Planet China

Robo rollcall

For many students, sleeping in late and skipping lectures is a common occurrence at university. But in China it is becoming a thing of the past thanks to artificial intelligence (AI) technology. According to, Hangzhou Dianzi University has introduced a new platform called Shangkela to combat truancy. It works like this: when the lecturer arrives they call out a four-digit code and students type it into the university’s app. Non-attendees then receive a robo-call on their phone warning them that their absence has been noted.

In the past a less accurate roll-call would be used to assess attendance. But in classes of up to 100 that process could eat into at least 10 minutes of lecture time. Shangkela does the job more effectively in under a minute.

The university is beefing up punishments too. If a student misses 10 hours of class they get a written warning; should that rise to 50 hours of absence there’s a suspension; and if they miss a third of any course they won’t be allowed to sit their final exams. And so far the university seems pretty pleased with how the technology is changing behaviour. Hu Haibin, deputy director of the Student Department, told “After two weeks of operation, the average attendance rate of the same class has increased by 7% over the previous semester.”

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