5 questions to answer about online proctoring

Amid numerous complaints from students and faculty, campus IT leaders can leverage their influence and expertise to help institutions build better proctoring practices.
By: | December 15, 2020
Getty Images: Cavan ImagesGetty Images: Cavan Images

When COVID-19 forced higher education to abruptly switch to total remote instruction, many colleges and universities were quick to expand their use of online proctoring tools. But the proctoring industry’s rapid growth has also prompted widespread public scrutiny.

Laura Gogia, The Tambellini Group

Laura Gogia, The Tambellini Group

Data breaches, poor decisions from industry leaders, and growing concerns about inherent gender, racial, and accessibility bias have triggered anti-proctoring petitions, a barrage of critical press coverage, and social media backlash from faculty, students and learning technology experts. In response, several institutions instituted online proctoring moratoriums until clearer policies could be established. Others are discouraging faculty use of these tools but stop short of forbidding them.

The debates and policies continue to evolve at the same time that EDUCAUSE surveys show the influence of campus IT leaders is growing and the majority of institutions are offering hybrid instruction.

With the recognition that these leaders are crucial partners in driving institutional strategy and operations, here are five questions they should be asking to inform policies regarding how online proctoring tools are used at their institutions:

1. Are we solving the right problem?  

The initial rush to adopt online proctoring products was partially driven by faculty perception that students are much more likely to cheat in online assessments than in physical classroom assessments. This assumption ignores the fact that the perception of increased risk and actual risk are two different things.

In reality, there’s a lot that we don’t know about student cheating—especially online cheating, but also cheating that might take place during an era-defining pandemic. The available research does not paint a clear or consistent picture beyond the fact that some students will cheat regardless of where or how they take an exam. Instead of relying solely on faculty assumptions, IT leaders can spearhead a wider examination of what is informing their perceptions, along with the actual risks and impact of cheating.

2. Are we adequately protecting students’ data privacy? 

It’s common practice for proctoring companies in the U.S. to store student recordings for years instead of days, though the length of time they keep recordings varies greatly across the industry. For example, the proctoring tool Respondus Monitor retains student recordings for a minimum of one year, and stores them for up to five years by institutional request. But in Europe many higher education institutions—along with European Union data protection laws —require the same recordings to be deleted in as little as one week.

3. Do our purchasing decisions and contract terms align with our commitment to our students? 

Institutional requests for proposals (RFPs) for educational technologies often boil down to business, technical, training and cost requirements. Unlike student and faculty advocates, campus IT leaders have the influence and vantage point to focus the purchasing conversation on student privacy by demanding straightforward answers from proctoring companies on their data collection policies.

4. Are we supporting our faculty by providing adequate information? 

Last March, remote instruction forced many faculty into online spaces without proper training. As more instructors continue to raise equity and accessibility concerns about online learning assessment tools, institutions are still working to find a balance between providing them with enough autonomy to make their own decisions and clear community policies that apply across the board.

These are complex issues, and IT leaders can support faculty in their decision making by providing them with unbiased information about their proctoring tool options along with their limitations and workarounds for accommodating students.

5. Are we prioritizing anti-cheating measures over student success?

Online proctoring technologies come with accessibility and logistical challenges for students with and without formal accommodations. Some students do not have access to the required webcams or stable internet. Others do not have isolated study spaces necessary to pass mandatory environmental scans. Many of these technologies have limited compatibility with screen readers. IT leaders need to focus campus leadership’s discussion on the actual user experience of these technologies as much as their available features.

Administrators, students and faculty need to know more about the risks (and benefits) of online proctoring tools, along with the data they collect. Given their extensive knowledge of technology vendors and the applications of their tools, campus IT leaders should leverage use this opportunity to educate their campus communities on the crucial considerations that can drive policy improvements and more responsible usage.

Laura Gogia is the research director for learning technologies and student success at The Tambellini Group, an independent technology and research advisory firm dedicated exclusively to higher education. She has extensive experience in online learning design and faculty development, and can be followed on Twitter via @googleguacamole.

5 Qs to answer about online proctoring, regarding the actual risk of cheating, student data privacy, purchasing, faculty support and prioritizing student success: op-ed from Laura Gogia, @GoogleGuacamole, at @TambelliniGroup #higheredClick To Tweet