The Good and Bad of Online Proctoring

Written by: David Foster, CEO, Caveon Test Security

Both security problems associated with traditional test administration models and advances in testing technology have encouraged a rapidly growing alternative for monitoring online, high-stakes tests: online proctoring. A new corps of trained online proctors use a variety of methods to discourage, detect and deal with cheating as it occurs, including video from capable webcams, control over the test session, chat-based communication, automated monitoring, and unique authentication software methods. Research indicates that such methods, when properly applied, can be as or more effective than traditional proctoring that occurs in testing centers. Besides curbing security problems, the new approach provides students and other test takers the convenience of taking tests in their homes, schools, or workplace. It also reduces costs associated with testing, such as the testing fees, travel, parking, and other related expenses.  In addition to online proctoring’s effectiveness out of the gate, one of the most exciting things is that this methodology uses technologies that will improve rapidly over time.

Unfortunately, not all online proctoring services are equivalent. While Kryterion’s OLP service is suitable for high-stakes testing, some others actually increase the risk of cheating. For example, some services allow proctors to view the test taker’s screen during an exam, a serious security and privacy risk. Proctors who have this ability could, in theory, view a test taker’s screen, see the question presented, and the answer provided by the test taker. There is simply too much opportunity for both collusion and harvesting of test content.  Another example is related to laptop cameras, which provide, at best, a head and shoulders view of the examinee. These cameras, while less expensive and easier to use, don’t provide the proctor with a sufficient view of the testing environment during the exam to detect most attempts at cheating. Finally, some services authenticate the student by having him or her display a government-issued ID close to the webcam lens. Not only are there issues with privacy and ease in falsification of government-issued IDs, they are also difficult to verify in the best of circumstances, let alone through a webcam lens. Such an authentication method would be relatively easy to circumvent. As in any new market, there are entrants willing to cut corners without understanding or disclosing the security problems to an unwary testing program. It isn’t until later when widespread cheating comes to light that the program recognizes the flaws. Until many of these online proctoring services understand the security risks and create technology and procedures to protect the test and detect cheating, they will remain appropriate for only low-stakes tests.

Harry Layman, Executive Director, Digital Assessments Planning at The College Board, and I have authored a paper comparing a significant number of test security features provided by online proctoring services. The paper can be found here. A webinar in the Caveon Webinar Series covering the same topic is scheduled for April 17, 2013. Register for the free webinar today!

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