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Everywhere you go, someone is doing the exact same thing as you are now—looking at a smart device. You could be in a café, on a bus, or even walking down the street, and chances are that half the people that you meet will have their noses buried in a mobile phone or laptop screen. Millennials were the first generation to come of age with cable TV and the Internet and it could be said that their most successful babysitters were on screen. Since then, technology has changed from a casual source of entertainment to an essential device that influences our personal, school, and social lives.

Since on-campus classes were severely curtailed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been using technology to complete our college curriculum. From Zoom lectures to FaceTime calls between project partners, technology has enabled us to carry on as usual for the most part. With the successful rollout of vaccinations, most school districts are intending to resume full in-person instruction in the upcoming school year. As we prepare to re-enter the social sphere, can technology continue to help us in new and different ways?

Introducing RFID Technology

Everybody is aware of what barcodes are. The quintessential series of thick and thin lines that mark merchandise for sale is so ingrained in our daily culture that some people even get them as tattoos. Mention RFID, however, and you will often be repaid with a blank expression. Thus you may be surprised to know that most of us use RFID solutions every day. From retail tags to public transportation access cards and biometric passports, RFID technology is making life easier at numerous points during our day.

RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification. It has been in use as early as World War II, where allied troops used the technology to identify if aircraft belonged to friendly or hostile fleets. In 1971, an American inventor, Mario Cardullo, demonstrated a passive radio transponder with memory to the New York Port Authority for use as a toll device. This invention was patented in 1973, marking the start of the modern RFID product. Since then, RFID technology has been advancing every year, creating cheaper, smaller, and more efficient solutions.

These days, there are many different products under the umbrella of RFID tags. The three predominant types of RFID tags are active, passive, and semi-passive. Active tags are equipped with their own battery and constantly transmit a signal. These tags are most commonly used for tracking vehicles and logistics. Passive tags are smaller and contain no power source of their own. They need to be close to an RFID reader to obtain power and transmit data. These tags are most commonly used for asset management and personnel identification cards. Semi-passive tags are the blend of the two aforementioned tags.

So how exactly does RFID technology work? Let us simplify the process. Each RFID tag contains a microchip that stores data. When the tag is in range of an RFID reader, it receives electromagnetic energy from the reader’s antenna. The tag then sends out radio waves in response to the reader. The reader receives these waves and translates the radio frequencies into data, triggering further actions. Such further actions could include the simple storage of information or the opening and closing of secure gantries such as toll gates.

More Time for Study

Since RFID is such a versatile and robust technology, are there some applications for our schools that will help to make life more efficient? The first application of RFID technology in schools that comes to mind is for registering attendance. This is already in use in some schools in the form of RFID-tagged identity cards. Instead of teachers manually reading out and marking off each student by name, students merely have to tap their cards when entering and leaving the classroom. This not only saves time for teachers but also presents a more accurate record of late arrivals and early departures.

Just as the technology is useful to track student attendance, it can be used to monitor the movements of teachers and other school staff as well. These smart ID cards can also be used with visitor management modules to register frequent visitors such as parents or guardians, improving the overall security and safety of students on the school grounds. As most of these RFID ID cards are passive tags, they are more compact and affordable. They also avoid the privacy concerns of active tags, as they only broadcast within close range of designated card readers in the school.

In addition, RFID inventory solutions can be implemented in libraries, streamlining the process of borrowing and returning physical assets. Instead of having to scan the books one by one, as with the old barcode technology, students can now check out entire bags full of research material, with all the RFID tags updating at once as they stroll past the reader terminal. Aside from minimizing queue time for students, this technology also saves on valuable man-hours of library administrators.

RFID systems can also be used to automate canteen and cafeteria purchases, with payments deducted directly from digital wallets, much like a toll transaction. These digital wallets could also be integrated into the smart student ID cards, creating a seamless multi-purpose solution. Another appealing use of RFID technology is for extracurricular events such as sporting matches, concerts, or school dances. RFID-equipped passes and wristbands are attractive and collectible and can inform event organizers of attendee status in real-time.

There is great potential for incorporating more technology into our campus life. As we embrace electronic advances for research, instruction, and data analysis, it seems strange to exclude it from basic services. Schools should consider the use of RFID technology to simplify processes so we can save time on administration and spend more time learning.