Monitoring the Movement of Students and Assets More Effectively in Dynamic Educational Settings
If the business of education is supposed to be about education, why must educators spend so much time keeping track of things? Are all the students here? If not, where are they? Are all the laptops and textbooks accounted for? What about the smart classroom displays and the lab equipment?
Many Canadian schools and school districts tried to lessen the burden on teachers and administrators by implementing electronic tracking systems that could scan barcodes attached to assets or student ID cards. While this approach offered vast improvements over paper-based approaches, the improvements were apparent only when the barcode scanning system worked—which was not always the case. Barcode scanning systems had trouble providing accurate student attendance information if there were multiple locations at which barcodes could be scanned. Many failed to work properly if there was a poor or sporadic connection to a central server.
Furthermore, barcode scanning required a clear line-of-sight between the barcode and the scanner—not always easy when throngs of students are moving through hallways—as well as a tacit agreement to allow a barcode to be scanned. If someone failed to scan the barcode on the laptop when removing it from the school, there was no record of it leaving.
Plurilogic took a different approach to these challenges. It built a monitoring and tracking system for primary and secondary schools based on radio frequency identification (RFID) technologies. Instead of using barcodes that required active scanning and a clear line-of-sight, the system used RFID tags that could be scanned passively as someone (or something) passed near a scanner. Because the RFID technology worked with electronic tags and radio waves, the Plurilogic scanner system could detect a tag even if it was out of sight in a student’s pocket or bookbag.
While RFID technology overcame key shortcomings associated with barcode scanning technology, Plurilogic developers knew there remained one weak link: a distributed system that relied on a central server would not capture or record information reliably if the connection to the server itself was unreliable. The question was, how best to overcome that challenge?
Plurilogic solved the problem by building RFID readers on Raspberry Pi devices running Windows 10 IoT Core and the Actian Zen Edge database. These small, form-factor, low-cost devices could operate on their own, capturing and storing information about students, assets, locations, and more. Information captured in individual instances of the Actian Zen Edge database could be uploaded to an Actian Zen Enterprise database on a centralized Windows-based server over Wi-Fi whenever the network permitted. If communications were interrupted, the RFID readers on the Raspberry Pi devices would still capture data and store it in the local Actian Zen Edge database. It would resume data uploads data as network conditions permitted.
Why Actian Zen? Plurilogic had used Actian Zen Enterprise as an underlying data management system for many years, so turning to Actian Zen Edge for local data management made sense. The Actian Zen Edge database for Windows IoT Core offered several key advantages, including:
- The ability to run a single data management platform across both remote back-end and local, front-end systems.
- Ability to extend their RFID Services code to diverse computer hardware such as Raspberry Pi and mobile devices without ETL through use of the Zen Edge database and Zen Core database for Android and iOS.
- Avoidance of any need to decrypt and re-encrypt data to perform ETL operations between SQLite and Zen (analogous to what most client-server data management systems do between SQLite and MS SQL).
- Developer-side configuration and other set-and-forget features (auto-reconnect and synchronization of remote central data to local data, auto-defragmentation to avoid system crashes or other faults, etc.) that ensure the data management is hidden from end-users or the educational institution’s IT staff.
- OEM support model (long-term maintenance contracts, 7 – 10 year product lifecycle, backward compatibility, etc.) dating back to the starting point for both companies.
The Actian Zen Enterprise database itself, running on the centralized Windows-based Server, is exposed as RFID web services which can be leveraged by asset management, attendance tracking, or other modules within the Plurilogic Pluriportail™ student information management solution.
Building a solution using Actian Zen Edge and RFID technologies on a small, portable platform that can store and forward information reliably has enabled Plurilogic to overcome all the challenges that educational institutions had encountered when using barcode scanner-based solutions. Plurilogic’s solution enables primary and secondary schools to monitor and control school entry and departure. It automates attendance taking—in classes, at daycare centers, at after-school and off-campus activities, and more. It can be used to monitor the checkout, return, and movement of assets ranging from textbooks and library books to smart classroom displays, projectors, and IT and lab equipment.
It delivers these benefits securely and reliably across a wide range of educational settings, too. RFID tags are durable, reusable, and inexpensive. They can be integrated into Student IDs, worn as badges or bracelets, or affixed to equipment. Unlike barcodes, RFID tags contain unique IDs that are difficult to clone—so they are inherently more secure. And because scanning an RFID tag requires neither the active participation of the tagholder nor a clear line-of-sight between tag and scanner, data capture is easy and accurate, even in busy settings like hallways, classrooms, and cafeterias.
“With Actian Zen data management products, we’ve been able to extend our integrated solutions in classrooms and across campuses to better track and manage both students and institutional assets,” says André Beauchamp, CEO of Plurilogic. “We can even extend our capabilities to IoT and mobile devices, which better meets the needs of educators and administrators everywhere.”