From Blue Books to Secure Laptops

Computer-administered testing, made available on students’ own laptops, first became a reality for both students with disabilities and for professional graduate programs with intensive testing regimens, such as law school and medical school. In summer 2007, the New York State bar exam made headlines when problems with the software made available to students for their laptops, Securexam, resulted in some test takers having trouble saving or uploading their work. Since then, the problems with that particular software have been resolved.

Occasional mishaps aside, Securexam and similar offerings from companies such as Respondus are trickling down to the undergraduate level. Securexam has some 150 clients — also including high schools and professional certification programs — in five countries worldwide, including Seton Hall University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which is extending
a pilot for the College of Arts & Sciences so that any interested faculty members can use the software in their classes.

The software works by opening a word processor window in students’ laptops and simultaneously locking down all other programs, including network access. When they are done with their exams, students can save and then upload their files — which are immediately encrypted and which they can’t open again — to a server accessible only by the instructor. Students can also submit later, if they need to find a working Internet connection, but the laptop remains locked — even after shutdowns or restarts — until they do. Licensed institutions pay on a user-per-year basis, ranging from $5 to $25 each.

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