The software APP is a browser extension in Google Chrome. It requires access to computer resources。

The Australian National University (ANU) is facing pressure from students over the application of a digital platform to carry out exams remotely. The university recently announced plans to use an APP to ensure the subject exams conducted remotely during the COVID-19 epidemic.

Students aren’t happy on it, so a petition article was released on website, with more than 4,000 people sign the petition. This had gained significant media attention.

But the use of digital technology to solve COVID-19 related problems has gotten widespread. Why students are so disagreeable with this?

It accesses to student’s privacy

The software APP is a browser extension in Google Chrome. It requires access to computer camera, as well as permission to: 

– Access web page content to allow the software program to function correctly;

– Capture the screen to facilitate screen recording;

– Modify clipboard data to prevent copy-and-paste capability;

– Identify storage devices of the computer to “see” what resources are stored.

Besides collecting the above info, this software also transmit the collected data on a user’s computer to the company’s servers for analyzing, data including video and audio recordings, as well as images.

In other words, by observing a student throughout the exam, the software system may be able to detect if the student:

– is looking at a second screen or reading from another source

– is copying and pasting content

– is being prompted with another person’ voice here

– has been replaced with someone else (camera access)

Now you understand why some students are daunted by the extent of permissions of this software.

How ANU responded to student’s worry

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Students feel the exam-invigilating software is “spying” on them. Privacy may be violated. As for this, how AUN responded?

ANU has released a cyber security advisory statement and privacy assessment that aim to address those concerns. The key points are: all data from student computers is encrypted in transit and storage, and is only available to designated ANU staff. The software company has no access to the student data.

ANU responded

It means that data collected from students’ computer will be stored in a secure location. Only ANU staff who are trained in privacy and the use of this software will have access to this data. These staff members are also responsible to the University’s privacy policy. Data will be deleted once exams are completed and course results come out.

Can ANU force students to use this software?

ANU, like other universities in Australia, is entitled to implement assessment strategies. Given the current situation of COVID-19 epidemic, schools need to adhere to social-distancing measures, hence finding alternatives to traditional examinations is essential. 

While implementing this way of remote exam, ANU has confirmed that students have the option to defer the exam instead of using the software. Those without a suitable device can also use a university computer on campus, or enquire about alternative assessments with their convener. An ANU spokesperson also said course teachers “can use a range of other assessment methods” if appropriate.

Write in the end

Software or not, the aim of unis and students is to take the course exam smoothly. while ANU offers the option to defer exams, students may feel pressure if selecting to take the deferred exams after long-time delay. They may forget some recited knowledge. I guess most students would just unwillingly use the software system simply to avoid a delayed graduation.

Anyway, the two sides should reach a balance. If students do use such software on their personal devices, it should be reassured their device will be safe from surveillance when not being used for exams.

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