Development of an Innovative VoIP Student Attendance Recording Application
Patel, K. J., Nocker, S. G., Tolson, C. N., Australasian Journal of Engineering Education
The persistence of high rates of absenteeism is a major concern, as it is believed by educators that consistent school attendance is essential for educational success, with low standards of academic achievement, including low levels of English language and literacy skills, almost universally attributed by teaching staff to high levels of absenteeism among the student body.
Several notable factors that influence student attendance and grades are motivation, prior grade point average, self-financing by students, hours worked on jobs, quality of teaching, and nature of class lectures. These factors lead to student behaviour, teacher attributes and course characteristics on class attendance and performance (Devadoss, 1996).
At Box Hill Institute of TAFE (BHI), attendance for international students needs to be reported using the approved method to BHI's International Student Office. It is mandatory that international students meet 80% attendance. One of the significant priorities for BHI was the application development to reduce time, error and administration overheads on reporting of attendance to government agencies in order to comply with regulations, especially with Educational Services for Overseas Students (ESOS) Act 2000.
While the world is moving towards an entirely unified voice and data network, voice-over-internet protocol (VoIP) is becoming increasingly popular. Converging voice, data and video networks are providing many positives for business and individuals alike. At present, nine Victorian Technical and Further Education (TAFE) colleges are looking to deploy VoIP or have already completed rollouts. Eventually there will be an estimated 9000 VoIP handsets in action in the state of Victoria. This deployment allows convergence of a number of technologies, including unified messaging services, virtual classrooms utilising videoconferencing, internet protocol television and other customised services (Le May, 2006).
BHI faces the common technology issues that constrain other institutes: limited funding and staff resources. Added challenges were that some students' families need their child's attendance and results to be communicated spontaneously, and some students lack a home computer and/or internet services. In late 2005, BHI fully implemented Cisco's voice system designed for educational environments that handles large call volumes without frequent busy signals, enables deployment of phones in every classroom, provides voicemail capabilities, and support for staff and students.
In 2007, BHI had over 22,000 equivalent full-time students, over 800 equivalent full-time staff, 11 major departments and four campuses, which mainly relied on funding from the Victorian State Government from Schedule Contact Hours. BHI offers more than 500 full-time and part-time courses, which range from one-week short courses up to two-year diplomas and a maximum of three-year degrees in several specialties. Budget and staffing constraints required that the new applications were created and implemented on existing funded infrastructure to maximise return on investment and reduce administration overhead. Implementation of new applications should be incremental and appreciable. Also its management and maintenance be both centralised and efficient, thus eliminating the need for frequent and costly service visits by contractors.
Due to the complex hybrid and manual procedures involved in the present system, it was a challenging task to come up with an innovative solution designed around available information technology infrastructure.
There are many VoIP solutions available commercially. At first we investigated Avaya, 3Com and Cisco products. Cisco infrastructure was already present at BHI and this made our decision easier as a preferred development platform. With respect to voice quality, high performance and reliability, systems integration, simplicity, and speed of management, Cisco's telephony products were preferred comparatively.
Cisco acquired VoIP company Selsuis Systems in the late 1990s and released its own version (or second generation) of phones in 2000 with HTTP and XML (extensible mark-up language) capabilities. Utilising XML, it allowed Cisco to deliver a user-friendly interface with additional functions, which provided the user with an interactive experience with their phone. The biggest advantage of Cisco VoIP phones is that they are completely open for any third party software development and customisation (Deel et al, 2002).
2 RELATED WORK
There are several other competitive products in the market for student attendance recording and management applications for use in education sector. These products are primarily US-based and are not user-friendly to customise for the Australian education system. Some of the examples of attendance recording software found in the market are Phone Top K-12 (Attendance Manager) and Sirius School (RollMarker).
Phone Top K-12 is a US-designed application that combines student attendance recording with other functions, such as visitor tracking and student information (AAC Inc., 2004). This has been developed for the Cisco IP phone and integrates comprehensively with its other education-based products, although does not integrate with Australian-based database systems.
Another example is the Australian-based Sirius' School (RollMarker) application, which is part of its Schools in Sync portfolio. This program can be integrated with some of the current database systems, although it does not integrate with the Student Management And Recording Tool (SMART) database system. It also provides access to data entry from a number of devices, including networked PCs, pocket PCs and laptops (Sirius Logic Pty Ltd, n.d.a). The Department of Education & Training (DET) is currently trialling Sirius' solution (Sirius Logic Pty Ltd, n.d.b). Sixteen high schools in Australia are using this system at the moment. It is a non-Cisco IP phone based system.
3 PROJECT JUSTIFICATION
An executive decision was made to develop "an innovative solution" and "maximise return on investment" using newly installed Cisco VoIP phones. If computers were used as the human machine interface using an HTML (hyper text mark-up language) or even XML application, we believed that this would not have contributed to an innovative solution, as several off-the-shelf applications are available to achieve the desired end state. Furthermore, due to complexity and sensitivity of the SMART system, it was decided to give only minimum access or one-way submission access to teachers to SMART. …
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Publication information: Article title: Development of an Innovative VoIP Student Attendance Recording Application. Contributors: Patel, K. J. - Author, Nocker, S. G. - Author, Tolson, C. N. - Author. Journal title: Australasian Journal of Engineering Education. Volume: 16. Issue: 2 Publication date: October 2010. Page number: 87+. © 2010 The Institution of Engineers, Australia. COPYRIGHT 2010 Gale Group.
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