prevent cheating from on-line students

Discussion in 'Computer Security' started by Rick Merrill, Jun 20, 2007.

  1. Rick Merrill

    Rick Merrill Guest

    swiped from TELCOM DIGEST.
    By JUSTIN POPE, AP Education Writer

    The number of college students taking courses online is surging,
    creating a tough dilemma for educators who want to prevent cheating.

    Do you trust students to take an exam on their own computer from home
    or work, even though it may be easy to sneak a peek at the textbook?
    Or do you force them to trek to a proctored test center, detracting
    from the convenience that drew them to online classes in the first

    The dilemma is one reason many online programs do little testing at
    all. But some new technology that places a camera inside students'
    homes may be the way of the future -- as long as students don't find
    it too creepy.

    This fall, Troy University in Alabama will begin rolling out the new
    camera technology for many of its approximately 11,000 online
    students, about a third of whom are at U.S. military installations
    around the world.

    The device, made by Cambridge, Mass.-based Software Secure, is similar
    in many respects to other test-taking software. It locks down a
    computer while the test is being taken, preventing students from
    searching files or the Internet. The latest version also includes
    fingerprint authentication, to help ensure the person taking the test
    isn't a ringer.

    But the new development is a small Web cam and microphone that is set
    up where a student takes the exam. The camera points into a reflective
    ball, which allows it to capture a full 360-degree image. (The first
    prototype was made with a Christmas ornament.)

    When the exam begins, the device records audio and video. Software
    detects significant noises and motions and flags them in the
    recording. An instructor can go back and watch only the portions
    flagged by the software to see if anything untoward is going on -- a
    student making a phone call, leaving the room -- and if there is a
    sudden surge in performance afterward.

    The inventors admit it's far from a perfect defense against a
    determined cheater. But a human test proctor isn't necessarily
    better. And the camera at least "ensures that those people that are
    taking classes at a distance are on a level playing field," said
    Douglas Winneg, Software Secure's president and CEO.

    Troy graduate students will start using the device starting this fall,
    and undergraduates a year later. Software Secure says it has talked to
    other distance learning providers, too. A potential future market is
    the standardized testing industry, which has struggled to find enough
    secure testing sites to accommodate growing worldwide demand for tests
    like the SAT college entrance exam and the GMAT for graduate school.

    An estimated 3.2 million students were taking online classes in the
    fall of 2005, according to the most recent figures from the Sloan
    Consortium, a group of online learning providers that studies trends
    in the field, and that figure is almost certainly substantially higher

    But many distance learning providers do very little testing, including
    some of the largest, for-profit ones such as the University of
    Phoenix, Capella University and Walden University. Officials at all
    three schools said they rely mostly on student writing
    assignments. They say that's the best method to assess their students,
    most of whom are working adults.

    Still, they need to be thinking about assessment. The military, whose
    tuition assistance programs are a huge source of revenue for online
    universities, is asking questions about testing to make sure students
    are earning credible degrees, Winneg said. Distance learning programs
    also need to keep their accreditation agencies happy, as well as
    Congress, so that the programs can continue to receive federal
    financial aid dollars.

    At Troy, like at many distance learning programs, past testing options
    have been less than ideal. One was to line up a proctor from a list of
    acceptable exam monitors such as clergy or commanding officers.

    "We just assumed and hoped the proctor would follow the instructions,"
    said David White, direct of the Southeast region for Troy. "In some
    cases they did, and probably in some cases they didn't."

    The other was to arrange proctoring with a testing company and travel
    to one of their centers. But that was inconvenient for many students
    and, of course, impossible for soldiers in places such as Iraq and

    The device will cost Troy students $125, White said.

    Richard Garrett, a senior research analyst at Eduventures who closely
    follows online learning, said he finds the technology promising,
    particularly for large companies trying to streamline a now-messy part
    of their operation.

    "The great unknown is, 'Will it be seen as too invasive?'" he said.

    Clearly, it won't be a good idea for everyone. Stephen Flavin, dean of
    corporate and professional education at Worcester Polytechnic
    Institute in Massachusetts, said his institution is always looking at
    new technologies, but recording students by camera "would be probably
    pushing the boundary of our comfort level."

    White predicts some students will find it odd and even threatening,
    and may decide to drop out. "I think there will be some people who
    won't take any more courses with us because they feel like during the
    test they're being watched," he said.

    But he insists that's OK because it will improve the credibility of a
    Troy degree.

    For Sandra Kinney, a state employee from Stockbridge, Ga., pursuing a
    master's in public administration and one of the students on Troy's
    trial run, having a camera in her home was no big deal. It was worth
    it not to have to drive to an exam center.

    "For me in Atlanta, it outweighs sitting in two or three hours of
    traffic," she said.

    Once, that traffic made her an hour late to an exam.

    "At that point I was like, there's got to be a better way.'"

    On the Net:

    Copyright 2007 The Associated Press.

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    Rick Merrill, Jun 20, 2007
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