23 July, 2014 / Ramazan 24, 1435

Big brother is watching!

Published Apr 19, 2013 05:52pm

ProctorU and Kryterion logos are pictured.

E-learning is among the many wonders of the internet and modern technology, and has been gaining popularity among students and institutes around the world.

Online learning virtually eliminates all geographical boundaries and distances, providing people with education while saving them time and money spent on travel and accommodation. Flexibility in schedules is another benefit.

A study by research company SRI International suggests that in some cases, students in online programs even outperform their traditional classroom counterparts.

Online courses have attracted thousands of students, thus giving birth to Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs. However, with new technologies emerge new problems.  Some of the main issues are academic integrity and credibility. For plagiarism and improper citation there are plenty of plagiarism detection softwares and sites.

This article focuses on a slightly different kind of issue and the technologies being developed to solve it, such as prevention of cheating and identity fraud through invigilation. Some courses (for example, the Pakistani Virtual University) require students to be present physically at examination centres for mid-term and final exams.

But what about courses in which even exams are online? How do teachers make sure that students are not cheating in their online exams?

The solution is proctoring. This is online monitoring of students via webcams and screen-sharing tools during assignments and tests. Students are required to have a webcam with a microphone and a high-speed reliable internet connection to be able to take tests from the comfort of her/his home, office or any other convenient place.

1)    Remote live proctoring

This is a video chat service specially designed for online monitoring of students. Online proctoring services like ProctorU, ProctorCam and Remote Proctor have human proctors who monitor the students remotely via webcams. Some of the proctors hired by ProctorU are college-level students themselves.

Students might sometimes be tempted to use Google or other resources for help. For keeping a check on such activity, the proctors can also access and monitor students’ screens using a screen-sharing program. Proctors can also intervene and ask students to close a certain tab or window.

ProctorU (www.proctoru.com) has a 3-step process. Firstly, it connects with the student via webcam. The student is then required to show an ID and answer a few questions to verify his or her identity. Once the student is authenticated, ProctorU’s online proctors monitor the students in real time, watching their screens and eye-movements. ProctorU also provides technical support, scheduling and setup assistance for institutions that want to use its services.

2)    Remote web proctoring

This technique also uses webcams, but instead of monitoring the exam live it can be recorded for proctoring at a later time. This can be more convenient because proctor-to-student ratio is far higher for online monitoring systems, because it is not possible for one invigilator to keep an eye on as many students at a time as it’d be possible in a real examination hall

Even if the screen is split to proctor more than one student simultaneously, it is still limited to a very small number.  Remote web proctoring allows more time and convenience to the proctors by letting them review the recorded videos after the test. This kind of service is offered by Kryterion, McGraw Hill’s Tegrity etcetera.

Kryterion (www.kryteriononline.com) is a full-service test development and delivery company and offers one of the best online proctoring services for distant learning. They offer remote web proctoring along with advanced tools and technology like facial recognition, system lockdowns and keystroke biometrics. The proctors take action according to the institution’s individual rules or needs. For example, proctors can give different instructions on what to do when a student acts in an undesirable manner.

They can be given the authority to stop or warn the students or simply ask them to flag any such incidents without taking any actions.

Other tools

Sometimes simple webcam monitoring might not be enough to prevent cheating, and is combined with other tools and services:

  • Browser lockdowns by using services like Respondus, which limits students to their test screens and block access to other windows and applications that could be used to cheat.
  • Keystroke monitoring using keystroke pattern recognition software and tools provided by proctoring services themselves.
  • Since the traditional webcam’s view is limited and there could be so much more going on beyond a traditional webcam’s line of sight, Securexam is a remote proctor device shaped like a sphere that can be plugged into a normal computer. It gives a 360o view around the test-taking student. Other than a webcam and a microphone, it comes with a built-in fingerprint scanner to provide an extra layer of security against identity fraud.
These tools and services obviously have some shortcomings. The most obvious being that they can be quite costly for institutions (and for students as well). Plus, they cannot completely eliminate cheating. While there are no methods that are 100 per cent fool-proof, the use of such online services can guarantee to reduce cheating levels among students greatly.

The mere sense of being observed would make most students avoid any attempts of cheating.  It is even said that the online cheating rate is far below typical classrooms.

In addition to specialised proctoring services, some institutions and teachers rely on free and open source software to create their own virtual proctoring system. Another option is the combined utilisation of remote Skype proctoring along with physical invigilators in a test centre environment.

According to Khwaja Haris Moin, a Business Development Executive at a renowned bank in Pakistan, “I have invigilated HDA (Higher Diploma in Accountancy) online exams at SKANS, PAC and RISE. The students complete their tests in the institution’s computer labs. I was there as a physical invigilator, but a proctor from BIMS (British Institute of Management Sciences) oversees the whole process live using Skype from Britain. What I experienced is that students behave more responsibly and ethically during such online tests, as compared to the traditional test system.”

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