Saturday, July 17, 2021

Virtual Graduation Cermonies


Last week I was asked to stand in front of a green screen in academic regalia, and go though the motions of congratulating the students I have been teaching at ANU. The invitation came from Eric Byler, an award winning American film director, now working at ANU videoed me in front of a green screen (with a version for students in China also produced). 

Mine was not exactly an academy award performance, but I stood there, shaking hands with no one, handing over certificates and giving a speech. The idea is that a student who can't get to gradation due to COVID-19, can video or photograph themselves and then can be inserted into the photo, with the university digitally inserted in the background, for a digital ceremony. Graduates of the ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science have been offered $100 for their best selfie.

There are, of course, reputation risks with virtual graduations. If the video was made widely available, Eric worried some student would paste me into a war zone or zombie attack. But then when working at the Department of Defence I helped prepare for the end of the world on 1 January 2000, not unlike a zombie attack. Also in a borrowed uniform I went on an exercise with the US Navy and so would not look out of place in a war zone.

What worried me more is the possibility of a non-graduate using the video to help build evidence around a fake degree. The ANU is one of a few universities which now issue digital certificates to graduates and has an online facility to check if someone actually graduated.

There are technical ways to counter fake photos, for example, applying a digital signature to the images and video. As it happens Dr Sabrina Caldwell, is an expert in detecting fake photographs and is on the JPEG committee.

Universities should be cautious about using "security by obscurity". Placing a photo online and then telling hundreds of people the web address is not a good form of security. 


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