An Insider’s View of Online Proctoring

Excerpts of an interview with David Smetters, CEO of Respondus

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. 

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.

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.

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.

And for exams delivered in non-proctored environments, we offer Respondus Monitor. Respondus Monitor uses the LockDown Browser technology as a starting point, but additionally has students record themselves with a webcam during the exam. The recordings are then available to the instructor, along with the automated flagging of events and other data.

So Respondus Monitor is entirely automated?

Right. It integrates seamlessly with the LMS’s assessment engine. If the exam settings require students to use Respondus Monitor, it guides them through the process of using the webcam. And for the instructors, once the exam session is complete, everything is available to them from within the LMS — the videos, the flagging, information about the exam session, all of that.

This differs from other online proctoring services where an employee is watching the student with a webcam during the exam. Right?

Yes, that’s a different business model. The live proctoring services use humans to do the work, whereas we automate everything with technology. It’s like travel agents versus Expedia. They each have their place.

I assume there’s a price difference between live proctoring and automated proctoring.

Yes. Live proctoring generally runs $20-35 per exam. It doesn’t scale from a cost standpoint, which is why you don’t see wide adoption of this model across a campus. It’s usually a handful of instructors or courses at an institution that use it.

How is your automated proctoring system priced?

Respondus Monitor is roughly $4 per user for the first 1000 seats, then $2 per seat thereafter. A seat is defined as one student per course. There are no per exam fees, which means that the cost is the same if the instructor uses it three times during the course or 15 times…. The average instructor uses Respondus Monitor about 6.5 times per course, so if you calculate it on a per exam basis, it works out to about 30 cents an exam.

That’s more of a price difference than I would have guessed. So 30 cents [per exam] for a fully automated proctoring solution versus $25 for live proctoring?

Yeah, it’s kind of crazy when you do the math. Automated proctoring can be 50 times less expensive than live proctoring. And as I mentioned earlier, any good proctoring system reduces attempted cheating to about the 3 to 5% range. So the institution needs to decide what it’s willing to pay to reduce that rate to, say, 2% or 1%. For some situations, it may be worth 50 times the cost. But for the large majority of higher education exams, it’s generally not . . . .

Read the full interview at


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