Not only has technology revolutionized the classroom experience for students, in some cases it has actually replaced the classroom itself. Many universities are taking advantage of widespread Internet access and computer usage to offer online courses. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are free classes that are offered by many different universities, including Harvard, M.I.T., Vanderbilt and Duke. While convenience is a major benefit of having MOOCs, the risk of cheating on exams cannot be overlooked.
Educators at various universities have shown frustration by the facility of cheating in online courses that are offered as official college credit. Although many universities have offered online courses for years, proctoring was never executed on the large scale necessary for MOOCs.
University of Florida in Gainesville has many different online programs for those who do not have the means to enroll in courses on campus. They recently opened their first MOOC, with an enrollment of 47,000 students, and hope to have four others running soon. The sheer number of students enrolled requires a different proctoring strategy. Most faculty members want online courses to replicate a classroom experience, which, without a proctor, is impossible to do during exams.
The best solution seemed to be for students to travel to regional testing centers; however, that was not feasible for students who initially enrolled in online courses for the sake of not having to travel. Now, companies are offering innovative online proctoring solutions. For instance, ProctorU is a business that monitors online test-takers by screen sharing, a software that allows someone to monitor what is happening on a different computer, and webcam feeds. Through strategies like these, companies can help ensure that the exam-taker isn’t searching for answers on Google.
ProctorU has recently signed an agreement with Coursera, a company that partners with universities to provide free online courses. ProctorU will be used for MOOCs that can be taken for college credit, including a class on genetics and evolution from Duke and one on single-variable calculus from the University of Pennsylvania. Although the classes are free, students who want credit will be charged a proctoring fee of $60 to $90.
The company has proctors that can monitor up to six students at a time, by watching side-by-side camera feeds on different screens. Employees are very well-versed in detecting typical cheating behaviors and are expected to spot cheaters quickly. If a student’s eyes begin to move off of their paper, for example, the proctor can issue a warning through a video conferencing software, which is generally enough to stop most instances of cheating.
Other companies are also offering online proctoring through webcams. For example, Software Secure is a proctoring service that records the test-takers using cameras. Later, proctors watch a speeded-up version of the video of the student taking the test, a service that costs $15 per exam. The reason the proctors watch the recording later, as opposed to real-time services, is to give institutions the ability to offer a test at any time they want.
Fraud is another issue that companies are offering solutions for. On top of real-time test monitoring, ProctorU also checks the photo IDs, signatures, and even the typing styles of the students taking the exams, in order to make sure that the person taking the exam is also the person who registered for the class. Coursera offers a service called Signature Track that checks the identity of students through matching webcam photographs with pictures from photo IDs of the person registered for the course. And if that isn’t enough security, there is also a software program that asks students to type a short phrase; this phrase is then analyzed for characteristics like typing rhythm and how long the student holds down a key. Then when the student takes a test, the program compares his or her typing with the original sample.
Although online proctoring can significantly add to the cost of taking an online course, it does not seem to be any less effective than live proctoring at an actual university. It keeps students accountable and can add to the educational value of a course, something that many students are seek when enrolling in an online class from prestigious universities.