• 02.17.15

It’ll Be A Lot Harder To Cut Class With This Classroom Facial-Recognition App

A professor can quickly mark who is in the lecture hall just by snapping a photo.

It’ll Be A Lot Harder To Cut Class With This Classroom Facial-Recognition App
[Photos: Flickr user Jirka Matousek]

Under pressure to prove the value of sky-high tuition fees, many colleges are getting tough on classroom attendance. The Wall Street Journal recently reported on a series of new measures colleges are trying, including tagging students electronically, secret filming of lecture halls, and–the most draconian of all–rules requiring attendance.


Now researchers at the Missouri University of Science and Technology have another idea to keep students in line: an app that replaces the dull process of roll-calling. It could make attendance-tracking easier and free up more time for learning.

“It’s too tedious if I use roll-calling,” says Zhaozheng Yin, the assistant professor of computer science who came up with the idea. “My class is about 40 students. It will take a few minutes and the students find it boring. It’s maybe 10% of the total [class] time.”

The app is straightforward enough. At the beginning of a semester, instructors scan the room with their phone capturing everyone’s image. Then at the beginning of each class, they take another few frames, recording who’s turned up. The data is then logged automatically.

Yin works in the pattern recognition field, so developing the app hasn’t been hard. Normally facial-recognition systems have to identify people from everyone on Earth; in this case, it merely has to pick out 40 people from the same setting.

Armed with a National Science Foundation Innovation grant, Yin is now looking at ways to integrate the app–which isn’t publicly available yet–with learning management software. That would allow parents to check up on their offspring, if they’re those types of parents (note: don’t be this type of parent).

Yin’s app is unobtrusive compared to other new tech for the classroom. Class120 tracks students’ whereabouts from the GPS in their phones then alerts parents if they’re not at school. Meanwhile, a startup in Queens, New York, has developed facial-recognition software to gauge student engagement during learning time.


It’s sad, but the days of sleeping late and playing hooky–a classic and important part of any college career–seem to be numbered.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.