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Online proctoring – the smart future of assessment

Higher education providers around the globe are re-examining the way they conduct student assessments. Smart universities are looking to online proctoring as part of their efforts to futureproof their programs.

Both the impact of COVID-19 on higher education institutions and the speed at which most institutions were required to react was significant, particularly with the abrupt move to online classes and associated online assessment strategies.

In early 2020, most institutions chose the most cost-effective and user-friendly ‘quick fix’ strategies for assessment.

A smaller number explored online proctoring – a service that allows students to take their exams in the convenience of their own homes, under the supervision of either a human invigilator online or artificial intelligence software (or a combination of both) via a webcam and screen-sharing capability.

Higher education regulator TEQSA and professional accreditation bodies in Australia (such as CPA and CA ANZ) did not impose mandatory requirements on assessments at the start of the pandemic.

They were supportive of, and flexible around, assessment strategies employed by various institutions. The only caveat was that academic integrity and a positive student academic experience drive the decision-making processes and that chosen strategies would only be employed temporarily until more suitable options could be explored.

Shift to proctoring tools

In 2020, a number of Australian universities – such as the Australian National University and the University of Queensland – announced their plans to use online proctoring software such as ProctorU and Proctorio. Their aim was to retain the integrity of face-to-face supervised exams.

This was met with apprehension and criticism from many students, academic staff, and privacy experts alike. Concerns were raised about online proctoring being invasive and accusatory, inequitable, unlawful, and over-reliant on technology.

The legitimacy of these concerns must be considered along with the question: Is being seated in a physical exam venue under constant surveillance less invasive than the use of proctoring software during an online exam?

At UBSS, the most recent student survey conducted in February 2021 indicated that 88 per cent of undergraduate and postgraduate students preferred to continue their studies online.

Such a result upholds the belief that students (at UBSS at least) have embraced technology and are comfortable with the use of technology in their studies and exams, thus making proctoring software an attractive option for upcoming exams.

Advantages of proctoring tools

Proctoring software provides considerable flexibility in the types of products that can be used based on the assessment type, requirements, or individual needs of the institution. Artificial intelligence, human invigilated online proctoring, or a combination of both can be implemented effectively.

Advantages associated with proctoring tools include:

  • Academic staff have the freedom to develop a wider range of assessment questions than what they were restricted to under traditional pen and paper exams.
  • Reduced carbon footprint for environmentally conscious institutions.
  • With the level of technology that most students are accustomed to using and familiar with, typing is preferable to handwriting.
  • Students can save time in not having to travel to exam venues and avoid the logistics required before being seated for face-to-face exams.

Further advantages, according to Dawson (2021)[1], include:

  • Authentication: student identity is verified before the commencement of the exam.
  • Lockdown: access to documents and notes, websites, other software may be blocked in closed book exams.
  • Monitoring: exam conditions are maintained through the use of a microphone and webcam.

Heightened use of technology

The increased use of technology has its advantages for a higher education student. The world was already heavily dependent on technology pre-COVID; those who do not embrace it or are uncomfortable with it will inevitably be disadvantaged.

However, the post-COVID world will demand an even greater familiarity with technology in almost every job market of the future. As such, the ‘university of the future’ will need to be a smart university, according to Martin (2021)[2].

Part of this has been a revival of a common and sometimes controversial question in higher education: Are face-to-face exams an outdated approach to summative assessment? 

While no assessment proctoring approach (face-to-face or online) can ultimately eradicate cheating and other forms of academic misconduct completely, the use of online proctoring will dissuade students from doing so and augments the integrity of the assessment process in general. That alone makes consideration of proctoring a worthwhile endeavour.

Assistant Professor Jotsana Roopram is currently the deputy dean (student experience) at Universal Business School Sydney.

Emeritus Professor Greg Whateley is currently the deputy vice chancellor at Group Colleges Australia.

[1] Dawson, P. (2021). Defending assessment in security in a digital world: preventing e-cheating and supporting academic integrity in higher education. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge

[2] https://www.businessnews.com.au/article/Smart-universities-are-on-the-way

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