The Rise of the Online Exam Proctor

By Cait Etherington
September 03, 2017

It’s a fact: Sometimes students cheat on exams. This is why exam proctors remain necessary at all levels of the education system. In most cases proctors are anonymous individuals who pass out exams and then pace up and down watching you while you write. The proctor is also the person who typically says time is up and retrieves your exam…whether or not you’ve completed it. In short, they are the eyes and ears of the education system in testing situations, but the days of human proctors may be numbered. This week Kent State University announced a new partnership with Proctorio, and on-demand proctoring service for online exams, but Kent State is not alone in moving from in-person to online exam proctors. Both online courses and some in-person courses now rely on online proctoring, which provides an added layer of protection against cheating.

How Online Proctoring Eliminates Cheating

According to a recent article published in Inside Higher Education, tens of thousands of online exams are taken every month (30,000 online exams are taken by students enrolled in eLearning giant Western Governors University’s courses alone). For this reason, the number of for-profit online exam proctoring companies has surged in recent years.  According to Inside Digital Learning, there are at least 15 online proctoring companies now operating in the United States. This is double the number that existed back in 2012. Some large universities now also have their own online proctoring teams.

Nevertheless, the verdict is still out on the appropriateness of these services. Kathy Austin, the Assistant Vice President of Information Technology at Texas Tech University, recently told Inside Higher Education, “I think that [online proctor services] do a better job than face-to-face proctoring.” But Austin adds, “The respect for students’ rights and privacy outweighs any need to make sure all these technologies are deployed.”  Despite concerns about student privacy, it seems most colleges and universities are moving toward online proctoring, especially when it comes to online and large classes.

What institutions get for a $7 to $15 per student price tag are one or more services designed to crack down on cheating. First, institutions are buying auto authentication (e.g., the student takes a photo of his or her ID and face, responds to challenge questions, and provides biometrics to ensure they are in fact writing the exam). Some times this is followed by live authentication. Second, institutions get automatic proctoring (e.g., the test taker’s environment is monitored for sounds, motions and systemic changes that may suggest someone is present and delivering answers to them). Third, in some cases, institutions are purchasing record-and-review proctoring (e.g., a live recording of the student writing their exam) or live proctoring support.

Kent State’s Move

Earlier this week, Kent State announced a new partnership with Proctorio. The automated proctoring software will be used with ProctorU, with which the university already contracts, to help reduce cheating during online exams. Paul Creed of Kent State explains: “Proctorio’s automated test proctoring service brings some unique features to the table that ProctorU’s service, by nature of it being live proctoring, cannot.” Creed adds, “These additional features include the on-demand nature of the service (the students do not need to schedule their exams in advance), and no limits on the number of exams that may be proctored since the service costs are on a per-student basis rather than a per-exam basis.”

One of the key reasons Kent State selected Proctorio is that the software has been developed to protect students’ privacy.  Unlike many other options on the market, the system does not collect any personal, identifiable information from students. Jon Lacivita, the Vice President of Business Development at Proctorio explains, “ProctorU asked for identifiable information, asked questions about where you previously lived. Proctorio does not do that. We can actually just use your single sign-on through our learning management system to determine your role without collecting any personal identity information.”

Another advantage is Proctorio’s instructor-centric model. As Lacivita emphasizes, with their software, instructors can make a lot of decisions: “The instructor can pick and choose the settings that they put on their tests. Anything from having the webcam on to record the video or turning on the audio to record that. There’s a lot of different tools they can pick and choose from.”