By Rusty Hartley, Principal Analyst
No, of course not! Biometric authentication is definitely part of the future of remote proctoring and is even now starting to gain traction. But prior to jumping too far ahead, let’s start with the fundamentals.
The primary goals of remote proctoring technologies are to overcome the security weaknesses and scale limitations of traditional proctoring. Security weaknesses allow both students and proctors to exploit the system for their own benefits. Scale limitations are related to the level of human interaction – most of the low-stakes remote proctoring options currently available require some level of human involvement depending on the numbers of students using the system, or the number of suspected cheaters. As stated in Part I of this series, most remote proctoring today is performed by some combination of webcam monitoring, keyboard lockdowns, and student authentication; however, the future of remote proctoring will also include greater use of biometric methods like facial, voice, and fingerprint recognition technologies, some of which are already in various stages of market development or beta testing. Given the potential benefits of remote proctoring technology, and regardless of future technology improvements, schools are advised to evaluate this technology now to determine if it can provide value for them.
The remote exam proctoring technologies available today provide a huge improvement over traditional proctoring methods thereby enabling schools to grow their online enrollments with a more legitimate exam management process. It is likely that no one technology will provide the right answer on its own, but that some combination will provide the appropriate functionality depending on customer needs. Following is a brief overview of some of these technologies, most of which are currently integrated with one or several others available in the market.
- Computer lockdowns are when a test taker is prevented access to the internet while taking an exam. Lockdown technology is typically used in testing centers and for high-stakes exams but can also be installed directly on students’ computers.
- Electronic signatures function in a manner similar to e-signatures and hand-written signatures except they are digitally analyzed for conformity to the original in the interest of affirming identity.
- Keystroke dynamics recognize typing patterns based on rhythm, pressure and style – this is then analyzed for conformity to the original in the interest of affirming identity.
- Recognition technologies are used to authenticate a student based on a prior examination of some physical feature. They are typically built upon a before / during / after analysis to verify that the same student who initially registered for the course was actually the one who took the exam. Commonly-known recognition technologies include facial, fingerprint, palm, and voice.
- Webcams are one of the original technologies used to replace a live proctor. They vary in abilities depending on the type of camera used and can record videos or still images. They can record individual students when the camera is part of the computer, or groups when the camera is placed in a classroom.
A more technical needs analysis is required for a school to make the right decision on which technology or which vendor to choose. Areas to evaluate include technical attributes (scale and speed), practical attributes (affordability, ease of implementation), and business attributes (vendor location, years in business). Schools should consider creating checklists and rating each of these attributes to help inform their analysis.
What about Integration with My Current System?
When evaluating low-stakes remote proctoring systems, schools must also consider integration with their existing Learning Management System (LMS) in addition to exam management software or other assessment systems in place. Most are familiar with the concept of a “build vs. buy” analysis, and the importance for new technologies to “bolt-on” to existing technologies. The ability for a remote proctoring system to easily bolt-on to an existing LMS is extremely important considering the rate of change in technology today; however, the build vs. buy analysis can get a little muddier.
While most schools use outsourced LMS’s, exam management and assessment systems are more typically created and managed in-house. Remote proctoring systems can be purchased as stand-alone systems or as integrated exam management packages. Some schools prefer creating and managing this technology internally because it gives them the ability to customize without paying for consulting costs from using external vendors. However, others realize that creating and managing software programs or technology is outside their areas of expertise and not a core academic process – there are many benefits to outsourcing as any visit to a vendor website will attest.
How do I Determine If Remote Proctoring is the Right Solution?
The first place to start is to determine how big of a problem cheating and student authentication really is. Sometimes this answer can come easily from a concerned stakeholder (like an accreditor); other times it will require a deeper analysis of a school’s course delivery preferences and learning environment in order to provide the justification needed to substantiate this decision. Lastly, Return on Investment (ROI) and technology needs analyses will help evaluate the affordability and technological capabilities offered by the vendors in the marketplace. The most important thing to recognize is that each school’s needs are different and the ability to determine what solution will work best will require a deeper understanding of the options available in the marketplace. Part III, the final installment of this series, will include a brief overview of the industry and discuss how it is expected to evolve in the future.