Online Proctoring Considerations
Author: Lindsey Bergin
Editors: Elizabeth Harsma, Carrie Miller, and Michael Manderfeld
Types of Online Proctoring: Online proctoring refers to any number of technologies that provide surveillance of students taking exams. There are various online internet-based products that come in three different formats:
- Unproctored Internet Testing:
Specialized web browsers that do not allow students to open other applications or web pages on their device.
- Live Proctored Testing:
Required webcam recording of the student and their environment as they take an online exam. Students schedule and attend a video conference or proctoring center site with a human proctor who monitors student activity during an exam.
- Artificial Intelligence Proctored Testing:
Required webcam recording of the student and their environment as they take an online exam. Artificial intelligence and facial recognition programs that scan videos and flag behaviors that may indicate academic dishonesty.
Use of Online Proctoring: Researchers have reported widespread use of online proctoring tools in higher education:
- A 2020 poll found that 54% of educational institutions now use online proctoring technology (Grayjek, 2020).
- Another study found that 62.9% of university and college websites in the United States and Canada mentioned online proctoring.
- Of 100 websites examined in detail, all 100 were confirmed to have adopted online proctoring tools.
- None of the websites shared a critical stance towards the tools nor addressed ethics of student surveillance (Kimmons & Veletsianos, 2021).
Online proctoring vendors market their products as assuring reliable and valid assessments by deterring student academic dishonesty on online exams (Kimmons & Veletsianos, 2021). Some use cases of online proctoring:
- Online proctoring may be required by external certifying or accrediting bodies in select academic programs in higher education.
- The use of online proctoring may also be a means to prepare students for a similar certifying exam experience post-graduation.
Critics of online proctoring share reservations about the widespread use of these tools, noting several areas of concern:
- Privacy and Ethical Issues
- Culture of Distrust
Privacy and Ethical Issues
- Personal privacy is violated due to the monitoring and video recording of student behavior and living spaces (Karem et al., 2014; Lilley et al., 2016, Weiner & Hurtz, 2017).
- Personal information is at risk due to data breaches. Notably, ProctorU’s July 2020 data breach exposed more than 400,000 student names, passwords, and home addresses.
- Exams requiring online proctoring are not equally accessible to all students due to issues related to needing access to reliable internet services, specialized software, or hardware, and/or transit to-and-from proctoring sites.
- The facial recognition software in the online proctoring tools is biased against people of color and students who wear religious clothing like a hijab. Students with brown or black skin have reported that they have been asked to increase lighting on their face and “sit directly in front of a lighting source such as a lamp” to verify their identity and complete examinations (Boulamwini & Gebru, 2018; Harwell, 2020; Hu, 2020; Swauger, 2020b; Weissmen, 2021).
- The identity verification component can be biased against those in the LGBTQ+ community, especially students whose gender expression or name on their ID are different than their current gender expression or name (Swauger, 2020a).
- What the software is programmed to flag as cheating is biased against women with childcare responsibilities, those with a busy home life, and people with disabilities (Swauger, 2020a). Students with disabilities have reported their involuntary mouth movements and muscle spasms as being flagged by the algorithm (Patil & Bromwich, 2020; Swauger, 2020a; Weissmen, 2021).
- The eye-tracking software is problematic for students who are blind, have visual impairments, or have autism (Swauger, 2020a).
- Common test-taking behaviors like reading a question aloud or writing it down to think it through and listening to music are also commonly flagged by online proctoring software as cheating (Swauger, 2020a).
A Culture of Distrust
- The use of these tools may be associated with a culture of distrust. As a professor noted, there is an assumption of cheating “rather than assuming that students are trying to learn and help them learn” (Young, 2020).
- Using online proctoring prioritizes tool-focused solutions (e.g., “How can [SurveillanceTool] promote integrity in our courses?”) over teaching practice-focused solutions (e.g., “How can we adjust our teaching methods, assessments, and relationships with students to promote integrity in our courses?”) (Kimmons & Veletsianos, 2021).
- Using online proctoring software to mitigate cheating is problematic because it does not address what is causing students to cheat in the first place (Young, 2020).
Research on Online Proctoring Effectiveness
- In a post-survey of undergraduate students enrolled courses using online proctoring, a significant percentage of students reported concerns about technology problems, discomfort with surveillance, and additional stress related to online proctoring (Wolteab, Linsday, & Brothen).
- o 37% of students reported problems with using the service
- o 63% of students reported feeling ‘not at all comfortable’ or ‘somewhat comfortable’ with online proctoring
- As of August 2020, there are zero peer-reviewed or controlled studies proving that online proctoring software is successful at detecting or preventing cheating (Swauger, 2020b).
There is a body of educational research not involving online proctoring that supports various practices effective in ensuring integrity in examinations:
- Discussing the importance of academic integrity, explaining what cheating is and looks like, and the consequences of cheating during the first week of class (Novotney, 2011).
- Using authentic or project-based assignments (Brown, 2018; Ma et al., 2008).
- Giving a greater number of low-stakes quizzes build to a larger end of the course examination (Cole, Bergin, & Wittaker, 2008).
- Allow tests to be open-book and create questions that require higher-order thinking (Butler-Henderson & Crawford, 2020; Smith, 2020).
- Implementing online exam security best practices including:
- o Limiting the availability period of the exam
- o Randomizing the order of exam questions
- o Giving multiple versions of the exam
- o Limiting the amount of time to complete the exam
- o Delaying availability of exam scores and feedback until the exam is closed
Discussion: There is a growing widespread use of online proctoring in the United States and Canada. Researchers recommend that faculty members and institutions be cautious and thoughtful in examining the:
- ethical, and
- legal implications
prior to adopting online proctoring as a part of the everyday educational technology landscape.
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Patil, A. & Bromwich, J. E. (29 September 2020). How it feels when software watches you take tests. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/29/style/testing-schools-proctorio.html?c=14675671346155549970%3Fmkt%3Den-us