Privacy Concerns Come To The Forefront As Coronavirus Accelerates Expansion Of Exam Software Industry

Coronavirus has completely changed how teachers tackle classroom learning, and now edutech firms are facilitating the shift towards virtual exams, courses, and certification.

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In April LittleMore Innovation Labs, an edutech firm announced the launch of PEXA Lite, which offers exam-from-home services. "Littlemore has disrupted century-old examination processes and will continue to innovate in exams automation through AI and ML. We have planned a range of new product releases in the next 12 to 18 months across multiple geographies," Littlemore founder-CEO Srikanth Ganesan said in a press release.

Designed to work with limited internet connectivity, PEXA Lite ensures zero loss of exam data and built-in advanced traceability algorithms to detect cheating.

Amidst the pandemic, exam software has become big business. Industry experts estimate that the online exam software sector is set to experience immediate growth, between 100-150%.

Birmingham, Alabama-based ProctorU, which watches test-takers' screen and observes students via webcam has had to double its staff of about 500 live proctors. Meanwhile, Sify Technologies has upgraded its iTest platform with auto proctoring, remote proctoring, and facial recognition capabilities.

Remote exam software isn't exactly new. For nearly two decades, Redmond, Washington-based edutech firm Respondus has been selling a customized browser that blocks test-takers from looking for answers to exam questions in a new tab while their exam is in progress. The company's founder, David Smetters said that the number of universities using Respondus jumped from about 1,500 to about 2,500 in the space of a few weeks.

However, as these software providers develop new security features to cope with the pandemic, including facial recognition and requests to look around peoples' homes before sitting a test, many students are admitting they have security concerns.

Emily Johnston, a student at the University of Sydney who recently used ProctorU, recounted her discomfort to The Sydney Morning Herald. After walking the supervisor through her bedroom, showing the stranger on the other end her bookshelves, where she sleeps, any notes spotted on the wall she was asked to reveal her driver's license despite the proctor having all her details. This was in addition to her screen being remotely controlled. Additionally, technical issues caused Johnston to "miserably fail" her two-hour anatomy exam after her microphone didn't work. "It was 40 minutes of nothing but a loading symbol on my screen while waiting nervously for my exam," she said.

Another student told Sydney Morning Herald, he wasn't allowed to go to the bathroom during his exam, which is usually permitted by institutions during in-person exams.

"There has to be a better way," Sue Escobar, a professor of criminal justice at California State University, Sacramento told NYT. Escobar said she refused to use the webcam option when the university added its online testing software, stating it's too "invasive." "Sure, we want to minimize cheating, but how far do you go?"

The global market research and consulting firm, MarketsandMarkets estimated that in 2018, the online education market would grow from about $4 billion to nearly $21 billion by 2023. The COVID-19 outbreak has accelerated that growth exponentially.