The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic put university administrators and faculty in a tough spot. With the semester ticking away and students staying at home, faculty could turn to online media to deliver courses, but what could they do about exams? School leaders and faculty had to balance the necessities of safeguarding test integrity (and their school’s reputation) with student concerns for privacy, while keeping a sharp eye on budgets. Balancing all these factors, many departments and professors chose a rapid and cost-effective substitute for in-person proctoring called remote online exam proctoring.
In fact, demand for online proctoring in all its forms increased dramatically. According to an April 2020 poll of 312 mostly U.S.-based educational institutions, 54% were using online or remote proctoring solutions. Another 23% were thinking about or planning to use them.
Stressed students expressed their discontent
These university decisions did not please everybody. Focusing on privacy-related concerns, students and other members of the academic community expressed their discontent in traditional and online media.
In the ensuing hubbub, misconceptions and misunderstandings about online proctoring solutions sprang up. The following discussion aims to provide a clarifying perspective regarding these misconceptions.
First, what is online proctoring?
Online exam proctoring uses software-based tools to do what in-person proctors used to do when students gathered in physical test centers. Offered in several formats, online proctoring solutions are composed of one or more of the following elements: remote human proctoring via webcam, simple webcam recordings of the test-taker, human review of recorded test sessions, and AI-assisted (artificial intelligence) webcam surveillance.
Typically, in an automated online proctoring solution, such as the uxpertise XP solution, a webcam video-records the student taking the test in his/her surroundings while the proctoring software, securely installed on the student’s computer, controls what software the test-taker can access and blocks keyboard shortcuts, such as copy-paste. Some solutions use AI to flag any suspicious behavior. Others, like uxpertise XP, provide a post-exam review by a human proctor who identifies any behavior that deviates from the conditions set by the administrators and assigns an integrity score for the session.. In any case, it is the test-taker’s school instructor/leader who makes the final judgement on the behavior under question.
Misconception #1: Remote online proctoring is “invasive.”
Students and others who are new to online proctoring bring up questions like the following:
- What data is being recorded?
- What organization is recording, and how long will they keep the data?
- Who has access to the data?
- Is the data collected safe from cyberattack?
Sensitive to these valid concerns, responsible online proctoring providers have drafted a list of rights for online learners. The best solution providers respect internationally recognized privacy standards. Quality providers collect information only during the exam session — this time period is verifiable. Data collection is activated by a student during a test session. (The resulting student data is the property of the school, not the provider.)
Furthermore, the remote proctoring software is installed in a step-by-step fashion, with each step approved by the test-taker. Subsequently, this software is deleted as you would any other type of software. While no cyber data is totally immune from attack, encrypted data within well-administered IT systems offer industry-standard security. Furthemore, most quality providers keep this data only for a limited period of time. For example, uxpertise XP’s student data is safely deleted after 90 days.
The quick onset of the pandemic as well as a general unfamiliarity with online proctoring contributed to a lack of communication about privacy rights and ways of working by institutions and solution providers.
Currently, test-takers are informed well in advance of the format and parameters of online exams and where they can consult their rights. Familiarity with online proctoring and better communication should continue to allay these concerns about “invasiveness.” Any organization adopting an online proctoring solution should take advantage of these lessons learned and proactively inform their test-takers of what to expect.
Misconception #2: Remote online proctoring heightens exam anxiety.
No matter what the prevailing conditions are, university students find exams stressful. The stakes are high: Test outcomes will impact future studies, scholarship opportunities, and careers after graduation. Some students report that over and above their typical stress response to in-person proctoring, online proctoring heightens their test anxiety.
It’s important to remember that online proctoring offers students the choice, convenience, and comfort of taking exams in the familiar surroundings of home. Furthermore, to alleviate anxiety before the exam, students are reminded of the proctoring conditions, i.e., what materials and tools they’re allowed to access or use. While some online proctoring solutions do intrusively flag behavioral issues (e.g., loss of attention or looking elsewhere) to the student during the exam, uxpertise’s XP solution, on the other hand, quietly notes this behavior in the background. Thus, all these benefits must be weighed against the inconvenience and discomfort of in-person proctoring: the travel to a physical location and sitting for hours at a time exposed to the scrutiny of strangers.
Misconception #3: The risk of being flagged for suspicious behavior is increased with remote online proctoring.
There’s a widespread misconception that online proctoring solutions are built, so to speak, to point an accusatory finger at test-takers. (This false belief no doubt also contributes to the “heightened anxiety” discussed above.) Since no online proctoring solution is perfect, some false-positives may arise, and this prospect can make a student anxious. For example, let’s consider “stimming.”
Stimming is self-stimulatory behavior, which entails repetitive movements or sounds, such as nail biting, finger drumming, foot jiggling, etc. Almost everybody exhibits some form of stimming. These behaviors may generate false-positives by online proctors, whether human or automated.
It’s important to remember that the better online proctoring solutions always involve human judgment. As noted above, the final call on test-taker misconduct is made by a school leader familiar with the student. It’s not in the interest of these leaders to make baseless claims of misconduct because the follow-up is time-consuming and costly to the leader.
Misconception #4: There are other forms of student assessment, therefore online proctoring is not necessary.
Of course, there are. But not proctoring is not an option. Here’s why.
A recent study in the Journal of the National College Testing Association observed that students see an institution’s stand on proctoring as a measure of the seriousness of the assessment, and how seriously the establishment views its overall integrity. The same study concluded that “when a test is not proctored, students perceive cheating as more acceptable and are more likely to cheat or commit test fraud, all while placing the responsibility on the institution to more securely administer the test.”
With students studying at home, the temptation to cheat is higher. And yet no student wants future employers to regard his/her academic achievement as a “corona diploma,” i.e., one earned under questionable invigilation. This is why many student associations favour online proctoring solutions.
Still, the online curriculum remains the underbelly of an educational institution. Its point of greatest vulnerability to scandal over academic dishonesty. Because many institutions still use traditional forms of assessment, like multiple-choice exams, the move to remote online proctoring was a natural fit. But not all schools chose this path.
Exploring different types of assessment
In some institutions, the culture promotes an honor code that students are required to support by. For example, monitoring academic misconduct or even other types of social misconduct.
In these cultures, some faculty and university leaders believe that online proctoring solutions contravene the cultural norms. Thus, these schools are exploring other ways for students to demonstrate their knowledge and skill. Take-home assignments, final projects/papers, course participation, or a series of smaller tests for lower stakes.
These types of assessments require a greater investment of faculty time to design, administer, and assess. For certain class sizes or time-strapped professors, these options may not be manageable. That’s where remote online proctoring can provide a cost-efficient solution that protects both student privacy and the school’s reputation.
If online proctoring solutions sound as if they might be the right fit for your institution, we’d be happy to provide additional perspective and information.