Jun 19, 2007

Big Proctor is watching

Problem: online courses and computerized testing give students ample opportunity to cheat.

Solution: webcam.
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.
You may think to yourself, my obsolescence is still decades away. Keep thinking that.

Just don't bank on it.

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