Friday, 20 February 2015

Using Chromebooks for Exams

Recently, I had conversations at work about refreshing the bank of laptops which are used for exams. The current set are old, tired and run Windows XP! As always, the budget is tight but we wanted to get as many laptops for the money as possible. It got me thinking about whether we could use Chromebooks effectively for exams. I'm incredibly lucky to work amongst really open-minded people so I met with the exams officer to discuss whether this would be a feasible idea and would adhere to regulations for external exams.

In England, the key point from the JCQ's Instructions for Conducting Examinations says that any word processor "must not be connected to an intranet or any other means of communication."

Personally, I think the way I've setup the Chromebooks that I describe below adheres to this rule but it really depends on the deeper interpretation of whether allowing access to two webpages can be defined as a means of communication.

I wanted to setup a demo to take back to the exams officer. A student using the Chromebook needed to be able to:
  • Have absolutely no access to the internet or any internal network
  • Type an answer (with or without basic formatting)
  • Save it
  • Print it once the exam is over
I thought about using Google Docs offline but this would involve signing in as a user and creating a document for each person sitting the exam using a laptop. This would end up being too convoluted so I made the decision to use Forms instead.

You can follow the steps after the jump to replicate my demo. Obviously, you'll need a Chromebook which is registered on your admin console with a device management licence.

Step 1 - Setup the Form
Create a form that looks like this one. It needs to be completely public. We could optionally add a second page with a confirmation question so that it's harder to submit by accident. Copy the link to the form; you'll need it later.

Step 2 - Setup the Document Template
In order to print the answers, this information will need to be added to a Google Doc, so we'll also need to setup a template that Autocrat will populate with the form submissions. You can see an example (which you can copy) here. Now open up the responses spreadsheet, choose Add-Ons, then search for Autocrat. Follow the instructions to setup the template so that it creates a file which can be printed every time the form is submitted.

Step 3 - Create a Public Session
Important! Before you do this, make sure you've created a new OU (called 'Exams' or similar) and have it selected.

Now, login to the admin console. Choose 'Device Management' and click on 'Chrome', then 'Public session settings.' The first thing you need to do is give the session a name. Optionally, you could add a terms of service file which lays out what they can and cannot do in the exam before they start. You could also set a different wallpaper (maybe with the word 'exams') so that it's clear everything is working okay if it appears.

Now scroll to the 'startup' section. Change the following settings:
Home Button: 'Never show 'Home' button'
Pages to Load on Startup: [Paste the link to your form]

Next, scroll to the 'URL Blocking' setting in the 'Content' section. In the 'URL Blacklist', add a wildcard (*). This means that nothing can be accessed apart from links we whitelist. In the 'URL Blacklist Exceptions', paste the link to your form. On a new line, paste the link again but change the final part of the URL from /viewform to /formResponse. This means that the form will be able to be submitted when the user is finished.

Click the blue 'save changes' text at the bottom right of the screen.

Step 4 - Setup the Devices to Launch the Public Session
Click 'Chrome' on the breadcrumb link to go back a page, then choose 'Device Settings.' Again, make sure you've selected the correct OU from the pane on the left.

Apply the following changes:
Guest Mode: 'Do not allow guest mode'
Restriction: 'Do not allow any user to Sign-in'
User Data: 'Erase all local user data'

Then, in the 'Kiosk Settings' section, apply these settings:
Public Session Kiosk: 'Allow Public Session Kiosk'
Auto-Launch Public Session: 'Yes'

Click the blue 'save changes' text at the bottom right of the screen.

Step 5 - Test!
Move a Chromebook into the Exams OU you created and power it on. It should pick up the new settings but you may have to restart for them to take effect. Everything you've done here means that as soon as the Chromebook is turned on, the form will open and the user will be able to fill it out and submit it but not access anything else.

That's it! Once this has been setup you shouldn't need to change it. That's what I love about it. Even using Word on a Windows laptop requires somebody to login and setup a new document, ensure spellcheck is turned off, etc.

Please note that we're not using this in a live environment for external exams yet. It is your responsibility to check whether this would be suitable and comply with the regulations of different exam boards.

I'd love to know what you think. Maybe you've already done something similar? Let me know if the comments! 

20 on: "Using Chromebooks for Exams"
  1. Dean, this is quality! I love your thinking!

  2. Quite a lot of our exam users must have no spellcheck, as this is seen as a disadvantage to students not using laptops. How do you provide a no spellcheck option with a chromebook?

    1. You can turn off the spell check service in the Public Session Settings. (The same page you visit in step three of the guide.)

      You can also turn off the spell check service at a user level too. Just visit the User Settings page in the Device Management section of the admin console.

    2. Cool, I didn't realise that. Wish I knew this before we bought the last batch of exam laptops, as locking down windows is a pain. Thanks for the guide.

    3. Hi Dean:

      Thank you so much for this tutorial - perfect option for our students who have word processing accommodations. The only issue I am having is that even with Spell Check Disabled as mentioned above, the red line still appears. Any help would be appreciated!

  3. This is really helpful as I'm looking into the same issue as our numbers of pupils requiring computers for external examinations is increasing. Before I go any further I wondered if you had any update since Feb? Many thanks.

    1. Unfortunately, no. I need to catch up with the exams officer to take this forward and attempt to get a clear answer!

  4. I allowed the /formResponse but still says its blocked..any ideas?

    1. Sorry for the delay! That does sound strange. Are you testing this through a public session or when you're logged in? If you're logged in as a student, you would encounter a problem if they're on a different domain. It might be worth trying adding a * to the end of the URL instead of separate links for viewform and formResponse. I'd love to know if you worked this out!

  5. Yeah, we tried this yesterday and just having the viewResponse url wasn't enough. Using as the allowed url worked fine during the demo, but I haven't tried to limit the url more.

    Also, if you require users to login first, to grab their usernames in the form, then you have to allow the url for the authorisation process. I haven't figured that out just yet, but it looked like an url you could allow.

  6. Hi Dean. Thanks for this superb blog post. I have deployed this system at school and it has worked beautifully on the whole. My only problem was the other day when two boys lost their exam responses due to WiFi dropout. Is there a way around this?

  7. Great guide and works well. Only issue is the spell check feature. I still get the red underline under words on the form. I have the Spell Check Service disabled but its still allowing words to be suggested. I don't think there is any way to turn this off in the Admin Console.

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