Current events: Online Proctoring

Last Updated: January 15, 2024
A woman positions a microphone in front of her on a desk with her laptop

The rapid shift to emergency remote instruction during COVID-19 left many instructors questioning how best to assess students, even well after classes resumed. Concerns about academic integrity left some wondering if using online tests made students more likely to violate academic integrity rules. Online test proctoring made news in many higher education settings as a way to ensure academic integrity. However, others have argued it is a violation of students’ privacy.

What is Online Proctoring?

You may be familiar with proctoring in a face-to-face or residential setting where a designated authority oversees an exam in a controlled, specified environment. Similarly, online proctoring is a service that monitors a learner’s environment by either a person or an artificial intelligence algorithm during an online exam. However, the environment an online proctor oversees is a learner’s personal environment. This monitoring can take the form of videotaping, logging students’ keystrokes, browser data, location data, and even biometric data like test-taker eye movements.

Advocates of online proctoring cite concerns about academic integrity in the online environment as a reason to implement proctoring (Dendir & Maxwell, 2020). Some even suggest that students do not mind the additional security because they believe it supports the integrity of the test and/or degree.

Online proctoring in the media and research

While onsite-proctoring for academic integrity may seem reasonable, there have been questions about monitoring a learner’s home environment. monitoring a learner’s home environment has the potential for harm. Online proctoring can be perceived as invasive by students, as personal information about one’s location and physical data is recorded that is not otherwise necessary for an exam. Several institutions, like U-M Dearborn, University of California Berkeley, University of Illinois, and the University of Oregon have placed limitations on, if not discontinuing altogether the use of third-party proctoring services. Institutions cite issues of accessibility, bias, concerns about student privacy, and institutional culture as reasons to discourage third-party proctoring. Student and faculty groups have publicly advocated for institutions to discontinue security features like locked-down browsers and third-party monitoring. At the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, third-party proctoring generally involves a separate fee and may be expensive, but still available through vendor partners.

Most of the academic research involving the use of online proctoring has focused on academic integrity, rather than the impact of proctoring itself. Wuthisatian (2020) found lower student achievement in online proctored exams compared to the same exam proctored onsite. Those students who were the least familiar with technology and the requirements for setting it up performed the most poorly. In addition, students who have test anxiety may experience even more anxiety in certain proctoring situations (Woldeab & Brothen, 2019). With further research, we may find the problem may not necessarily be proctoring, but rather the burden and effort of technology on students when taking an online exam.

Problems with internet connections or the home testing environment may be beyond students’ control. The lack of ability to create a “proper” testing environment raised students concerns about being unjustly accused of cheating (Meulmeester, Dubois, Krommenhoek-van Es, de Jong, & Langers, 2021)

What are the alternatives to proctoring?

Ultimately, only the instructor can determine whether proctoring is the right choice for a class and sometimes proctoring may be the best choice for your discipline, field, or specific assessment. Particularly in a remote setting, it may feel like the integrity of your assessment (particularly a test) is beyond your control, so proctoring may feel like the only option. However, there are alternatives to proctoring exams, from using exam/quiz security measures, to re-thinking a course’s assessment strategy to deemphasize exams. If you are concerned about how and what you are assessing, the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching provides resources and consultations to discuss academic integrity and different methods of assessment. We also recommend CAI’s Faculty Proctoring document if you have questions about proctoring.

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