COVID-19 accelerated the evolution of higher education and the accessibility of online courses like none could have predicted. Across Unites States of America and Canada, distance learning was always pegged to play a major role in the future of education in general. With staying at home having become the new norm for millions of learners, the future of education was brought forward several years during the course of 2020 alone.
Subsequently, the use of online proctoring systems has likewise grown throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. For academic institutions and service providers, distance learning is not quite as simple as providing study aids, learning resources and one-on-one support via digital channels. It also brings the challenge of fairly and appropriately monitoring students during tests and exams into the mix.
As we can see in the graphs above, proctor systems implementations have seen a huge increase in the past decade. As mentioned in an article posted on Inside HigherEd, online education has grown substancially in 2017, representing at that time one third of all enrollments. With this new reality of online programs comes the need of evaluating the students, hence the massive implementations of proctor systems. When we looked at our dataset, we noticed that 40% of these implementations are from systems: one California college system, one Georgia university system and the Pennsylvania university state system. If we compare the implementations in 2017 by enrollment sizes, we can notice that the only segment that remained stable during this year was the 25,000 and over while 1-5,999 and 6,000-24,999 more than doubled their implementations compared to 2016.
It is clear that online education is not a trend but rather a new way to offer education. Before the peak of 2017, proctor systems were also massively implemented in 2014, a year after the Obama administration announced a plan targeting community colleges to support the implementation of new online programs.
A High-Pressure Environment
One of the primary concerns shared by both students and faculty is that of proctor systems creating a disproportionately high-pressure environment for those taking tests. For many students, the prospect of having their every move both watched and recorded – often by a computer rather than a human being – is off-putting in the extreme.
In addition, many experts agree that the added pressure placed on students through the use of some types of proctoring systems makes it much more difficult for them to perform at their best. Worse still, there are some who believe that the more restrictive and disconcerting a proctoring system is, the more likely the student body is to find ways to cheat it.
Counterproductive in the extreme, given that this is precisely what proctoring systems are designed to circumvent.
Cheating Scandals on the Up
Throughout 2020, there were several high-profile instances of cheating scandals that propel the subject of proctoring firmly into the spotlight. Two of the most widely-publicized examples of which involve students at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Boston University – both institutions having sought assistance from third parties to investigate suspected foul play.
The combination of instances like these and the general unease among those who do not appreciate having their every move watched creates demand for a fair, amicable, and effective proctoring system everybody can get behind.
Students are savvy enough to understand that certain measures need to be taken to prevent some candidates from taking advantage of their remote locations when taking tests and sitting exams. Likewise, faculty members acknowledge the fact that literally scrutinizing every single move a candidate makes when taking a test is not particularly motivating.
Types of Online Proctoring Systems
It is becoming the norm for some of the more forward-thinking universities in the United States to conduct thousands, if not tens of thousands of examinations online each month. In such instances, there is simply no realistic possibility of getting by without online proctoring systems of some kind.
This is where each individual institution needs to consider the various solutions available to them, which in some instances offer a wide variety of features and functionalities. The extent to which each is used (or is practical to implement) will always vary from one school to the next, but these are nonetheless the ‘standard’ components of a proctor system that can help prevent cheating among remote learners:
An alternative to manual authentication, automatic authentication saves time and frees up resources by verifying the identities of those taking part automatically. A selfie is snapped and uploaded along with a shot of their ID card, along with answers to a couple of questions to verify who they are.
The ‘intensity’ of an automated proctoring system can usually be adjusted to suit the requirements of the institution. Auto proctoring can be used for basic monitoring purposes, or to conduct detailed real-time analysis using webcams and microphones to detect any potential indications that the learner is trying to cheat.
Where the required resources are available, live proctoring is still considered the best approach by many institutions. This is where one or more individuals connect with candidates via webcams and microphones, monitoring and interacting with them in exactly the same way they work in a traditional exam hall.
A similar system to live proctoring, only the candidates are recorded throughout the test and footage is subsequently reviewed by one or more faculty members. Action is then subsequently taken if there are indications of cheating in the recorded footage.
COVID-19 has brought forward the evolution of online learning, giving higher education institutions in North America and Canada no choice but to respond accordingly.
As the popularity of online education grows, so too will the requirement for proctor systems students and faculty members alike are comfortable with.