Online Proctoring Tools: Balancing Academic Integrity with Student Access and Privacy

By Dianna Murray-Close
With the recent move to remote teaching, faculty have raised questions about how they can ensure academic integrity when students take exams online. Concerns include students taking the exam together, exam questions being broadly shared with future students, and challenges to replicating closed-book exams.

Exam Alternatives:

It may be easier to maintain academic integrity with alternative assessment options, such as multiple low-stakes quizzes or culminating assignments (e.g., portfolios). However, these alternatives may not be feasible in all courses. For instance, in large-enrollment courses, frequent or culminating assignments may create untenable grading demands. In courses where fundamental learning outcomes are tied to performance on high-stakes exams, such as preparation for a professional exam, testing may required. The CTL exam decision tree is a resource to help faculty identify the best option for their courses. When faculty elect to use tests, however, it’s not always clear how to maintain academic integrity when teaching remotely.

Respondus Online Proctoring Tool:

Online proctoring has emerged as a way to alleviate concerns about cheating on exams in Blackboard. UVM provides access to Respondus LockDown Browser, which prevents students from navigating away from Blackboard while taking the exam. However, when students are taking tests at home, this option alone fails to prevent the use of alternative devices to look up answers or consulting a textbook during a closed-book exam. To address these concerns, faculty have the option to add another layer of security: Respondus Monitor.

Respondus Monitor is an online proctoring application that accesses students’ computer microphones and webcams to record them while they take exams, using artificial intelligence to flag exam instances that may require faculty review.

Bear in mind that although the Respondus tools provide deterrents to academic integrity violations, they cannot completely eliminate the chances that such violations will occur. For other strategies, see Encouraging Academic Integrity During Remote Exams.

Should these tools be used?

Remote proctoring tools are generating significant controversy across institutions of higher education. Even prior to COVID-19, some scholars argued that testing practices implemented in face-to-face courses often do not translate well into the online environment.

Concerns Raised about Bias:

The algorithms used in facial recognition in online test monitoring may introduce bias when flagging potential exams of concern, with greater likelihood of flagging students with darker skin tones. Caretaker status, medical conditions, gender identity, and internet connectivity may also relate to the likelihood of being flagged. At a minimum, faculty must be aware that an exam being flagged is not, in and of itself, evidence of academic dishonesty. Flagging may simply reflect difficulty identifying the student in the frame, potentially due to bias in facial recognition and detection algorithms, or other factors deemed “atypical” such as loud noises caused by children or roommates nearby or movements related to medical conditions.

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Concerns also include:

  • Technology: Do all students have the technology needed to run the Respondus programs? For instance, are students able to take the exam using a laptop or tablet with a webcam for Respondus Monitor? Do student devices meet the operating system requirements for Respondus LockDown? Do students have high enough internet connectivity to allow video recording through Monitor? You can read more about these requirements on the UVM Knowledge Base pages, linked below.
  • Access: Do students have a private space for taking exams, free from roommates or family members, so that they are not flagged by Respondus Monitor?
  • Compassion: Do these tools compound distress amid a time of significant upheaval? Do the tools move the focus from learning to cheating? Do they interfere with opportunities to infuse compassion into our teaching?
  • Ethics: Do online proctoring tools force students to choose between their privacy and completion of their education? Prior to implementation of Respondus tools, faculty may wish to consider the implications of these tools for student access and privacy, and evaluate whether other potential approaches that encourage academic integrity during remote exams could work for their courses (see the Decision Tree under “I need to give a traditional exam”).

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