Conducting Secure Online Exams Using iPads

The right platform can ensure a secure environment that can save valuable resources
By: | Issue: June, 2015
May 7, 2015

The need for a secure and protected digital learning environment in districts is paramount, particularly when it comes to online testing. While conducting large-scale online testing requires advanced coordination that is both time-consuming and complex, using iPads can save time and simplify the process, so teachers, students and administrators can focus on teaching and learning, and on being better prepared for online exams. In this web seminar, originally broadcast on April 7, 2015, an education technology expert shared the keys to conducting secure online exams using iPads, and how doing so can save districts valuable resources.

Education Evangelist
JAMF Software

We all know the power of the iPad and its potential to support learning. We’ve seen it evolve over the last four years, with some people not sure whether the device was simply for consumption or if it could transfer learning. We’ve seen the evolution of the apps as well. We’ve seen the iOS infrastructure evolve. And then we’ve seen the capabilities that have been added to the platform through mobile device management. It’s not only a great device for learning and transforming learning, but it’s also a great device to use when it’s time to take online assessments.

Of utmost importance, certainly to the testing agencies, is the ability to conduct several types of exams securely and easily with confidence, in addition to making the process flexible. Online assessments are being conducted in various ways. On a grand scale, we’ve seen it with the Common Core State Standard testing, with the two different major consortia of Smarter Balanced and PARCC. We also have schools taking the NWEA’s MAP testing. At the same time, there’s the need to give routine quizzes and tests. Whether you are a language arts teacher or a social studies teacher, there is a need to have the same kind of secure environment you would have during a high-stakes exam.

Creating that secure environment has a number of challenges. How do you do this while ensuring the integrity of an exam, which means restricting access to the internet, communication tools, and in some cases certain keyboard functions? There are many types of high-stakes exams, and each group has specific requirements. There are some general concepts, though, that tend to cross over. We’re talking specifically about the iPad, and we know the iOS has evolved over time. One concern centers around the size of the screen: 9.5 inches is roughly what most of the testing agencies require, and the iPad 2 and later generations meet that requirement. Certainly there is a need for a keyboard, and while a Bluetooth keyboard certainly works in most situations, we have learned that a wired keyboard creates a more risk-free environment. One of the great features that came out in iOS 6 was guided accessibilityÑthe ability to put a device into single-app mode. And iOS 8.3 introduced the ability to send configuration profiles, which basically changes settings on an iPad: We can restrict dictionary access, spellcheck, auto correction and quick type. All of these profiles can be easily applied to a device just for the time of testing.

The significant aspect of the iPad is the multiple ways we have to lock to a secure app, which is needed during assessments. For high-stakes exams, this is absolutely required. We need to be able to get the iPad into an app and keep it there until the exam is complete or until you need to release a student for any reason. To do this, we have several options. Apple Configurator is a tool we’ve been using for a long time to help us get apps and set up devices, and we can use that to hardwire the devices and get them into guided access. That’s practical enough for once-in-a-while testing or on a small scale, but it’s not necessarily going to solve the need on a day-to-day basis for the regular classroom teacher. Now, with the advancements in iOS, we’ve seen the ability for mobile device management systems, such as the Casper Suite from JAMF Software, to be able to send out a profile over the air to devices to lock them into an app.

For the high-stakes exams, we’ve also seen a mobile device management feature called Autonomous Single App Mode, or ASAM, which typically is available only for certain exams. With ASAM, we are able to set the backend of a mobile device so that when a student launches one of these very specific high-stakes exams and logs in, it automatically initiates guided access. It’s a seamless experience to secure iPads for assessment, and it requires very little overhead at the time of the exam. It’s a great solution if you are doing the Smarter Balanced or the PARCC exams. Another tool built into our Casper Suite for mobile device management is Casper Focus. It puts initiating guided access for an entire class of students’ iPads right into the hands of the teacher, who is using his or her own iPad or iPhone. The teacher is able to get all students initiated once their class is settled. And if a student needs to leave in the middle of the exam, regardless of the type of app used, the teacher can free that student up. Casper Focus also lets them do this to websites, which is important because many teachers use formative assessment websites to conduct some quizzes or tests.

We want to know that the solution we are using also supports the day-to-day needs of teachers and students to perform routine tests and quizzes on apps that don’t necessarily have an autonomous single-app mode. Reducing reliance on IT means we’re not going to call up a tech every time we want to give a quiz to four students, and we also shouldn’t need to physically touch the devices either. Casper Focus, which is available for no extra cost, lets teachers lock students into that test app, whether it’s TI-Nspire for math, their own PDF quiz, or an LMS like eBackpack. With respect to distributing apps to students, with a mobile device management system, you have different approaches available. The important piece is the flexibility, because one size doesn’t fit all. We could, in essence, push out an app onto a student’s device so it installs automatically. We also have an in-house app store called Self Service, where apps can be posted for students or staff to download. The nice thing about that is some schools don’t want students to be able to access the iTunes app store. Whether you want kids walking into class and going into Edmodo, or Nearpod or eClicker, or maybe eBackpack and answering some questions from last night’s homework, you want to be able to do that securely and quickly. You don’t want to take two to three minutes getting kids’ attention because that wastes valuable learning time.

The importance of practicing cannot be overstated. Think about the fact that rather than bringing students into an unfamiliar environment for exam day, you’re using the same learning tool to conduct the exam that you use regularly in the classroom. While the exams haven’t yet taken full advantage of Apple’s affordances, a lot of applications have. And eventually the exams will catch up. We will see enhanced question types that can take advantage of the power of the iPad, for example. In the meantime, students can have access to the full potential of that type of learning. We can make exam day like any other day, versus focusing so many resources on conducting the exams.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please visit:

Interested in edtech? Keep up with DA's Future of Education Technology Conference®.