Overcoming the Challenges of Online Proctoring

Many technologies gained unprecedented usage through the pivot to online learning caused by COVID-19, but few are as controversial as online proctoring.

Post by BCcampus’ editorial team

Wanted or not, 2020 was a year of change. Many institutions and faculty embraced the change and looked at ways to improve the student experience delivered through a variety of online channels.

The mass conversion to online learning due to COVID-19 was fraught with technical issues, emotional turmoil, and uncertainty, and due to the momentum, some decisions were made hastily. Now that we have had some time to reflect on the choices made in the heat of the moment, we can be more critical and decide what tools and resources are best for learners.

Is There Value in Online Proctoring? 

An article published in January 2020, just ahead of the pandemic, offered 4 Popular Myths About Remotely Proctored Exams DebunkedWhile three of the myths share a self-serving analysis — downplaying concerns about student anxiety, suggesting video-capture is the primary concern, or implying that online exams aren’t legitimate or accreditable without online proctoring — one of them, Remote-Proctored exams fail to demonstrate student topic mastery, provides a fascinating, if a touch ironic, insight. Citing findings from a 2017 study from John A. Weiner and Gregory M. Hurtz, the article shared that “quantitative differences between online, remotely proctored exams and in-person, onsite-proctored exams are minimal, with remote vs. onsite test-taking and proctoring having virtually no relation to test performance.”

Which begs the question: what is the benefit of online proctoring?

This article from Vice Magazine about exam surveillance tools is rife with examples of questionable methodologies being used by educators relying on the datapoints collected by such software.

Success Through Learning Design

These days, many educators are using evidence-based approaches to assessment that eliminate the need for academic surveillance software. 

“What is the purpose of a final exam?” asked Tracy Roberts, director of learning + teaching at BCcampus. “If it’s to support and assess learning, there are other approaches — even in online courses — that don’t require academic surveillance software. Many educators are finding alternatives to a traditional big online final exam. For example: several shorter quizzes throughout a course, online or media presentations, individual or team projects, annotated bibliographies, open book exams — there are lots of alternative and authentic possibilities. One move — removing an online proctored exam — can do so much good: we protect students’ privacy and dignity, and we provide a learning environment based on respect, trust, and above all, LEARNING. Assessment shouldn’t be a game of ‘gotcha.’ It should be about setting students up so they can best show what they now know (and don’t know!) at this point in time.”

Dr. Maureen Wideman*, associate vice president of teaching and learning at the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV), shared that, for courses taught during the pandemic, nearly 40 per cent of UFV faculty opted to either replace their final exam with another option or drop the final exam requirement altogether.

“UFV is a regional university, and many of our students are outside of urban areas, on a reserve, or outside of the province,” said Dr. Wideman. “When we switched to online learning, we recognized that there would be connection issues for many learners. Some had to share a computer and connection at home with the rest of the family, while others had to find a way to get online, whether that was driving to the campus parking lot or a community centre to use the Wi-Fi or going to a local coffee shop to work from there. UFV spent time carefully examining the possibility of using online proctoring tools, then decided not to move in that direction. The decision was based on research data available, including feedback from students, questions around privacy, potential implications of the system based on actions due to cultural difference or disability, and of course, the requirement for increased bandwidth.

“We asked our faculty to look at alternative assessment options, such as final projects, portfolios, oral exams, video presentations, and other evaluations. And some of the faculty that chose to proceed with a final exam offered flexible options, such as take-home exams or essays. We know that this change isn’t permanent, and some faculty would prefer to have a final exam, but it was a move made to minimize academic stress during this especially challenging experience.”

Mary Burgess, executive director at BCcampus, shared her thoughts in the article Exams: Who are we leaving out?in which she explores concepts such as trauma-informed education, formative and summative assessments, applied learning, and student reflection.

“Unfortunately,” says the article, “exams instead often assess memory and the ability to regurgitate information without actually having learned it deeply in a way that enables application at a later date. In addition, the nature of exam season means that students will likely have several exams over a short period of time, thus rendering their performance a matter of stamina rather than a reflection of what they have actually learned.”

*In previous articles on BCcampus.ca, we have mentioned honorifics when introducing a speaker, and then switched to the speaker’s first name for the rest of the article to match the friendly and supportive tone we aim for. Given recent conversations in which some outspoken individuals have denigrated the value of a PhD, we are choosing to emphasize this distinction and will endeavour to promote this achievement as much as possible.

Resources for Change

  • If you’re interested in learning about different ways to assess student learning, check out our Bootcamp Challenge to rethink exams.
  • Paul Hibbitts, founder and interaction designer at Hibbitts Design, assembled this guide to help educators deliver a final exam online.
  • The University of Victoria has published a how-to guide for invigilating online exams. This statement from the guide is quite telling: “While technology alone may seem like a solution for academic integrity, it is best to use multiple strategies to support academic integrity, as described in the [UVic] Academic Integrity Framework. You might be interested to know there is no consistent evidence in the literature that academic misconduct is more likely to occur in the online environment.”
  • North Island College has created a page of ideas to assess learning through digital formats.
  • Here at BCcampus, we’ve brought back popular programs, like the FLO Bootcamp, to help instructors refine their courses for online instruction. The bootcamps are four-day, high-speed sessions to optimize existing courses for online design. We’ll be announcing new bootcamp dates soon, so stay tuned!

Notable Quote

“Constant surveillance quite literally harms our brains, and yet it is becoming normalized for students to have their work monitored by algorithms.”

—John Warner, “Stop Surveilling Students,” InsideHigherEd.com

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