Student laptops have created a dilemma for school examiners: how to test the skills of
the new generation of connected children without allowing them to cheat? In Norway,
students can take exams on their computers safely, while monitoring systems keep
All round the world, school students are increasingly using laptops. They can study
better online, can collaborate and communicate, and also submit projects without
paper. In several countries, laptops are subsidised by government programmes – in
Norway, laptops are provided by the state and in Portugal for instance, children can get
3G-connected netbooks for as little as €50.
But what happens when it is time to test these digital students? Depriving them of their
laptops would make a mockery of their computer-based studies, but these connected
devices would seem to provide massiveopportunities for cheating in any normal exam.
The Norwegian county of Nord-Trøndelag has the answer. High school students there
take computer-based tests in all subjects, several times a year, using their own
computers. And the school authority can be sure that there is no cheating - thanks to
software which monitors what pupils are doing.
"Students have access to all their normal PC tools and documents," says Bjørg Helland,
project manager for digital literacy at NTFK, "and 3ami MAS makes sure that they follow
the restrictions that apply for each test."
The MAS software was designed for a business setting, to help keep businesses secure,
and allow them to satisfy regulations. It monitors all staff activities on an office system,
including online usage and any interaction with local files.
Nord-Trøndelag, a county just North of Trondheim, began looking for technology that
could let pupils aged 16 to 19 use computers securely to take their tests, when the
Norwegian government instructed all Norwegian counties to take measures that would
ensure there is no cheating in computer-based exams.
With the advice from security software distributor XO Expect More, the county realised
that the MAS software could be applied to school exams. A monitor running on the
students' PCs can tell examiners if the pupils are copying answers from previously
prepared notes or the Internet, or if they are making contact with other people by
instant message or email.
Although the MAS software is managed centrally by NTFK, it is installed and used locally
by staff in the schools. This is a crucial benefit, as it allows staff to respond immediately
to any incident of cheating and makes the students' digital behaviour directly visible to
the staff who need to see it. "Each teacher or school can run MAS without major
involvement from NTFK," says Helland.
To make things easier for local staff, the Education edition of MAS integrates with
Microsoft Active Directory (AD), so teachers can use it as a register for students and a
seamless monitoring system on their own computers, and would not have to learn
unfamiliar technology to use it.
MAS has proved its usefulness many times over, in allowing students to take exams on
their own laptops. On the rare occasions where students are "caught" trying to cheat,
the system becomes indispensable, because it has logged all the work done and
appropriate action can be taken.
But this also has a second benefit. As all the data has been logged any technical
problems means work isn’t lost, explains Helland: "We are able to rescue the work a
student has done during logging, and 'give' it back. This feature makes it possible to
avoid making a new test, resulting in less work for by the teacher."
So far, the exam monitoring system based on MAS is in use by up to 6000 students, at
11 high schools in Nord-Trøndelag. It was designed to be rolled out easily by other
schools in Norway, and many are expected to adopt it as a way to meet government
requirements. In addition, early indications are that MAS will provide a de facto
standard as a digital adjudicator throughout Scandinavia and beyond.