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?
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).