formative assessment and summative assessment in different graphical formats, like bar-chart and scattered diagram. Users can simply navigate and hyper-linking through different graphs and data points to gain a thorough understanding of each student's class attendances, from the detailed scores, comparison to the average to the overall ranking, perform trend analysis by a set of pre-determined rules. The prediction modeling is conducted according to the trend analysis, and instant alert will be pop up. The alert consists of the detailed information of an atypical student who may need special care, on-site input of additional formative assessment data by teachers.  



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