At the start of this semester, the College began using Presence, software designed to organize on-campus events and track attendee data. Recently, students have expressed concerns about Presence’s data tracking habits.
Presence describes its services as supporting colleges and universities in managing and automating processes, engaging more students, tracking and collecting engagement data, assessing behaviors and trends, and the encouragement and measurement of experiential learning and extracurricular opportunities. Modern Campus, the company that acquired Presence in 2021, works with more than 1,400 colleges and universities across North America.
“Presence is a student engagement and learning solution that enables universities to improve retention rates by tracking and learning their students’ engagement patterns and behaviors,” reads a statement from Modern Campus press on the software. “Serving more than 250 higher education institutions in North America, Presence makes it easy to visualize and assess engagement efforts using data, streamline workflows for departments and student organizations, and match learning outcomes to opportunities for student success.
Presence has two interfaces: the organizer view and the attendee view. Any student can use the student portal, GOberlin, to find out which organizations they would like to join and which events they would like to attend. Events in which students have participated – whether or not they have registered via the GOberlin portal – will appear on their profile. The organization pages display the organization’s email, website, if it was active in 2021-2022, a description of the organization, and a feed linked to the organization’s social media account, as well as all upcoming events organized by the organization.
According to the vice-dean for students Thom Julian, the implementation of Presence is the result of a year of research for the software best suited to the needs expressed by the leaders of student organizations. The research was conducted in collaboration with staff from the Office of Student Leadership and Engagement and the Center for Information Technology. Feedback was gathered from focus groups with student organizations, the Vibrant Campus Task Force and peer institutions. Presence has been identified as the ideal software to streamline and digitize student organization processes to drive insight through data.
“We are fairly early in the implementation of Presence, and our goal this semester is to bring student organization leaders into the management of the organization and the creation of events,” Julian wrote in an e-mail. -email to Exam.
Earlier in the semester, shortly after Presence was implemented, students expressed concerns about the nature of the data the software was tracking. Presence pulls data from Banner and tracks student engagement through various demographics, including GPA, race, gender, citizenship status, and national origin, which becomes available to event planners. In response to this feedback, the Office of Student Leadership and Engagement has since changed its use of Presence so that it only tracks data on events with 50 or more attendees.
Julian discussed data anonymity.
“All student demographics are in anonymous aggregate form,” Julian wrote. “The intent of this data is to ensure that we serve all populations on campus fairly with our student engagement offerings.”
Tabitha Bird, a sophomore in the College, Treasurer-in-Training and General Manager of Cat in the Cream, spent some time understanding the new software and its use at Cat in the Cream events.
“The 50-person limit was to make it virtually impossible … to determine exactly which person matches which IDs,” Bird said. “Next, we reduced the limit of identifiers that would be accessible to students in general [organizations].”
Students also expressed that they felt questioned by the data collection and identified that some of the data available to organizers may not always be accurate.
“One of the biggest issues we have is that unless students take it upon themselves to update gender markers and stuff like that with desks, we have no control over that. “Bird said.
Cat in the Cream staff members use Presence to identify how many people attend their events and what parts of campus the students come from. They hope to get more information that will help them understand how to increase student diversity at events.
“Last year we had a lot of issues where people felt that … certain events were unintentionally separated for various reasons, and there was basically just a lack of diversity in the groups on campus – we We took this very seriously,” Bird said. “We have [found that] people who live primarily on North Campus [are] come to our events, which kinda makes sense since we’re located on North Campus, but it’s also very disappointing.
According to Julian, Presence will continue to be updated over the coming semesters to provide more information and functions.
“We will be introducing other features such as student funding tools, event commenting, organization elections and much more,” Julian wrote.