Online Proctoring: A Look at the Software that are Watching You

Teacher Blogger  |  By Kathleen G 

e1It was in 2018, during the end of my second undergraduate degree, when I first heard the term “online proctoring”. Until that time, and throughout my other undergraduate experiences, exams had always been synonymous with a classroom and a person standing at the front.  The concept of having an online proctor made a ton sense. Many for credit degrees and courses have made the move to completely online, so it made sense that the required proctored exams followed.  Many students make use of these services for various reasons including convenience, flexibility and accessibility – many of the same reasons people choose online education over face-to-face education in the first place. It seems like the perfect match.


What is Online Proctoring?

e2So, what exactly is online proctoring? Well, to start, it differs from remote proctoring, although these terms are sometimes used synonymously.  The term online proctoring is a very specific term that describes a student’s exam being proctored by a human with the use of the internet and a webcam (Foster & Layman, 2013).  Remote proctoring is different as it can describe an exam that takes place anywhere outside what is considered the standard testing area (testing site, proctor that comes to the house, etc.) (Foster & Layman, 2013). While the perception is that this technology is relatively new in the last few years, it really isn’t. While many more software companies have emerged, the first company, Kryterion, emerged back in 2006 (Foster & Layman, 2013).  Other popular companies include ProctorU, which I will discuss the most in this blog because of personal experience.

The Good, The Bad, and The Awkward…Has Anyone Evaluated the Evaluators?

So, I am sure you are thinking, “That sounds great; tell me more!” So, let’s talk about the pros and cons. As in most decisions, there are positives and many negatives that need to be considered; but let’s look at this as a glass half full situation and look at some positives first. In 2013, David Foster of Caveon Test Security and Harry Layman of The College Board put together a report that compared these systems called Online Proctoring Systems Compared. In this article they listed the three valuable benefits to adopt online proctoring vs traditional proctoring (Foster & Layman, 2013):

e4Traditional proctoring is not as secure as we once thought. Online proctoring addresses these weaknesses. Online proctoring can detect cheating JUST as much as in person proctoring – possibly better.

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On-site proctors are not always trained and motivated to ensure the academic integrity required. Not all are instructors or teaching assistants, and some may even be volunteers.

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Proctoring software is becoming more capable, which is gaining the attention of many students and institutions.

Milone, A. S., Cortese, A. M., Balestrieri, R. L., & Pittenger, A. L. (2017)  conducted evaluations in a study with PharmD program students in the academic year of 2013-2014 at the University of Minnesota. This study gave the students a choice to take their exam with ProctorU or use an in-person/class proctor. The positives that emerged from the students who chose ProctorU and filled out the survey are pretty much what you’d expect: it was convenient, they could take the exam anytime or anywhere, and the proctors were nice, friendly and helpful (Milone et al., 2017). Sounds very similar to my online learning experiences, and my experience with ProctorU.  So far, so good.  Now hit me with the negatives.

The negatives reported by the students were pretty interesting, but foreseeable.  For one, students have labelled this experience as “intrusive”. It’s an understandable comment. After all, a random stranger is watching your every movement through a webcam and controlling your computer. It is not a natural experience. I’ll be honest, I felt a little like an animal in a zoo.  The students in the study used the term “awkward” and “creepy” (Milone et al., 2017). Fair enough.

A second negative they found was the set-up process seemed cumbersome, and they didn’t like the long wait times (Milone et al., 2017). This was similar to my experience.  It seems I was part of some unusual blip where I had to wait almost a HOUR to take my exam. Probably not the best experience for a student with test anxiety, but still better than the alternatives. No student wants to prolong the experience of an exam any longer than they need to.  The last negative was technical issues. Now I feel I should put a disclaimer on this last point -ANYONE can have a technical issue when writing an online exam. This can happen with an in-person proctored exam at a testing center and is not exclusive to these softwares alone.

Many of the students in the PharmD program study chose not even to give ProctorU a chance. Their reasons included: their computers did not have the technical requirements; they did not have a suitable place to take the exam; preference to an in-person exam experience; and they were uncomfortable with the whole concept (Milone et al., 2017).  Exams are an uncomfortable experience – picking an option that makes you most comfortable is just logical.  Some of their reasons were application specific, but some were more personality driven. Similar to how some people don’t enjoy taking school online; some just don’t enjoy taking tests online. That’s okay. It doesn’t speak to the functionality of the software or the validity, just preference.

Any more research? There has been little research on the how this platform affects the educational experience.  One study did look at how the main concern “intrusiveness” affected students with test anxiety. Their findings aligned with other studies and showed while students with test anxiety usually display overall lower test results, when using an online proctor that effect was amplified (Woldeab & Brothen, 2019).  So maybe this might not be the best platform for students with severe test anxiety, depending on their comfort level with being “watched”.

 

Meet ProctorU

e5Now that I have you all psyched up about this idea of taking your final exam anytime or anywhere, possibly in your pyjamas, let’s talk about how this works.  Since Athabasca University uses ProctorU, and it’s the only online proctoring software I have used, I will focus on that specific software.

I am sure your first question is “How do they know it is me?” Well, ProctorU does a pretty thorough job of verifying your identity through verification software similar to those used in the banking and healthcare systems including proof of identity with a photo card, computer-generated questions, and they have you take a picture. Say Cheese!

The next question is usually “How do they monitor me?” Well, like myself or studies have stated, it can be a little uncomfortable. An employee who worked for Proctor U states in an article We look for eye movement. When the eyes start veering off to the side, it’s clearly a red flag” (Kolowich, 2013). That pretty much sums up how thoroughly you will be monitored. These proctors have spent a 100 hours’ training before being allowed to monitor a live test (Kolowich, 2013). So, they know what they are looking for.

In this ProctorU video of how the exam works from the setup to the actual test you will see, it’s hard to cheat the system or trick the proctors. I can tell you from my experience they are VERY thorough. They want to see your phone, and for you to put it away (out of reach) but still in their eyes view. And don’t try to hide stick notes behind your computer, they want you to show them all around the room. Last if you think you are clever, and “talk out your answers” so that your roommate can help, don’t bother. Talking out loud is against the rules. Pretty much, the only time they will go outside their outlined rules is when the Accessibility department from your school makes a formal request. For instance, they allowed me to have my EpiPen in the room, and in reach. I had to show that there was nothing written on it, but my school said that was okay to have it on my person.  The chart below outlines the basic things that are allowed and not allowed.

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(Test-Taker Resource Center—Find answers to some of the most asked questions, 2020)

To save yourself some added stress on the day of the exam, ProctorU, (and myself for that matter) advise that you do a system check prior.  This system check allows you to ensure you have the requirements to go on with the exam, and if you need help, you can request it. There was an issue when I did my check the day before. When I requested help with my microphone, the technician took over my laptop (similar to the exam) to look what the issue was. When he fixed it, a voice came out of nowhere on my computer. Warning. Be ready for that. If your webcam is the issue, make sure you are dressed for company before you ask for help!

 

Why Does This Matter?

e7So why does this technology matter and worth a blog post? In 2018, a Canadian study of over 200 education institutions across the country stated that they were making big strides towards online education, stating an 11% growth (Woldeab & Brothen, 2019). That is a lot of students, switching to online instruction. A main reason for the move to online education is convenience, accessibility and flexibility.  To continue that experience, schools must move exams that mirrors the learning environment to meet the needs of these students. Nothing is more inconvenient than being a busy professional or parent and trying to schedule a 2-hour exam during the hours of a test center. It is also quite expensive from personal experience. Most test centers operate with similar business hours to other companies. When students need to write exams outside those hours, such as evenings and weekends, additional costs and premiums can occur.

Roblyer said it best in her textbook Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching; “For most of us, technology makes things easier. For a person with a disability, it makes it possible”. (Roblyer, 2016, pp. 403). We can see online proctoring software as an assistive technology to enable students who could not go to a test center for various reasons the opportunity to further their education. Personally, I decided to use online proctoring, and would do so again (even though I agree it is creepy!) because of safety reasons from a life-threatening allergy. To me, the reduced risk outweighed feeling awkward.  As educators, administrators and instructional designers we are continuously being tasked to make education and educational outcomes more flexible and accessible for all students. Using online proctoring software can only help assist our students in advancing and achieving in their academic goals. After all, isn’t that our main goal?

References

Athabasca University. (2020). Frequently asked questions: ProctorU > The Hub. https://news.athabascau.ca/learners/faq_proctoru

Foster, D., & Layman, H. (2013). Online Proctoring Systems Compared (p. 12). Caveon Test Security. https://caveon.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Online-Proctoring-Systems-Compared-Mar-13-2013.pdf

Kolowich, S. (2013). Behind the Webcam’s Watchful Eye, Online Proctoring Takes Hold. Chronicle of Higher Education, 59(32), A12–A12.

Milone, A. S., Cortese, A. M., Balestrieri, R. L., & Pittenger, A. L. (2017). The impact of proctored online exams on the educational experience. Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning, 9(1), 108–114. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cptl.2016.08.037

ProctorU. (2017, December 5). ProctorU Pre-Exam Checklist. https://vimeo.com/246007317

ProctorU. (2020a). Test It Out. https://test-it-out.proctoru.com/

ProctorU. (2020b). Test-Taker Resource Center—Find answers to some of the most asked questions. https://www.proctoru.com/proctoru-live-resource-center

Roblyer, M. D. (2016). Intergrating Educational Technology into Teaching (seventh). Pearson Education, Inc. https://online.vitalsource.com/#/books/9781323564905/cfi/6/320!/4@0.00:0

Test-Taker Resource Center—Find answers to some of the most asked questions. (n.d.). Retrieved April 3, 2020, from https://www.proctoru.com/proctoru-live-resource-center

Woldeab, D., & Brothen, T. (2019). 21st Century Assessment: Online Proctoring, Test Anxiety, and Student Performance. International Journal of E-Learning & Distance Education, 34(1), 1–10.

Images:

Computer Exam Image: “Computer Exam” by mohamed_hassan is in the Public Domain
Curious Guy Image: “Man-scratching-head.” by Dukesy68 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
Postive/Negative Image: “Postive/Negative” by geralt is in the Public Domain
Green checkmarks: “Green Checkmark” by janjf93 is in the Public Domain
Proctor Images: “Online Exam” by ADVIDS is in the Public Domain
What to expect (ProctorU): ProctorU. (2020). Test-Taker Resource Center—Find answers to some of the most asked questions. https://www.proctoru.com/proctoru-live-resource-center
Question Marks: “Question Mark “ by Rednic is in the Public Domain

About the Contributor

Kathleen Grossi is a business major who has spent most of her career working in supply chain and operational positions such as analyst and buyer in various industries including manufacturing, consumer packaged goods (CPG), medical and distribution. Most recently, she has worked in support staff positions in the post-secondary sector, where she hopes to advance into teaching and curriculum development.  As a lifelong learner, Kathleen is working towards her Master of Education in Distance Education degree at Athabasca University.

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Except otherwise noted, this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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