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Norwegian student laptop monitoring from 3ami

3ami : 06 May, 2009  (Application Story)
3ami has supplied monitoring and audit software for use in keeping tabs on the use of state supplied laptop computers for Norwegian students
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 massive opportunities for cheating in any normal exam.

The Norwegian county of Nord-Trondelag 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.

The Monitoring and Audit System (MAS), from UK-based security company 3ami, was designed to watch the work of employees in commercial firms, but the county council, Nord-Trøndelag Fylkeskommune (NTFK), was easily able to track the activities of students sitting tests.

'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.

The system lets the students do what they wish, but reports any misuse immediately to the examination officer, as well as providing on-demand reports after the test is over. In practice, the system stores forensic detail which includes keystrokes and screen-captures. These are stored for up to 14 days after the test.

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.
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