The ‘New’ (and Deeply Dissatisfied) Users of Online Proctoring


Mark Mussachio, Senior Director, PSI Education

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This year, OLC invited some of our Accelerate 2020 sponsors to share stories with our membership, as a way to contextualize their services and invite conversation with and within our membership. This blog post is one of those stories.

This statement in a recent Washington Post article by Drew Harwell, sums up the dissatisfaction felt by many students who have had to take their college exams remotely due to the seismic shift to online education as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 2020 has made way for the ‘new users’ of online proctoring.

Prior to the pandemic, many students would have chosen the route to pursue a college education on campus, with an expectation that all classes and exams would be delivered in the classroom. In 2020, higher education institutions have had to adapt teaching and learning approaches for academic continuity. Allowing students to achieve the results they need in order to continue their educational progression and pursue their careers. If schools had not adapted in a variety of ways, teaching and learning would have had to stop altogether, the subsequent effects of which could have been catastrophic.

Many students have been thrust into online teaching and learning and therefore a reliance on online proctoring of their exams. These “new” users of online proctoring are not the same users as they were in 2019. Now, students that chose to pursue an education on a college campus are being forced into having their exams remotely proctored, when they had envisaged testing in a classroom. This has caused huge amounts of dissatisfaction and stress for those students taking their tests online.

Pre COVID, most online proctoring users made a conscious choice to pursue learning online and therefore were more accepting of and open to the concept of being monitored through a webcam. In many cases it was a fully expected part of their experience. The average student profile of those using online proctoring has changed dramatically in a very short period of time. This has sparked widespread debate about the methods used to proctor exams. Students are unhappy and fighting back, fed up with elevated levels of anxiety and the perceived scrutiny they are under in this new online backdrop for their exams.

Download our infographic: Online proctoring in higher education: Lessons from a pandemic

Many students are therefore naturally and understandably suspicious of online proctoring and how it works. This can be exacerbated by the use of fully automated proctoring solutions that can pass or fail a student just based on the system’s AI technology detecting perceived cheating behaviors with no human oversight or intervention.

Similar to using a fingerprint or facial detection login with your smart phone, AI technology in online proctoring can be used for ID validation. AI can also assist in flagging suspicious behavior when a student is taking an exam, such as changes in lighting or slight head or body movements that may indicate a student looking at unauthorized material, or sound and noise detection. However, although AI is efficient in flagging behavior, those flags are not always indicative of integrity violations. If AI flags are not going to be later reviewed by a trained human proctor, students should understand what behavior is being monitored.

Although online testing is critical and expands availability — especially in the world we live in today— the human proctor is still important and should be factored into any remotely proctored exam process. As such, quality in your proctors is of the utmost importance.

The goal of the human proctor is to use intellect and objectivity to understand and make determinations on human and social behaviors. The proctor’s job is to report on behaviors that are consistent with academic dishonesty, but also show empathy and understanding as well as professionalism.

We can’t forget the other type of ‘new user’ of online proctoring – the teachers. Faculty that are not used to teaching classes online and have been expected to adapt rapidly to these new ways of working. Many of which will have been underprepared – especially when it comes to the interpretation of reports produced by automated or AI assisted proctoring. Horrors stories of teachers failing students based on reports where the AI algorithm has flagged false instances of malpractice are all too common.

As evident, from a recent viral video of a young lady crying because her teacher failed her based on AI flagged incidents of academic dishonesty for merely reading the questions aloud, faculty are not familiar with how AI works and are putting too much trust in the AI flags and failing students based on this. This is again why human proctor review is critical to eliminate the possibility of incorrectly failing students and provide teachers with more accurate incident reports. One recent article cited a professor from Brigham Young University who used a purely automated proctoring platform for his upper-level psychology course and discovered that two-thirds of his students got above 90% suspicious rating from the AI on one test. The student who was “least suspicious” according to the AI system still got a 53% suspicious rating from this specific AI tool.

Download the infographic to find out how PSI has worked with schools to deliver secure online proctoring using AI and human proctors in 2020

Online proctoring can provide higher education institutions with a means to conduct exams online while protecting the integrity and security of exams, qualifications and the institution. Exams will always be stressful for students. But when using online proctoring responsibly, with the ideal blend of technology and human supervision, and adopting best practices, it’s possible to address most concerns, minimize anxiety through transparency, and help to ensure a good user experience and high student satisfaction rates.


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