Tue. Dec 7th, 2021

A few minutes earlier this year, a university entrance exam disrupted Slovakia’s telephone network. As Covid-19 distributed, Scio, a Czech education company that administers entrance exams for more than 80 faculties at Czech and Slovak universities, switched from taking its tests in person to conducting them online. But during one exam in Slovakia, the third-party system it used for more than an hour crashed, prompting thousands of concerned students to call Scio’s Czech hotline.

“We have been informed that. . . for a few minutes with one supplier, it was not possible to call Slovakia, because 10,000 people decided to call the Czech Republic to ask what was happening, ”says Martin Drnek, a manager at Scio.

The episode was one of the many forms of disruption caused by the rapid shift from the physical to the online world ushered in by the pandemic. Education worldwide was thrown into chaos by Covid-19, with restrictions and other disruption affecting more than 220 million tertiary-level students, according to Unesco, the UN’s cultural organization. At universities, not only have classes moved online, but entrance exams have undergone a digital shift to adapt to a Covid-affected world.

One of the biggest challenges of such exams is that there are or should be no second chances. All candidates must write an examination under the same conditions and at the same time, for the sake of fairness and to prevent questions from leaking. So now that exams are being conducted online, artificial intelligence and machine learning technology are being used to identify and prevent fraud.

After negotiating the first year of the pandemic using software provided by other companies, Scio developed its own to test and monitor university applicants. This was accompanied by Born Digital, a Czech company founded in 2019 by Tomas Malovec, which specializes in AI and machine learning techniques. The resulting online exam system will come into effect this year.

In addition to the most basic problem of ensuring that the system is stable, one of the biggest challenges in switching to online exams, says Drnek, is to familiarize students with a system they may have never used before. not – both so that they can perform to the best of their abilities and therefore they do not accidentally do something that can be considered cheating.

The software, called ScioLink, addresses this in several ways, says Malovec. To save students any trouble downloading the software to monitor them during exams, it is embedded in the exam web page.

Then, to ensure that the right person performs the test, ScioLink photographs the candidate’s face and identity document with their webcam. It requires them to perform a 360-degree scan of their environment with a webcam, and to monitor their behavior during the test via the webcam, along with the computer’s other systems, including the microphone. If a candidate gets involved in actions that are considered suspicious, the software alerts them in real time.

“In most cases, people do not try to cheat. They just do not know they are doing something that is forbidden. For example, someone calls and they pick up their phone – it can only be their mother who asks them for something, ”says Malovec. “[If they are warned] they can rectify it immediately. ”

However, if anyone is trying to cheat, Born Digital’s AI model has several ways to catch them. It can detect if other people are present in the room, and is trained to recognize if someone is wearing headphones to carry information. It can also recognize prohibited aids such as books or devices, such as smartphones and calculators – something Malovec says was not easy. “A phone is often just a black rectangle, so it’s not simple. There have been many games with such things [during development], “he says.

Born Digital’s software does not determine for itself whether someone cheated. Instead, it warns examiners at the point during the exam where a potential violation has occurred. This allows them to review footage of the incident without having to mourn through hours of otherwise impeccable exam behavior.

Malovec says students will be “inventive” when it comes to evading monitoring technology, but points out that the software is always learning. He also predicts that universities will increasingly take online tests, saying it is only the beginning of a period of change.

Juraj Mokry, vice dean of the medical faculty at Comenius University in Bratislava, says online entrance exams can also indicate whether candidates will be able to handle online teaching, which he expects to continue once the pandemic subsides. “If we have online teaching, it’s good to accept students who have experience with online education and who know how to work online,” he says. “It’s not just about excellence in chemistry and biology. It also tests how they can handle problems with computers and everything. ”

However, he stops arguing that online tests should completely replace the personal exams. “We need to offer some variation,” he says. “As with education, one person prefers to learn from a screen, another from a textbook, another prefers to listen. It should be the same here. ”

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