I’ve been comparing what it is like to be a student today with what it was like 40 years ago. Undoubtedly it is a different world. In 1979 the library was still served by a card index. That was a source of considerable serendipity. Thankfully, we still have university libraries, and one can browse the shelves, not that these days that’s really necessary. Most would prefer to browse the internet. I confess that when I graduated in 1982 I felt very pleased getting a 2:2, since I can’t remember being on campus very much. I was at the time enjoying the life of a piss artist and concurrently starting a small business and would have been happy just scraping a third. Even then I was classed as a mature student, so not only did I get a normal student grant plus maintenance costs but also received a top-up ‘mature student’ allowance. What days! (And it has to be said, my previous three years’ fees for studying with the Open University were paid for by the local County Council.) No wonder the country was bankrupt. Too much learning at public expense.
Now that we’re more parsimonious the whole ethos has changed. I am minded to write about this having discovered that there is a widely used monitoring program which seeks to define my current engagement with my studies. This is called stREAM. I came across it by accident. This monitors a number of things like attendance, library books taken out, use of print services and a range of other aspects of university life which are able to generate an electronic record. The whole thing can then add up the inputs of your engagement and tell you if you are as engaged as other students. A bit of nudge theory there, I suspect. It is, however eerily reminiscent of the system being introduced by the Chinese government to see how obedient citizens are. Add a bit of facial recognition on campus and there’ll be a total assessment available, which will probably set some algorithm off to detect whether you’re a cheat, likely to indulge in plagiarism or not.
One wonders how passive stREAM is. No doubt the staff are being monitored too. And the irony is the student is the customer. Currently I’m not sure what useful purpose it serves. Only two criteria for getting a degree seem necessary. First, obtain the correct grades for your work. Second, make sure you’ve paid your fees. Apart from that, what else exactly is required? But technology can do so much more, so it has to. Then again, card indexes weren’t always so innocent. Ask the Stasi.