By Jim Shimabukuro
[Note: See Franklin Hayes’s “Update on UNC’s Remote Proctoring Services,” 10.9.12. -Editor]
A persistent concern about completely online courses is testing security. Without the physical presence of the professor or teaching assistant at the exam site, the fear is that students will cheat. For some (Adsit, Kimura), security is a non-issue, and the real issue is test design. For others, the issue is the ills of high-stakes testing (Keller). These issues notwithstanding, secure testing remains a critical step in the credentialing process for the vast majority of teachers and educational institutions. Its omission, alone, is enough to ensure that a course cannot be taken for credit, and credits are the universal currency for diplomas and certificates.
The mushrooming popularity of MOOCs has magnified the issue of secure testing for the purpose of certification. Minus the security, MOOCs are relegated to non-credit status. In other words, a terrific learning experience, but it won’t count toward graduation. Thus, as a business model, MOOCs are considered by most to be nonviable.
Consequently, there’s a need – a need for a workable remote proctoring procedure or service. One of the latest to enter this market is the Tegrity Remote Proctoring System. It relies primarily on the webcam built into today’s notebook computers. This type of service is not new. Kryterion‘s “online proctoring solutions accommodate on-board cameras commonly found on today’s laptops.” However, it also uses “more advanced USB cameras that offer wider view of the test taker and surrounding environment.”
Software Secure‘s Remote Proctor Pro is billed as “the gold-standard in remote test integrity.” It claims to address “every area of exam security by authenticating … identity and controlling a student’s computer while watching and listening to the exam environment.” See the video for a demo of its outboard camera setup.
Test proctoring per se, as an onground service, has a relatively long history. Colleges have offered exam proctoring services to students as well as the public for years. The National College Testing Association‘s Consortium of College Testing Centers (CCTC) is a free referral service designed “to facilitate distance learning.” Cal Poly is a member. Its “Testing Services office offers proctoring services for anyone needing to take tests in San Luis Obispo for another school or agency. Students participating in distance learning programs or correspondence degree programs, and professionals needing to be tested in order to receive certification in their field may be able to arrange to have their tests proctored at our facility.”
Many if not most colleges provide similar services. For example, Minnesota Online offers students enrolled in an online course within the Minnesota state colleges and universities system test proctoring services at campus locations in different parts of the state. At Northern Virginia Community College, “anyone can have an exam proctored at [the] Alexandria Campus. A candidate does not have to be an NOVA student to test here.” The fee is $75.00 per exam.
For Seattle Central Community Colleges, the Testing Office provides “supervision and a secure testing environment” for “local students taking classes or training through other colleges and institutions by correspondence or other long-distance methods.” At the University of Alaska Anchorage, the “Advising and Testing Center is available for proctoring exams from other schools/universities or programs.”
Similar proctoring services are provided by some public libraries. For example, the Bozeman (Montana) Public Library “will proctor either written or online exams. Students requesting proctor services must have a Bozeman Public Library card. At the time of the exam, the student must present a valid picture ID.” The Springfield-Greene County Library District (Missouri) “provides proctoring services at a cost of $10 per test.”
North Carolina State University’s Remote Testing Services works with “students who live outside a 50-mile radius of campus and cannot visit the Distance Education Proctoring Office or the NC State campus to take exams.” The process is flexible and efficient: “Proctoring arrangements are subject to … instructor’s approval. Appropriate proctoring services include local colleges and universities, and in some instances, public libraries and high schools. Proctors must have an verifiable email address (no Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, etc). If the institution has a test administration fee, or if the proctor requires compensation, the student must cover the cost.”
The approach that stands out for me is University of North Carolina’s Online Proctoring Network, which “has been designed to enhance the academic integrity of online courses by providing students with an easily accessible pool of qualified proctors. These qualified proctors will be available for students who are taking online courses at any of the constituent universities of the University of North Carolina. This network will help students to easily access proctors and find a facility to take their exam in a shorter, more effective period of time.” See the “Standards and Guidelines for Proctors.”
The UNC remote proctoring network model is relatively low-tech, simple, flexible, sustainable, and leverageable. For use with MOOCs, one possibility is to identify and certify qualified proctors among past (and even present) students. Students who need or want to earn course credit could then contact a network proctor in their area to arrange an onground test session. This model might not work for students in extremely isolated areas. However, possible options in these cases are to certify a reliable person in the area to serve as proctor or resort to one of the high-tech webcam solutions mentioned above.
Granted, other issues mentioned by Adsit, Keller, and Kimura are important. Test design and purposes need to be reexamined not just for online courses but for courses in general. Cheating, too, is a chronic problem, and its implications need to be openly discussed, understood, and addressed. However, we can’t wait for these issues to be resolved before beginning the all-important process of certifying online courses for college credit.
As long as testing remains common practice in the awarding of credits, remote proctoring in one form or another is necessary for the continued growth of online programs. Webcams, especially when they’re both in- and outboard, may be viable, although we won’t know for sure until they’re widely deployed. However, remote proctoring networks based on the UNC model may be effective and efficient for the vast majority of online students.