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To Proctor or Not to Proctor: That Is the Question

If you assign online exams, you are probably concerned about academic integrity. There are a few steps you can take to promote academic integrity when implementing a test online in Blackboard, such as asking students to agree to an honor statement, randomizing question order, using test pools, adding timer and auto-submit settings to the exam, assigning a group exam, making the exam open-book, conducting an oral exam, or using case studies or essay exam questions instead of multiple-choice or true/false.

You may determine that these options are not sufficient and that you would prefer to use online exam proctoring. Remote proctoring can provide a more secure testing environment in certain circumstances, but there are some significant considerations you need to think about before adopting online proctoring.

What is Proctoring?

A proctored exam is a supervised exam. When an online exam is proctored, a program is used to supervise students during the exam. Exams can be proctored synchronously, which is when a live proctor supervises the exam in real time, or they can be supervised asynchronously; for example, a video of the student taking the exam is recorded and reviewed by an artificial intelligence program, the instructor, or a proxy.

Why Not?

Technical issues

Consider whether students have the necessary technology and sufficient internet access (speed and reliable connectivity) to use the online proctoring program and whether you can help students troubleshoot technical issues with proctoring as they arise in the high-stakes, high-stress situation of an online exam. Proctoring usually requires a webcam, certain types of devices, computer system requirements, and reliable internet access. If you choose to use a proctoring service other than those to which NIU already subscribes, any technical issues will need to be addressed by the proctoring service’s support team, so neither DoIT or CITL may be able to address technical issues during your exam. If students have technical issues, will you be equipped to help them?

Invasion of Privacy

Online proctoring requires a student to be recorded with a webcam or watched by a live proctor as they take an exam. The environment in which a student is taking the exam may not be private; proctoring may involve recording their pets, children, family members, or other aspects of their personal environment, which could present equity concerns. While proctoring services may be secure, you should think about whether they are truly necessary. Are your students able to create a suitable test-taking space in their current living situation? Do students have family members or pets that may cause distractions and flag possible academic integrity violations? Are your students able to complete the exam without leaving the computer? Keep in mind that if a student has to step away from the proctored exam to care of a child or help an elderly, ill, or disabled family member, that would be flagged as an integrity violation.

Added Cost

Consider where the burden of cost will be placed. Pricing varies and can cost up to $60 per hour, per exam. The Higher Learning Commission prohibits the university from requiring students to pay fees for course delivery that are not specified when students register for the course, so you will have to think ahead if you plan to pass the cost on to students. What if a student cannot afford to pay to take the exam using the proctoring service? Is your department prepared to absorb the cost?

There may be other, non-monetary costs to students. For example, students may feel uncomfortable with the surveillance required to take their exam, which may cause added stress and affect their test performance. It may also cause students to feel less connected to you and the course because they are not being given the benefit of the doubt; you are assuming that they will cheat.

No Guarantees

Proctoring is not foolproof, and students who want to cheat may still be able to game the system. While proctoring may be a deterrent to cheating, there are other strategies to combat cheating during online exams that do not require this level of technical requirements, invasions of privacy, and added costs to students. Try to consider other options before resorting to proctoring.

Why So?

If you have noticed extensive cheating issues in your online exams, cannot implement an alternative assessment option, and have tried all other options to combat academic integrity violations, exam proctoring may be a valid option to help deter cheating.

One question to consider, though, is why a disproportionate number of students may be tempted to cheat on your online exam. Is it too difficult? Do they not feel prepared? Is the number of questions and time limit too onerous? Is it a high-stakes exam that could derail their academic plans if they fail? Proctoring may deter students from cheating on the exam, which is great. However, it does not answer or solve the underlying question of why students are cheating in the first place. That may be a discussion worth having so that proctoring may not be necessary in the future.

Considerations and Suggestions

NIU does have a proctoring solution called Respondus LockDown Browser, which is a web browser like Chrome or Firefox. Respondus LockDown Browser strictly limits students’ ability to do anything on their computer but take their exam. Respondus adds an automated proctoring service, and our university has an existing relationship with the vendor, so we have free use of the tool. However, while it is “free” and functional, it is susceptible to technical, software, and internet connectivity issues, as all other proctoring tools are.

If you have taken all of the issues addressed here into consideration and still believe that proctoring is your best answer, consider using Respondus; there is no added cost to students and it is integrated into Blackboard. There are regular online training sessions and training resources available directly through Respondus, and we strongly encourage you to complete a training session before you implement Respondus so that you know what it is and how it works. Respondus also has technical support resources available on their website.

Regardless of the proctoring solution you use, you should conduct a practice exam to try to identify and resolve potential technical issues before the day of the actual exam. Keep in mind, though, that unforeseen issues may still arise during an exam even if the practice exam goes well.

While we recommended that you consider all of the other options for promoting the integrity of your assessment, including rethinking your exams or switching to authentic assessment, and weigh the pros and cons of online proctoring, you may still decide that proctoring is the way you would like to move forward. If this is the case, make sure to prepare yourself and your students well in advance of the actual exam and remember that proctoring tools are not foolproof.

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