Online proctoring: a viable alternative for lockdown exams

Lessons we’ve learnt about online proctoring during the pandemic

At the start of the pandemic, the hope was that any interruption to learning would be temporary. But time and experience now show that flexibility, hybrid learning and innovative methods of assessment will continue to be required if education is to be maintained. With the UK facing a second year of teacher-assessed grades, there’s a clear need to create a level playing field for independent assessment.

Just over a year ago, we shared an article with Education Technology (ET) asking whether online proctoring, or invigilation as it is more commonly known in the UK, is the future of assessment in education. With the changes we’ve seen in the last 12 months, the answer is an emphatic yes. What’s more, the adoption of online proctoring by educators in the US and Europe, already well established before COVID-19, is now gathering pace across the UK.

Standardised assessment

Concerns around fairness are so high that a recent letter from the Commons Education Select Committee to the Secretary of State warned of a “wild west” of grade inflation and inconsistency in the absence of any standardised assessments, leading to a situation that risks penalising the current cohort in the jobs market. The committee called for a route map to set out how we will revert to “normal”.

With uncertainty around whether the UK will enter further regional lockdowns or restrictions, this will clearly be an issue to address in the short-term. It will also be an opportunity to review pedagogy and how we conduct formal education assessments for the future.

In the US, online proctoring has convincingly stepped into the breach, with widespread and unprecedented levels of adoption. In 2020, the PSI team delivered 240% more online proctored exams than in 2019. Pre-COVID, 10-15% of candidates opted for online proctoring over in-person testing, but since COVID-19 over 70% now choose to take their tests remotely. And we have learned a lot from this extraordinary shift.

Tried and tested technology

During the early months of the pandemic, speed was of the essence, with a focus on delivering continuity for students while maintaining the integrity of exams. In the US, many educational facilities already test online, largely in campus test centres, so the rapid switch to remote testing with online proctoring was relatively straightforward.

The move to secure online exams is made easier still as the technology required is already well established, in certification and workplace testing as well as for academic exams. No specialised hardware is needed for online proctoring, and it can be deployed on any computer with an internet connection, microphone and camera.

In addition, a secure lockdown browser is a tried and tested method of not only preventing exam misconduct, but also protecting students. A lockdown browser prevents students from copying, pasting and accessing other applications during an exam – without an online proctor needing full remote access to their device. When combined with the single sign-on functionality that comes when online proctoring integrates seamlessly with your Learning Management System (LMS), these tools significantly reduce the risk of exposing personal information.

Don’t ignore concerns

It’s not possible to over communicate with students about the use of these new technologies, and the importance of data security and privacy. We live in an era where data is currency, so there must be appropriate arrangements, aligned with the UK Data Protection Act 2018, in place to keep personal information secure. And, as per these regulations, this must be clearly communicated with students.

Equally, a move from schools and campuses to home schooling almost overnight was stressful for all involved. Add to this the introduction of new technology and camera surveillance in your own home, and it’s understandable some students have concerns or experience a level of discomfort.

Key to addressing these issues are communication, familiarity and process. Share as much information as you can about the online proctoring process, including walk-through videos or instructions with screenshots. Provide assurances about students’ security and privacy, with details about how any data or recordings will be stored, who has access to them and for how long. And be clear about how Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be used, if used at all.

“Technology also provides the opportunity for students to take practice exams and become familiar with what the new process and a live exam will look like. This helps to allay anxiety and minimise any technical issues on exam day”

Technology also provides the opportunity for students to take practice exams and become familiar with what the new process and a live exam will look like. This helps to allay anxiety and minimise any technical issues on exam day. And with a process in place where students can provide notice if they do not have access to an appropriate test environment, alternative arrangements can be made in advance – whether it’s hardware, software or physical location.

Student experience

We’ve learnt that trust is vital. In an increasingly competitive and vocal online environment, adopting the latest technology to ensure exam security is not enough; the student experience before, during and after their online exam is just as crucial. Research shows, with best practice in place, there’s virtually no difference between how candidates rate their experience whether an exam is proctored onsite or online.

The view that in-person testing is the only secure option for academic exams is outdated. And with the right online proctoring, and the proper communication and technology in place, you don’t need to choose between student experience and exam security. Keep your students at the heart of the process as your online proctoring process evolves and you won’t go far wrong.


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