The news that Norway was allowing students aged 16-19 to use laptop computers for their examinations and school tests was generally greeted as a step forward towards 21st century learning. What didn’t get the same profile in the BBC news coverage was that the technology that allowed them to do it was supplied from the UK.
There no longer appears to be a technological excuse for those who control GCSEs and A-levels to continue to disadvantage UK exam candidates in examination rooms. Which is exactly what happens when, after years of using word processors to edit and re-edit their work as good practice demands of learners, the ICT is withdrawn and they are forced to revert to writing by hand.
In May this year the BBC's online news service reported that 6,000 Norwegian students were using their laptops - issued to them by the state at the age of 16 - to sit their exams. The students were based in eleven high schools in one county - the Nord-Trøndelag Fylkeskommune (NTFK) area of the country (near Trondheim). They were taking part in a pilot which will be extended to other parts of the country.
The NTFK educators used software called the Monitoring and Audit System (MAS), from UK security company 3ami, based in the north of England.
Tim Ellsmore (left), managing director of 3ami, speaking on a visit to London last week, said that the key to the Norwegian experiment was trust. The primary purpose of the system was not so much to track and catch students but to provide the evidence - and that could just as easily estblish innocence - if there were allegations of irregularity. The distinctiveness of his company's MAS software was, he said, that it was "client" software that sits on every single computer, and can be installed by the students on their own machines so that they can use exactly the same software tools and resources that they would use for their other school work.
The software records all activities on the machine (screen print-outs are available on the case study on the 3ami website) and that data is kept for a short time after school tests, and for two weeks after examinations. The company, which provides a range of security services, feels that the ICT threats faced by its customers are internal rather than external, and that these can be dealt with by intelligent and comprehensive monitoring. "The one thing you can’t circumvent is the machine you are sitting at," he says.
How MAS is used is entirely the prerogative of the customer. It can be set to monitor all activities, or intervene and block in specified circumstances. It is available for schools to manage themselves, or to run as a managed service.
He says the software can be installed in minutes and starts recording data immediately. The data does not require much storage space. A free software download is available which he ancourages potential customers to test. MAS is uninstalled from students' machines once their work is done.
His company had been working with the Norwegians for three years, he said, and the software had been in use for two years. "Whatever you can think of happening that shouldn’t happen in a school, this can sort it out," he said. "And After using it for a while their concepts will change."