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Many colleges started using remote third-party proctoring services after the shift to remote teaching forced by the pandemic last spring. Not the University of Michigan Dearborn, which took the option of remote proctoring off the table.
Proponents of eproctoring technologies see them as important tools for deterring cheating in an online-only education environment. Opponents of their use raise concerns about costs, student privacy and the implications of asking students to submit to remote surveillance.
A survey conducted by the educational technology association Educause in April 2020 found that 54 percent of colleges were currently using remote proctoring technologies, and another 23 percent were considering or planning to use them. Different remote proctoring services variously monitor activity on students’ computers, lock down students’ browsers or record video of students as they take their tests.
At the same time many other colleges were considering whether to employ the technologies, UM Dearborn’s leadership made the choice that eproctoring was unacceptably invasive, at least when it comes to students who hadn’t signed up for that kind of surveillance.
The provost’s office at UM Dearborn sent a message to all faculty last April strongly discouraging them from using remote proctoring. In addition to noting that some eproctoring services charge students directly, adding unanticipated costs, the message said that some students “are demonstrably uncomfortable with what they perceive as an invasion of privacy by e-proctoring solutions.”
The statement added that, “Given the circumstances of this transition to remote teaching, and the multiple stresses our students are experiencing, we strongly discourage you from resorting to e-proctoring solutions unless you have been using them routinely in your program and courses before this transition and unless the students were made aware of this on your syllabus.”
Mitchel Sollenberger, associate provost for undergraduate programs and integrative learning at UM Dearborn, said there's a need to balance student concerns about eproctoring with the concerns of faculty who are worried about student cheating.
“We have faculty who transitioned to online teaching, and they struggled with a lot of different things,” he said. “One of their struggles was finding students who were availing themselves of third-party websites to cheat, plain and simple.
“We’re putting out this statement on eproctoring, and our faculty were saying, ‘Well, the administration is listening to students and their concerns, but we have our own concerns.’ I want to acknowledge we were listening to faculty concerns, and our main solution for faculty concerns was you need to redesign your assessments. That, frankly, is easier said than done.”
A new academic article published in Educational Development in the Time of Crises authored by UM Dearborn instructional designers summarizes the steps the university took to support faculty in redesigning their exams to make it harder to cheat. More specifically, the article describes investments the university made in supporting faculty in moving from traditional exams to authentic assessments, which typically connect course learning to real-world tasks and can take various forms including case studies, reflections, portfolios and projects.
Among the investments, UM Dearborn used Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to hire two additional instructional designers on two-year contracts, nearly doubling the staff of the university’s teaching and learning center. The expansion increased the capacity of the center to offer individualized consultations with faculty who were new to online teaching.
The teaching and learning center, known as the Hub, offered several faculty development programs in the summer of 2020 to help professors reimagine their courses and their assessments. The Hub also invited a virtual guest speaker who specializes in the development of authentic assessments in STEM disciplines.
UM Dearborn also used CARES Act funding to hire graders to help relieve the grading burden for professors teaching high-enrollment courses who wanted to incorporate authentic assessments or more frequent low-stakes assessments. Carla Vecchiola, director of the Hub and a lecturer in history, said graders were assigned to 19 courses in fall 2020 and another 23 in winter 2021.
The article on UM Dearborn’s experience, "What Happens When You Close the Door on Remote Proctoring? Moving Toward Authentic Assessments with a People-Centered Approach," recommends that the financial savings from not paying for remote proctoring services can be redirected toward faculty development and support.
"In our experience, leaders such as educational developers, instructional designers, academic technologists, department chairs, and deans will need to be prepared to extensively support faculty during the transition," the authors wrote. "Many instructors have been using proctored exams for their entire careers and see them as essential to the teaching and learning process. Even as teaching and learning professionals may be eager to see instructors drop high-stakes exams all together, it is important to recognize that changing a long-held teaching practice can feel destabilizing and will likely bring some unforeseen challenges and resistance from instructors."
The article notes that not all faculty members were supportive of the antiproctoring position. Apart from the additional labor associated with redesigning assessments, some professors "assumed the primary issue was cost and chided the administration for not purchasing remote proctoring licenses," the authors wrote. "Others expressed distrust in students’ academic integrity and bemoaned what they believed to be widespread cheating."
Sarah Silverman, lead author of the article and an instructional designer at UM Dearborn who specializes in STEM teaching, said much of the resistance she encountered was from professors who saw traditional exams as an important part of their pedagogy and as important preparation for students who would need to take high-stakes exams for graduate school admissions.
“I do see some of that resistance start to fall away,” Silverman said. “I’ve talked to some instructors about keeping some of those assessments in for the practice but making them much lower stakes.”
Katherine LaCommare, a biology lecturer, replaced the high-stakes final exam in the introductory biology class she teaches with more frequent lower-stakes assessments. Students take a quiz every other week. The week they’re not taking a quiz, they do what LaCommare described as a highly applied task -- for example, they might be asked to create a phylogenetic tree -- that they then submit to the class’s discussion board.
She continues to use some multiple-choice questions for the quizzes but says her strategy is to create big question banks so there are few repeats to cut down on student sharing.
“I will be frank -- I do think there are some students that are sharing, or kind of taking the exam together. I don’t think there’s much I can do about it except to try to create really big test question banks so they’re potentially not all getting the same question,” LaCommare said.
“The real individual assessment’s not coming from that,” she continued. “I think it’s coming from these other pieces that I have embedded in the courses where students are individually demonstrating their mastery of material.”
Oleg Zikanov, chair of the mechanical engineering department, said professors in his department have also moved toward lower-stakes and more frequent testing and large question banks so students get personalized exams. A department staff member monitors known student cheating sites for course materials.
Conducting assessments online during the pandemic is a challenge, he said, but not as big some other challenges including those posed by the migration of lab courses online.
Zikanov does look forward to the opportunity to return to in-person proctored testing when the pandemic ends.
“Except for a few classes, the larger part of the faculty would prefer to have testing if it is a classical exam, in person, with TAs looking around,” he said. “The usual stuff.”