Ensuring Academic Integrity in Distance Education with Online Proctoring

min read

Key Takeaways

  • Replicating the academic integrity of a classroom by requiring online students to travel to a physical testing facility presents significant challenges and defeats the purpose of an online education.
  • Using webcams and screen-sharing technology, ProctorU ensures the academic integrity of distance learning programs through the watchful eyes of its live proctors.
  • This online proctoring service gives students the convenience of testing from nearly anywhere in a secure environment and instructors the ability to ensure the academic integrity of assessments.

Franklin Hayes is the media coordinator and Vincent Termini is the media representative for ProctorU.

Institutions of higher learning find themselves at a pivotal crossroad. While academia and certification programs attempt to keep pace with the technological demands of distance education, they also struggle to offer a realistic and secure approach to online examinations. Replicating the academic integrity of a classroom by requiring online students to travel to a physical testing facility presents significant challenges and defeats the purpose of an online education. The associated travel is often unrealistic, inconvenient, or expensive for many students. Despite conflicting data on whether online learning has more academic dishonesty than face-to-face instruction, a 2010 study found that students were significantly more likely to obtain answers from others during an online test or quiz.1

This video gives a brief overview of ProctorU and how online proctoring works (2:09 minutes).

ProctorU provides secure, online examination oversight via webcam and screen-sharing technology. The service gives examinees the comfort of taking exams from home and instructors peace of mind knowing that the academic integrity of a traditional classroom is upheld.

Behind the ProctorU Design

One of the major hurdles initially facing the concept behind ProctorU was U.S. government regulatory requirements. Congress passed the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) in 1974 to protect students and the information about them collected by institutions of higher learning and associated vendors. Because the security of the test taker's personal information and records was a primary concern, ProctorU based its principles on FERPA policy.2

Recording examinations creates a permanent educational record, so ProctorU relies on live proctors and protects recorded sessions with the highest levels of security and policy available.

Section 508 of the United States Rehabilitation Act outlines various specifications and requirements for functional electronic and information technology equipment and services for the disabled. ProctorU adheres to the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template [http://www.state.gov/m/irm/impact/126343.htm] (VPAT), strives to make the service easily accessible and useful to those with disabilities, and takes all necessary actions to aid in that endeavor.

Using Technology to Combat Dishonesty

Despite the varying opinions about student identity verification as laid out in the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (HEOA), minimum compliance entails that each student have an identification number or other passcode information through the institution's learning management system (LMS). These basic measures are not the most secure strategies available and leave assessments open to glaring security issues.

Using webcams and screen-sharing technology, live proctors monitor students taking exams online via the ProctorU service. The service gives students the convenience of testing from nearly anywhere in a secure environment and instructors the ability to ensure the academic integrity of assessments. The approach benefits colleges, universities, and certification organizations that offer examinations online.

ProctorU built its model around the in-classroom experience, and monitoring the entire examination process ensures that the highest level of transparency is maintained from start to finish. The company uses a patent-pending three-step process to confirm that the student who registered for the exam is the person taking the exam and is following the institution's testing requirements.

ProctorU Then and Now

Administrators at the completely online Andrew Jackson University [http://www.proctoru.com/portal/aju] (New Charter University as of 2011) who needed a better solution to securely monitor their test takers founded ProctorU in 2008. In 2012, ProctorU became fully integrated with the University of North Carolina System through an application programming interface (API). Though UNC has offered exam proctors since 2009, previous options required that students report in person to physical locations to take exams. The integration of ProctorU into the UNC LMS allowed students from 17 campuses in North Carolina to schedule and take their exams from within a unified website. This innovation also enabled instructors to transmit and receive test-related data through the same site.

In early 2013, the American Council on Education (ACE) endorsed five MOOCs for college credit, and Coursera signed an agreement with ProctorU to monitor exams for MOOC students who want to obtain credit for the courses. Udacity has also partnered with the service. Since its inception, ProctorU has monitored over a quarter million exams and is slated to reach another 250,000 in 2013. It has grown into a 24-hour, 360-days-a-year operation with three offices and over 190 employees serving nearly 400 partner institutions around the world.

When it comes to student satisfaction, a 2011 survey conducted by ProctorU and Oregon State University3 found that 87 percent of test takers were satisfied with their experience, and 96.7 percent said they would use ProctorU again. One OSU student reported, "It offered me a proctoring choice that didn't require long traveling from my rural home. Schedule flexibility was also nice. I felt comfortable in my own surroundings when taking the test."

Additional benefits were welcomed by OSU officials, with Student Services Manager Rick DeBellis praising the ability to "send one set of information to ProctorU for exams instead of multiple messages, reducing time and workload of our staff."

Regarding security, companies from the online proctoring industry discussed incident rates4 at the United States Distance Learning Association meeting in Washington, D.C., in January 2012. One competitor reported a 5 percent rate, two reported a 2 percent rate, and ProctorU reported a 0.7 percent incident rate after reviewing 25,000 proctoring sessions.5 While many factors are at work, ProctorU credits the low incident rate to the strong deterrence factor of having test takers interacting face-to-face with live proctors.

Distance education programs continue to expand, with one April 2013 survey by the Instructional Technology Council (ITC) finding that between 2011 and 2012, distance education programs grew by 6.5 percent while overall total enrollment at institutions declined by an average of 2.6 percent.6 MOOCs, which have also disrupted traditional academic models, are being evaluated for college credit by ACE.7 With these developments in mind, ProctorU considers it important to constantly reevaluate the proctoring model that fits a particular institution's needs. ProctorU continues to expand its features (for example, a secure browser, keystroke analytics, and 24-hour availability) and is constantly adapting to the needs of its partner institutions. With the need for academic integrity of assessment in online classes, including MOOCs, we expect online proctoring to become more widely used in the near future.

  1. George Watson and James Sottile, "Cheating in the Digital Age: Do Students Cheat More in Online Courses?" Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, Vol. 13, No. 1 (Spring 2010).
  2. Don Kassner, Jarrod Morgan, and Franklin Hayes, "Adhering to FERPA While Computing in the Cloud and Proctoring Exams Online," a vendor effective practice posted on the Sloan Consortium website (2012).
  3. Oregon State University, ProctorU Pilot Study Survey (2011). Unpublished raw data.
  4. The incident rate is the number of tests taken where an incident report of suspicious behavior is created and sent to the institution, per 100 tests, according to an expert panel consisting of industry CEOs (see note 6).
  5. Presidents' Forum, "Harnessing Technology to Protect Institutional Integrity," expert panel recording, Excelsior College (January 27, 2012).
  6.  Instructional Technology Council, "Trends in eLearning: Tracking the Impact of eLearning at Community Colleges" [http://www.itcnetwork.org/attachments/article/87/AnnualSurveyApril2013.pdf] (April 2013).
  7. American Council on Education, "ACE to Forge New Ground in MOOC Evaluation and Research Effort," Press Release, January 15, 2013.