The Hebrew University of Jerusalem announced Monday to its students that it would be making use of software that will film them while they take online exams, as well as software that will limit their access to websites or computer applications that are not connected to the exam.
In a letter to students, university rector Prof. Barak Medina said the software will be used in only some of the exams – “proportionately and only in cases where there is reasonable basis to believe that other means of control will not suffice.” He said the information collected would be erased two weeks after the exam, unless there is reason to suspect there had been cheating.
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Students can refuse to install the software in their computers and instead take the online exams on campus. Under the current coronavirus restrictions, academic institutions are allowed to administer tests on campus to up to 10 percent of their registered student body.
The software that films the students, made by the Israeli firm Tomax, documents what’s going in the room where the students sit using artificial intelligence, with the aim of identifying actions that might constitute cheating, like speaking to another person or suspicious movements in the room. According to the university, that program, as well as the Safe Exam Browser that blocks web surfing, have been checked; they do not penetrate the student’s personal computer and do not collect information from him or her that’s not related to the test.
The university’s Student Union said that it doesn’t categorically object to the use of the software, but is demanding an official announcement regarding how the students’ privacy will be protected.
Hebrew University sources said that the Tomax program would be used mainly in the exact and natural sciences, while the Safe Exam Browser will be used by the law school.
Tel Aviv University also announced the rules for online exams on Monday. The students will be required to allow documentation of their actions and their work environment using Zoom on their cellphones. “A student who does not meet the required filming angle as demanded will have his/her exam invalidated before it is marked,” the university said in its instructions. It added that students will not be able to use the bathroom for exams that are 90 minutes or less.
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Last week, the Justice Ministry’s Privacy Protection Authority warned of the risks inherent in the surveillance of students during online exams and recommended that academic institutions use such measures only in the absence of alternatives. The authority warned against serious invasion of the students’ privacy, possible misuse of the information collected by the systems and identity theft.
Yuli Hallel, the deputy chairman of the National Student Union, expressed concern about the potential harm to students’ privacy. “Especially today, when we are witness to hacks and information leaks, we fear the that the institutions are exposing the students to a significant undermining of their privacy,” she said.