The Remote Proctor and Online Academic Honesty

The online courses I have participated in have not required formal exams, but many subjects require formal testing like math and science. As distance learning is morphing more and more into online learning administering formal exams is becoming a concern. Before students would report to a testing center or have an assigned proctor, but with the convenience of online learning there is a demand that testing be just as convenient. The appeal of asynchronous online courses is that the student can complete the work from anywhere and anytime. So why should a student not be able to take the required formal exams from anywhere and anytime? By offering the convenience of taking a test from anywhere and anytime comes the concerns of academic honesty and student privacy. Convenience usually comes at a price and that price might be what some would consider an invasion of privacy. In order to make sure students are not cheating without a human proctor present requires, as Dunn, Meine, and McCarley (2010) point out, a technological innovation. This means that the solution to cheating on a test is resulting in “…what could easily be called the academic version of “Big Brother” into the online course environment” because the proctor is now a camera (p. 4).

In the articles by Dunn, Meine, and McCarley (2010) and Robinson (2013) the authors discuss the implications of remote proctors and academic honesty. Robinson (2013) argues that academic dishonesty is more common in the online learning environment because of the distance between student and instructor. This leads to feelings of isolation and then precipitates feelings of inaccessibility, which then leads students to not seek out assistance they need to succeed. Due to stress, fear of failure, and feelings of isolation students are more prone to be tempted to commit academic dishonesty in the online learning environment (Robinson 2013). This is what is prompting new technologies to be designed to prevent academic dishonesty when it comes to testing. Troy University in partnership with The Securexam® Corporation developed the Remote Proctor to help eliminate cheating on tests. Students purchase the remote proctor device, which has a camera, microphone, and biometric scanner. It is plugged into their computer via USB port and will lock the hard drive and Internet down so student cannot access information on their computer. The camera and microphone record the testing session and will report any suspicious behavior to be reviewed later (Dunn, Meine, & McCarley 2010). There are other ways to prevent cheating that are not as extreme as having a mini robot watch you. Instructors put time constraints on exams, make it so only one exam question is visible at a time, make exams without allowing students to go back, and requiring students to install lockdown browsers to prevent unwanted Internet browsing. Webassessor uses the built in webcam in laptops to conduct facial recognition and monitor the student visually (Dunn, Meine, & McCarley 2010). Then there is John Fontaine’s work. He is the “…senior director of technology evangelism for Blackboard Learning Management Systems [and] is currently developing technologies that create document fingerprints” in which a student’s writing is analyzed for patterns to develop a writing style fingerprint (Dunn, Meine, & McCarley 2010, p.192).

This all seems reasonable with the increase in online learning, but is remote proctoring as convenient as it sounds? Take a look at this list of environmental requirements when using Securexam® remote proctor device.  A student is basically supposed to be in a noiseless, bare walled, overhead lighted room. Sounds more like the student needs to invest in a cubicle. Granted when taking a test it is good to have no distraction, but based on the above-mentioned environmental requirements you could not take it in the comfort of your living room on the couch or relax in your bedroom or any room that has a poster up on the wall with writing.

The economic cost for the Securexam® remote proctor device is supposed to be equivalent to a textbook and can be resold by the student after use. I am not convinced that students need to purchase a device in order to ensure test-taking honesty. It seems like an economic ploy and a way for colleges to get accreditation for their online courses easier. I understand the need for accreditation, but I do not think the cost should fall on the shoulders of the students.

It was also stated by Dunn, Meine, and McCarley (2010) that students did not think the remote proctor by Securexam® was an invasion of privacy, but I think the biometrics might be going to far. The surveillance from the camera and microphone is uncomfortable to me. I do not understand how students did not make more of an uproar about the invasion of privacy. It is one thing to have the instructor watching me as I am taking a test, but to have strangers watch me and analyze the video for cheating for the instructor makes me uncomfortable. Also when others are viewing the video it comes at additional cost besides the device itself. This could cause online learning network charges to go up for students. Again I do not think the students should have to pay for the remote proctor. The convenience just comes at too high of a cost to the student. I personally would rather find a human proctor or go somewhere to take the test.

Also, I am not convinced that remote proctors are necessary to ensure academic honesty during online test taking. If the instructor has a policy regarding what is acceptable during a test students will probably be less likely to be tempted to cheat. It was found by Robinson (2013) that students had very different perceptions of what constituted cheating especially the gray area, but what impacted the perception the most was whether the instructor had a policy regarding academic honesty. All students seem to be aware of blatant cheating like having someone else take the test. Robinson (2013) states that students:

…believed that it was appropriate to use a book, reference sources, and class notes during an exam as long as the professor did not have an explicit policy stating otherwise. The same students, however, acknowledged that having another person take the exam, securing a copy of a test prior to the exam period, and text messaging to send and/or receive answers from another student was inappropriate irrespective of the presence or absence of a written policy. (p. 191)

As long as there is an explicit policy about what is and is not allowed during test taking students seem willing to abide by the rules. Of course there will always be someone who breaks the rules. Whether a human, a machine, or nothing proctors online test taking there is always the chance a student will find a way to cheat and push the boundaries of academic honesty. What seems like a solution to a problem of online cheating may only create more problems. There are economic and privacy considerations that need to be explored further. The convenience of anytime and anywhere of asynchronous online learning may not be that convenient when it comes to making testing just as convenient. This begs the question is anytime anywhere really as convenient as we think?

References

Dunn, T. P., Meine, M. F., & McCarley, J. (2010). The Remote Proctor: An Innovative Technological Solution for Online Course Integrity. International Journal Of Technology, Knowledge & Society, 6(1), 1-7.

Robinson, C. V. (2013). Academic dishonesty: A guide for digital instructors. In M. S. Plakhotnik & S. M. Nielsen (Eds.), Proceedings of the 12th Annual South Florida Education Research Conference (pp. 189-194).

5 thoughts on “The Remote Proctor and Online Academic Honesty

  1. lsowa

    What an interesting and difficult issue. I share your surprise that students are not more concerned about the “robo-proctor”. I suppose it could work as a backup when students can’t access a testing center on a campus or school site. I wonder if we will start seeing independent testing centers pop up to allow students to come in and take exams? While it would be nice to redesign exams to avoid the issue, I’m not sure how you would get around it completely. Perhaps testing as we know it will be redefined in 20 years.

    Reply
    1. Owen

      Lori – We actually are already seeing a proliferation of proctoring services. There are F2F centers popping up in many cities, and a ton of online solutions trying to occupy that niche. The best comment I heard on the future of education is that how and what we learn will be different. There was a golden era of the higher education institution – and we are possibly catching the tail end of it.

      Reply
  2. Bob

    Right out of the gate, I want to question two assumptions that appear in your review. First, you say; “but many subjects require formal testing like math and science.” Second and this seems to come from the article: “Due to stress, fear of failure, and feelings of isolation students are more prone to be tempted to commit academic dishonesty in the online learning environment.”

    I wonder about the first claim. I can concede that I agree or understand that mandatory testing could, should, be required for certification here I am thinking about the bar exam, or testing of medical doctors, perhaps the testing of financial and tax planners. However, I am not willing to concede that any of those topics are learned or taught better through testing. I am willing to concede that in anticipation for professional certification a person should have experience taking tests. In this case, test taking is the subject that is being learned. I agree also that one aspect of the skills required for test taking is emotional management, stress, fear and isolation need to be mastered prior to, during and after, while waiting for test results – yet that is not the same thing as asserting students are more prone to academic dishonesty in the online environment.

    Let me start again, what is it about math or science that requires formal testing in order to demonstrate competence? Is it possible that we are mapping a tired notion inappropriately onto both the presentation format and the topic? I like you have had few occasions in online graduate courses to take tests. However, I did involve myself in a “professional” program briefly on one occasion with an online presentation and with module tests that worked as gatekeepers to prevent advancement until they were completed successfully. The learner had three chances to take test. If they did, well enough they could advance to the next module and so long as they retested before completing the course could improve their “grade.” However if they failed they could not advance until they passed the test and they obviously lost an opportunity to retest for improvement. These tests were not proctored. The program was in part to prepare one for a professional certification so we were aware that in that exam we would only be allowed a calculator, however, the program didn’t pretend to be able to prevent us from taking the tests “open book.” I have a suspicion that they would be on this technology like flies on stink – in part, because their purpose is to prepare learners for certification. I left the program for several reasons, first, because the instructors were not the ones who designed the classes and so did not necessarily agree with or understand the course material. Second, the instructors were difficult to communicate with. Third testing was conflated with instruction and learning and I knew I was better than that.

    Starting again, Mazur talks about real life problems and textbook problems. His distinction is that in real life we know the outcome what we answering is how to achieve that. That and the recollection that some of the hardest exams I have ever taken were those that required me to think about the material not simply regurgitate the material. That and the recollection that some of the hardest exams I have ever taken were open note, open text. All of these incline me to ask if this remote proctor exam is rather like folks using a gps to navigate without having any basic knowledge of navigation and then when the device fails we see starkly the underlying incompetence. Remote proctor allows us (but it doesn’t require us) to write crappy online instruction and pass the burden for learning along to the student and the student pays for the crappy class and the testing technology. I suspect we need to be more skillful teachers then that if we hope to stay in business.

    Reply
  3. Owen

    Thank you Kelly for finding such an interesting article. Very good topic. And, you address many pertinent aspects of the issue.

    Bob also raises many good points about what types of pedagogical approaches need this kind of testing. I like the idea of rich course experiences built around interaction and community, with some experiential learning, reflections, and possibly a final culminating project.

    Really richly designed learning experiences are nearly impossible to fake. You can’t get someone to write a ton of forum posts and responses for you, join a few synchronous sessions, write reflections and complete an individualized final project. There’s simply too much and it is too individual. When we limit our assessments to a few snapshot items, mid-terms and finals…then cheating starts to pay. Of course, at that point, I’m not sure who’s being cheated? 🙂

    Reply
  4. Jenny

    Kelly,
    I was immediately drawn to your post because there was a point in my career where I would have invested in the “robo-proctor” out of sheer frustration. I took a course in Physics for an endorsement several years ago that required no less than 10 proctored tests. At $20 a piece, I had to add $200 on to the tuition for the class simply to test. The nearest facility to my rural home was 35 mi away, which made taking these tests a costly and time consuming labor. I think that Owen has an excellent point that by using many and varied assessments it would be difficult and unlikely for students to cheat. Is the fear of cheating so great that it is worth making courses too costly for students to take?

    Reply

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