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On many campuses, students must carry ID cards to access their residence halls, take out library books, go to the gym and pay for lunch in the dining hall.

But this practice could soon be a thing of the past, with the launch of digital student ID cards on Apple Watches and iPhones.

Using Near-Field Communications technology, students will be able to access a multitude of services on campus just by waving their phone or watch near compatible readers.

Six universities have been working with Apple and Blackboard on the initiative, including Duke, Johns Hopkins, Santa Clara and Temple Universities and the Universities of Alabama and Oklahoma.

Rather than an app, the digital student ID cards will be part of Apple Wallet and linked to Apple Pay. The service is expected to go live at the six collaborating universities this fall. Contacted by Inside Higher Ed, none of the universities expanded on details such as what model of iPhone or Apple Watch students would need to have to use the technology, nor whether they are planning an Android equivalent of the system. Presumably, the technology will supplement (rather than replace) existing student ID card systems, as not all students own Apple technology.

Joshua Kim, director of digital learning initiatives at Dartmouth College's Center for the Advancement of Learning (who also blogs for Inside Higher Ed), said he is interested to see whether this initiative could be the “gateway drug” for other mobile educational experiences from Apple -- particularly on the Apple Watch.

“Student IDs are an interesting start, but what is more fun is to think about other ways that Apple Watch could address some higher ed challenge,” said Kim. The fact that the announcement was made by Apple’s vice president of technology, Kevin Lynch, is a promising sign, said Kim.

Speaking at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference Monday, Lynch described the digital Student ID feature as an “exciting” development that will “expand to more campuses over time.”

At the end of 2017, Apple began a partnership with Ohio State University, which involves the joint development of apps for use on campus -- a development that some observers said indicated a renewed focus from Apple on higher education.

Eric Stoller, a higher education thought leader and Inside Higher Ed blogger, said the Student ID announcement is a “big deal” that will provide Apple with “another useful entry point into higher education,” as well as good PR for Blackboard and the universities involved in testing the technology.

A spokesperson for Blackboard confirmed that the company was working with Apple to develop the student IDs, adding that Blackboard would be providing the compatible reader devices. The spokesperson said that the digital student IDs would offer students “heightened security and extraordinary convenience” on campus. Though not mentioned in the Apple announcement, CR80News reported that each of the institutions involved in the initiative is a Blackboard Transact client. Blackboard Transact is a subsidiary of Blackboard that manages campus ID systems.

A spokesperson for Santa Clara University said the university was “looking forward” to bringing its campus ACCESS Card to the Apple Wallet, adding that the technology would be available to students, faculty and staff to use on and around campus by the end of this calendar year. The University of Oklahoma echoed this statement, saying that its Sooner Card would also be available to students, faculty and staff.

In a tweet, Tracy Futhey, chief information officer at Duke University, said that the initiative would enable students to access buildings and make payments across campus in an “even easier way.” She added her institution is “continually looking for technologies that can improve student experience,” adding that working with Apple was a “natural fit.”

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