To catch a cheat: Best practices in online proctoring
founder and chief executive officer, Examity
As online education expands, students are bringing old-fashioned cheating into the digital age
According to the latest report from Babson Survey Research Group, nearly 6.5 million American undergraduates now take at least one course online—representing close to one-third of the postsecondary student body. The rise of online programs is enabling colleges and universities to support a growing population of nontraditional students, many of whom balance work or family commitments in addition to their studies.
Of course, online learning is not without its challenges, among them verifying a student’s identity when students and faculty are separated by miles (or days). And as online education continues to expand, some students are bringing old-fashioned cheating into the digital age. Colleges and universities are, in turn, on the hunt for solutions to help ensure the integrity and quality of online programs. They’re fueling a multiplicity of new approaches to online proctoring, from screen-sharing to biometric keystroke recognition. Like so many aspects of education technology, innovation can sometimes spark confusion at the intersection of higher-education policy and practice, so we’ve outlined three best practices for schools interested in putting online proctoring to the test.
1. Listen to students and faculty. Every college, university, or online-learning provider has a different approach to online learning. From complete programs and degree pathways online to programs that focus on specific courses and certifications, each institution has a specific audience, so each requires a customized approach to proctoring and identity verification designed around the target student population.
Taking that customized approach, though, means attending to the needs of the students and faculty who will interact most directly with new technology. At Indiana University, where more than 30 percent of students take at least one online course, the online education team has launched Next.IU, an innovative pilot program to solicit feedback from the campus community before making any major edtech decision. By soliciting direct feedback from students and faculty, institutions can avoid technical difficulties and secure support before rolling out the technology campus-wide.
2. Go mobile. Nine in 10 undergraduates own a smartphone, and the majority of online students complete some coursework on a mobile device. Tapping into the near-ubiquity of mobile computing on campus can help streamline the proctoring and verification process. Rather than having to log onto a desktop, students can use features like fingerprint scan and facial recognition that are already integrated into most smartphones to verify their identity directly from their mobile device.
For a growing number of students, mobile technology is the most accessible way to engage in online coursework, so mobile verification provides not only a set of advanced security tools, but also a way for universities to meet students where they are.
3. Learn from the data. Analytical approaches to online test security are still in the early stages. Schools may be more susceptible to online “heists” if they are of a certain size or administer exams in a certain way, but institutions need data to benchmark against their peers and identify pain points in their approach to proctoring.
At Examity, we are working to help schools take a more data-driven approach to understanding test security by drawing upon insights from hundreds of thousands of test-taking students around the country. We aim to provide actionable insights on exam performance and cheating patterns. In an initial pilot with 325,000 students, for instance, we found that cheating rose and fell with the seasons—falling from 6.62 percent to 5.49 percent from fall to spring, but rising to a new high of 6.65 percent during the summer. Snapshots like these can shed light on macro trends in online testing security and help institutions refine their proctoring practices over time to reduce violations and create more secure assessments.
Online learning presents new challenges for institutions hoping to provide a secure assessment experience, and the allure of cheating inspires no shortage of creativity among students. Just ask us about the test-taker who was getting answers from his roommate hiding under the covers. But savvy schools are tapping new technology to help create a safer testing environment and making good on the promise of online learning to expand access to educational opportunity.