Sunday, January 20, 2008

Probably Not What They Intended

I noticed on the web page of the instructional tech department at my university that they have put out a call for proposals for instructors to submit ideas that the instructional tech folks will implement. Based on the examples that they have on their web page, this mostly seems to be stuff like having them turn your handwritten notes into PowerPoint slides, making a web page for your course, and other fairly vanilla applications.

I'm thinking that it's probably not worth my time putting together a proposal asking them to develop a bit of Macintosh software that will use a credit card swipe machine to use my students' IDs to take attendance. (For a large class, it could even match the swiped IDs against the official roster to identify ringers showing up for a test!)

Based on my university ID card, you couldn't just use one of the basic credit card readers that interprets the data before sending it to the computer, as credit cards have two tracks of information and the stripe on my card is three-track. (What kind of backwards state do I live in that my drivers license doesn't have a magnetic stripe!?) You can get three-track readers that are keyboard emulators, but to use it in class, you'd need to deal with attendance before using the computer for anything else because each card you swiped would "type" its fields into the active application. The more sophisticated USB readers need special software to control them.

You can get a USB magnetic stripe reader for about $80! No word yet on consumer grade magnetic stripe WRITERS. Probably for anyone who rides public transit a bunch, a stripe writer would eventually pay for itself.