Fake Times at Remote High: The Need for Student Digital ID

December 17, 2020
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The Covid-19 pandemic has had a widespread effect on nearly every industry, and education has been no exception. While we recently explored the impact of Covid-19 on remote education in a recent whitepaper, Learning Through Disruption: Digital Identity in Education, we wanted to take a more in-depth look at how this shift has raised issues concerning the integrity of online testing and exams.


Previous testing conditions consisted of tens to hundreds of students sitting in one room at a time. With the pandemic, this is no longer a safe or viable option. Instead, institutions have begun partnering with companies that offer online proctoring software. These softwares implement tools such as webcams and microphones, facial recognition, and screen record to verify the test-taker’s identity. How can schools, colleges, and standardized testing boards verify that the test-takers sitting on the other side of the screen are who they say they are? How can test-takers prove their identities while maintaining privacy?


Current State Analysis: Tech Stack Breakdown


These solutions address two main issues: verifying the test-taker’s identity and preventing cheating. 


Verifying the Test-Taker’s Identity


To ensure that test-takers are who they say they are, these softwares require a scan of the individual’s ID before the exam and use facial-recognition technology to match the face to the ID photo. Random scans are performed throughout the exam to ensure that the test-taker does not switch places with another person. Companies will also verify identity through a typing test. The test-taker is asked to type 140 words at the beginning of the semester and then perform the typing test before any exam. The speed and rhythms of the keystrokes are used to verify their identity, and any discrepancies are flagged for further inspection.


Anti-Cheating Software Leveraging Behavioral Biometrics


Online proctoring services such as Proctorio and ProctorU implement a variety of security features to prevent cheating. They hire live proctors to watch test-takers’ faces and listen to them talk, and proctors can demand test-takers aim their cameras around the room to prove their honesty. ProctorU requires test-takers to show their ID cards, their rooms, and the surface of their desk before beginning the exam. During the exam, the proctor takes precautions to mitigate cheating, such as listening through the microphone, accessing the test-taker’s screen, and using the webcam to allow the video system to view the test-taker’s eye movements. If the system or proctor suspects cheating, the instance is flagged as a suspicious event for further review or alerted to a specialist known as an “interventionist,” who can take action and enforce an academic penalty.


The COVID-19 Shift and Concerns


These softwares are not offering dramatically new technology, and before the pandemic, they were used in online-only classes. But in 2020, they have seen a boom in business as grade schools and standardized testing organizations pivot to maintain operations. According to an Educause poll conducted in April of 2020, 54 percent of institutions had already begun using online or remote proctoring services. Another 23 percent were considering or planning to use them.


As adoption skyrockets, data privacy now becomes a pressing concern. Students not previously familiar with such technology are experiencing a culture shock and raising questions regarding privacy rights. Also, now that grade schools have moved online, more minors are using exam proctoring software, raising concerns about how their privacy rights should be protected.


Beyond privacy concerns, comfort with the technology is another issue. Many test-takers have pointed out the “creepiness” and general “inhumanness” of being watched through a camera while taking a test, leading to increased anxiety and, therefore, lower performance. In fact, with ProctorU’s software, test-takers used to see the proctor watching them on their screen. Due to reported negative experiences, ProctorU disabled that function to increase the feeling of privacy, even though the proctor is still watching. Privacy is a crucial factor affecting comfort. If users are ensured that their recordings, face, and photos are securely protected, they will become more comfortable with the software, and subsequently, user adoption and success will increase.


The Solution


A clear solution is the implementation of a student digital identity. If schools issued their students a digital identity, it could be used to verify the student’s identity before they take an online exam. The idea of a digital student ID isn’t new; in 2018, edtech company Blackboard Inc. announced Blackboard Mobile Credential support for Student ID cards in Apple Wallet, allowing students to use their phone as a mobile ID, becoming the first campus credential solution provider to offer NFC-enabled contactless mobile IDs for iPhone and Apple Watch. Over the past two years, Duke UniversityUniversity of AlabamaUniversity of OklahomaSanta Clara UniversityTemple University, and Johns Hopkins University have given students the ability to use this solution.

Earlier in 2020, campus card solutions provider Transact rolled out support for Android NFC student IDs, integrated with Google Pay, to 16 US universities. This kind of student mobile identity also provides an extra level of security as it requires two-factor authentication on the device, keeping its credentials and information secure. 

OWI recommends taking the mobile student ID a step further. Not only could it provide the same uses as a physical ID, such as offering access to dorms and checking out library books, but it could also be expanded into other sectors such as student healthcare. Post-graduation, it could be updated to reflect alumni status and allow the option to offer alumni benefits. Employers can use this digital ID to quickly verify an applicant’s education credentials.


As of November 2020, Mastercard, Australia Post, and Deakin University are moving toward this solution. Students can create a digital identity in Australia Post’s Digital iD app and use it to gain access to Deakin University’s exam portal. Integrated into both organization’s platforms, Mastercard’s digital identity service “ID” successfully orchestrated the sharing of verified identity data between the two parties – sending only the specific personal information required to permit entry using its highly secure network.


Looking forward, OWI believes that there is an opportunity to expand the mobile student ID’s functionality into verifying test-taker identity. Players in this space, whether new or established, must keep data privacy concerns at the forefront of their solutions. Ultimately, a digital student identity could address the issues of test-taker identity, and its uses could be expanded into a variety of sectors and span a lifetime.


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