Online Proctoring: An Insider’s View

david_smetters_profile_picAn interview with David Smetters, CEO of Respondus

An excerpt of this interview originally published by  University Business, Feb. 2017.

Online proctoring has taken off over the last 5 years. What are the main issues it attempts to solve?
It’s really three things. First, and foremost, it’s trying to prevent students from cheating during an assessment. Second, it’s about protecting the exam content, so students can’t copy and share exam questions with others. And third, it helps educators get a true snapshot of where students are in their learning.

By snapshot you mean it provides a way to grade students on their work?
Sure, but it’s more than that. For example, with adaptive learning, it’s important that a student master a concept or skill before moving to the next level… The other day I was talking with an administrator of a large distance learning program. As part of their onboarding process, students take an online assessment to determine placement for their math requirement. The problem is that a large number of students cheat during this assessment, which currently uses no proctoring component.  These students end up getting placed in too high of a level of math course. And, then, as you might expect, they perform poorly in those classes, sometimes dropping them entirely. So, in this case, online proctoring can help ensure that a student gets into the right level of math. It allows the student to be successful.

What percentage of students cheat during online exams?
The research varies on this point because there are different factors that contribute to cheating. For example, a student is more likely to cheat as the importance of the exam increases. And they are less likely to cheat on lower stake exams. Social factors also contribute to cheating, such as whether a student is aware that other students in the class are cheating and getting away with it… But broadly speaking, it’s estimated that about half of students will attempt to cheat during online assessments if there’s no proctoring or similar safeguard in place.

And what percentage of students attempt to cheat when the online exam is being proctored?
Again, various things affect this, but most estimates put it in the 3 to 5 percent range.

That’s a significant difference, dropping from 50% to 5%…
It really is. And it speaks to the deterrent effect that proctoring provides. It doesn’t matter if the student is proctored in a classroom or online, the result is about the same. We consistently hear that when an online exam is administered without any type of proctoring, the average class score is about 10-15 percentage points higher than when a proctoring component is added. More importantly, the scores for online exams that have proctoring are similar to the scores for exams taken in a classroom. That’s what accrediting agencies want to see, and administrators are starting to understand that.

There are still a lot of online exams taken on campus, right? It’s not all occurring off campus.
Oh, sure.  A significant number of [online] exams are taken on campus — in classrooms, in testing centers. And when you move down to the K-12 level, nearly all online exams are delivered within the school building.

Are online proctoring services needed when exams are taken on campus?
At Respondus, we divide online testing into two segments: online exams that are delivered in proctored environments such as testing centers and classrooms, and, secondly, online exams taken in non-proctored environments, such as from a student’s home. For proctored environments we offer LockDown Browser, which locks down the computer or device that a student uses to take an exam. Students cannot go to a different URL, access other applications, print, copy text, open a new tab in the browser to search for answers, and so on.

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