Recording of online exams

Per year about 100 online exams with 10’000 candidates take place at ETH Zurich. Those exams are carried out by the online-exam service, which is offered by the LET department (Educational Development and Technology) in cooperation with IT services. One of the most responsible tasks the division IT Services fulfils, is the provision of infrastructure for online exams concerning carrying out those exams.


The auditing software ObseveIT had been made use of for the first time during the autumn semester of 2013 for Windows-based exams at the ETH Zurich. Since fall 2014, ObserveIT has been rolled out of all over ETH Zurich. ObserveIT traces candidates’ screen-contents during the exam as a slide show and like this assures an individual accountability of all exam history. If needed, it can be fallen back on the exam history under restrictive conditions.


Unlike on Windows, ObserveIT isn’t able to take screenshots of graphic user interfaces on Linux. This is why ITS Client Delivery, the group that is responsible for the setup of the Linux desktop exam environment infrastructure of the students’ computer rooms, decided to develop an own product (start summer 2014). The first phase consisted of the implementation of a data collector, which was first tested under real circumstances in November 2014. The trace is activated through a configurable timer or mouse clicks. To be able to utilize the obtained data, actual system data is saved with every picture: The program window currently active, resource load, a list of the most active programs and more. Despite all the functionality, the data collector is quite compact using an only 130 lines shell-code.


If it’s necessary to access an exam event a second component comes into operation. In cooperation between LET and ITS Client Delivery the specification for a software which allows convenient analysis of the exams’ course was developed. After the sighting and assessment of different offers, the company Intevation GmbH was entrusted to realize the project in spring 2015. Under the project lead of ITS SWS and LET the company developed the application RetraceIT for Windows, Linux and OS X and delivered the product including the source-code by the time the exams of spring semester 2015 started. The internal development of the data collector offers the possibility of a continuous adaption to the needs of the online exams service. The availability of the source-codes allows the further development of the analytical software without any restrictions. This cost efficient and sustainable solution has been developed in a project across departments and organizational units.

Contact & Text

Bengt Giger, Client Delivery, ITS User Services (ITS BD)

English translation: Bengt Giger, Francesca Müller, Gerhild Müller

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