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I have been an active supporter of online education since 2001 when I accepted a tenure-track position in Psychology at a university in Louisiana. The position’s responsibilities included helping the Psychology department build and manage a fully online Bachelor of Science degree. In this position, I learned that it was not only important to offer quality online courses but also it was necessary to ensure students had access to the same services as on-campus students.

One such service is proctoring. If you think about it, we take the proctoring of exams for granted. On-campus proctoring happens almost effortlessly given it is provided by an instructor or his or her teaching assistant. However, what happens when proctored exams are required in online courses?  

Different strategies are used across institutions to manage the administration of proctored exams in online courses. In the absence of a formal policy, decisions about the use of proctoring are left to faculty to formalize.  Although students enrolled in an online course can use a learning management system (LMS) to review instructional content, participate in weekly discussion forums, and submit written assignments, some faculty still require on-campus proctoring by themselves, their teaching assistant, or by testing center staff.  

For those who live several hundred miles from campus, students are given options such as finding an approved proctor in their area. When I worked for a community college in Pennsylvania, this category of proctor included a church minister or pastor, work supervisor or librarian. Such options can be challenging given there is no guarantee that the offsite proctor is meeting an institution’s proctoring expectations, unless you request a video recording of the exam session.

The availability of online proctoring services can help institutions offer a truly online learning experience devoid of on-campus visits for testing -- but such solutions have their challenges too. My current institution has had a history of faculty requesting students complete their exams in our testing centers or with the assistance of an offsite proctor. Given this was a tedious process for our testing center and online learning support staff to manage, and because we did not want online learners to endure such a process, our campus began researching online proctoring options.

In Spring 2015, a Request for Proposals (RFP) committee selected ProctorU as our online proctoring vendor. Although a small number of mostly math faculty who taught for our online campus used ProctorU to administer 215 exams in Fall 2015, the number of faculty, the disciplines they represent, and the total number of online exams their students completed has grown significantly since that time. In 2016, faculty administered over 4,000 exams, and between January 2017 and April 2016, 3,171 exams have already been administered.

Get Answers First

Before an institution decides to implement online proctoring, it must find answers to several initial questions such as:

  • How many of your faculty teach online?  
  • How many of them offer or could offer one or more high-stakes, online exams through your LMS or a similar system (e.g., Pearson’s MyMathLab) offered by a third party such as publishers?
  • How many students typically enroll in sections offered by faculty who do or could offer online exams?  

The answers to these questions will give you a good sense of the challenge at hand especially the volume of exams that require proctoring.

Scaling a proposed solution to a problem can be more challenging than the problem itself. As mentioned earlier, you need to assess the volume of exams that require proctoring at your institution.  If you think about it, this information is not really readily accessible if your institution does not use master course shells with identical online assessments. Our campus reviewed the syllabi of all of our online courses; then we organized this information in a spreadsheet and added the number of students per course after the census date. We learned that in our Fall 2016 semester, there were over 46,000 exam administrations that could have been proctored.

If you want to use online proctoring, it will be important to determine the budget to offer this service to your students. This can be challenging especially if you have not fully calculated the number of online proctored exams you will offer or if you have not negotiated with your vendor a flat fee you will be charged regardless of exam volume.

You will need to decide if your institution will charge students for online proctoring or if you will subsidize a portion or all of the cost. Our institution decided to cover 100 percent of the cost given we wanted to ensure our students would never have to come to our campus for proctoring.

Given the use of online proctoring that uses live proctors can be costly especially as you scale, you might want to explore other options with low-overhead costs to the vendor. Such examples include lockdown browsers or automated proctoring currently offered by companies such as Examity,  Proctorio, and Honorlock in which students and their computer screens are recorded and faculty can watch the videos to determine if cheating occurred.

Our campus will use ProctorU Auto, a new automated proctoring solution, and a limited number of live proctoring hours starting this fall. This mixed proctoring option approach will help us set a specific budget for the 2017-2018 academic year as well as give our faculty a choice in online proctoring resources.

What Else to Consider

Other considerations need to be carefully weighed other than the ongoing budget. Faculty and students will need to be provided detailed information about the tools and/or services you choose.  Our institution is currently sending email reminders to our faculty about our upcoming scaled use of ProctorU this fall, and we are encouraging them to include information in their syllabi.

Our online learning website will also include information about online proctoring as well as our student information system so students learn about online proctoring requirements at the point of registration.  

Furthermore, an institution that uses online proctoring will need to be sensitive to the fact that not all online students have full access to a computer with a webcam and a high-speed internet connection. Our campus will remind students that they could use the district’s free wireless internet service together with a webcam-enabled laptop computer they can check out from one of our libraries.

The use of online proctoring requires a deep understanding of potential exam volume, the costs associated with it, and the information needed to share with faculty and students to help them prepare for the scaled use of online proctoring. A careful review of these variables is needed to help ensure an institution can protect its ability to provide a fully online experience to its students and at the same time document it is protecting the integrity of its assessments.  

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