By Rusty Hartley, Principal Analyst
The Beloved Honor Code
The honor code at my alma-mater in Virginia remains one of the most distinguishing characteristics of the school. Undergraduates typically schedule their own exams and take them in unsupervised locations. Most students take the honor code pretty seriously and I even reported someone for cheating once, and felt proud of it. The reason – that person was challenging the academic integrity of my impending college degree. Sound familiar?
Few question the academic integrity of the mainly on-campus education at Washington and Lee, but many question that of online or for-profit colleges ranging from the mammoth University of Phoenix to the smaller Sonoran Desert Institute, a vocational school primarily known for offering an associate’s degree in gunsmithing. Today, 95% of online exams are taken by the honor code and cheating is a big problem, regardless of the type of institution. Remote exam proctoring technology will not only lessen the prevalence of cheating in online programs, but will also help strengthen the public’s confidence in the quality of online education.
Online Remote Exam Proctoring – A New Industry
Remote exam proctoring in low-stakes testing environments is a relatively young industry that is growing in importance as online enrollments and course offerings continue to grow. As the pressure on students to get good grades is greater than ever, the prevalence of cheating has become more widespread. Accreditors are becoming increasingly concerned with the integrity of the test taking process, and schools are being pressured by public and private constituencies to validate the quality of the education they provide. Remote exam proctoring technology, or the ability to use technology to help validate the exam management process, is one way to help provide this assurance.
There are a growing number of vendors that intend to fill this need through the creation of new remote proctoring technologies for use in low-stakes testing environments. Today, most remote exam proctoring is accomplished by a combination of webcam monitoring, keyboard lockdowns, and student authentication. New proctoring technologies that focus on physical characteristics like facial recognition and voice analysis are in various stages of development. These technologies can provide greater security and scalability than provided by the traditional proctors or testing centers commonly used in distance education, and now also used in online programs.
Cheating and Student Authentication – The Drivers
The primary drivers for the remote proctoring industry are cheating and student authentication. Academics, administrators, and accreditors have long been concerned with cheating – it has become so rampant in higher education that many faculty members now design exams knowing that students might use the internet to find answers while taking exams. Given the ease with which information flows, the definition of what is considered cheating in the first place has become blurred.
Surprisingly, cheating is not the only issue. When asked about the primary reason for instituting a remote exam proctoring system, most educators agree that student authentication is the primary driving force. While the two are related, verifying who is actually taking an exam is considered of greater importance given students’ abilities to have others take their exams. As this type of validation is becoming of greater concern for public and private constituencies like state education boards, professional associations, and employers, some accreditors have taken a more active role in the online exam management process.
A Growing Concern for Accreditors
Regional accreditors have thus far taken a relatively hands-off approach to remote exam proctoring requirements in the online arena. Consistent with the guidance from the USDOE, regional accrediting agencies like NEASC and the HLC only expect that schools provide a legitimate exam process. However, this is not the case for the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC), a career-related accrediting agency focused on distance education. Its stricter proctoring standards emanate from those required for the traditional correspondence school model – they now apply to online education as a relatively high percentage of schools the DETC accredits are online. The DETC is effectively helping drive demand for online remote proctoring technologies; many believe that it is only a matter of time before regional accreditors and others follow the same path.
Schools themselves are not merely reactive to the pressures placed on them by their accreditors. They have a clear role in the public eye to validate the integrity of their educational process and are considered thought leaders when it comes to the quality of education they provide. Maintaining high quality academic practices is paramount to the educational community – schools are perhaps the most eager of all stakeholders to help shape public opinion and educational policies. The usage of remote exam proctoring technologies can help when it comes to growing online programs and shaping standards related to assessment and accreditation.
The Cold Hard Reality
While online education is becoming more and more integrated into the overall educational landscape, many still consider it to be less effective than on-campus education. A friend of mine in the banking industry recently asked me over lunch “Would you really hire someone with an online degree?” Regardless of the ensuing discussion (this is not a simple yes or no answer), it is this type of judgmental perception that online and for-profit schools are up against – anything they can do to change this perception is welcome. Online remote exam proctoring is one of those things.
Schools need to conduct a thorough needs analysis and develop an understanding of the remote proctoring technologies available in the market that can help strengthen the integrity of their online programs. Please stay tuned for Part II of this series in which we will discuss an overview of the technologies that currently exist in this market, and the questions that schools need to ask themselves before embarking on the decision of whether to implement this type of solution. Part III will provide an overview of the industry and discuss how it is expected to evolve in the future.
This post is the first in a three part series about remote exam proctoring.