Google has just announced a certification program for professionals who deploy, sell, develop and support Google apps. This news has more importance than you might think because it also brings to the mainstream a method of testing that uses the web, i.e. you don't have to go to a testing center, but it does its best to be cheat-proof.
If Google's certification works this could be the start of a revolution in online education and certification.
With Google Apps being used increasingly in business and eduction it makes good sense to have a certification program and in this Google is simply following the well worn track. Its first exam is for deployment specialists - but the web site makes very clear that this is the first of many.
Candidates who pass the exam receive the Google Apps Certified Deployment Specialist certificate and badge - I like the idea of the badge. The suggested prerequisites are modest and you can always ignore them:
Before taking the exam, it is recommended that a candidate have a minimum of 3-6 years of professional IT experience, and complete at least 3 Google Apps for Business deployments.
There is a study guide that lists the areas that you will be questioned on and gives their percentage contribution to the total mark. Some of the topics are very general, such as how is a domain registered, and others very specific to configuring Google Apps. There is also a hands-on free web training course Apps100 and a paid-for instructional course with real live instructors.
One of the big problems with certification of this sort is that it often lacks "face validity"; that is it doesn't seem to be measuring the skill that it claims to certify. For example, many certification exams concentrate too much on syntax and questions like "where do you put the comma" rather than finding out if you can do the job for real. The sample questions provided for the exam don't really supply enough information to determine if the Google tests are at the right level. There are too few questions and the focus on very general "how would you" type topics - but the questions provided look promising and are on the right side of the detail versus principle divide.
Now we come to the part that is interesting, even if you are not wanting to take this particular certificate. The exam costs $100 but you also have to buy a Kryterion™ Flexible Neck Webcam at $45. The webcam can be used with other similar exams but you can't use any other type of webcam only the Kryterion model will do. Google has selected Kryterion and its approach to testing to make cheating at its certification difficult.
What you have to do when you register for the test is first install some security software that locks down your browser during the testing process. Then you have to complete a biometric enrollment which appears to consist of checking your keypress times as you type in your password. Finally the camera is used to take your photo to tie up with the biometrics. The theory is that you can't be replaced by another person because the photo and the biometrics identify you and only you when you are sitting at the computer. When you actually take or re-take the test you have to take another photo and type the password to prove that you are the same person who registered.
But what is to stop you from using the web or phoning a friend during the test?
The answer is "proctoring". The camera is used to monitor you as the test is taken. The video feed can be monitored live by a "proctor" trained to spot any unusual behavior and the feed is recorded for later analysis if required. Of course there might be ways around the problem but the live video feed does reproduce many of the features of a real physical exam room environment. So much so that during the test you are not allowed to leave your computer, take a phone call or write anything down. All you can do is attend to answering the questions.
The good news is that, proctoring allowing, you get your result immediately and you get a email with your certificate and badge. The certificates are numbered and remain valid for a year.
The future of certification is biometrics and video proctoring and we have now seen it courtesy of Google.
Google Apps Certification Program