As more colleges and universities offer credit for MOOCs, one problem that has cropped up is how to authenticate the results of student assessments conducted online.
A handful of companies have developed a solution: online proctoring. Using a webcam to monitor the students as they take tests, online proctors can peer into students’ living rooms, kitchens or back patios, watching their computer screens and observing their eye movements to ensure they are not looking at notes in a closed-book exam.
One company providing online proctoring for MOOCs is Proctor U, a firm that assigns staff members to monitor students taking tests in online courses. Coursera has contracted with the company to proctor exams for students who are taking one of five MOOCs that have been recommended for college credit by the American Council on Education.
“The students definitely prefer online proctoring,” says Chris Heather, product manager at Coursera. “It’s more convenient and affordable than going to a testing center.” The cost for taking the proctored exam and earning the three credits in Coursera’s ACE-endorsed MOOCs is $130.
In addition to MOOCs, universities are using proctoring services for testing in their regular online courses. At the The University of North Carolina’s 16 campuses, online students can choose to take their exams with Proctor U or travel to a testing center by making arrangements with a proctor approved by the university.
“No system is foolproof, and Proctor U itself will say that they ‘enhance academic integrity,’ ” says Margaret O’Hara, director of e-learning for the UNC General Administration. “But no one can guarantee it, even in a classroom.”
Valerie Millsap, a nursing instructor at Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne, Wyo., started using Tegrity Remote Proctoring for her online classes in 2010. Developed by McGraw-Hill Education, Tegrity does not provide real-time proctoring, but instead videotapes a student taking exams with a webcam.
The instructor can then view videos if anything triggers cheating suspicions, such as a student who finishes a test more quickly than expected or receives a drastically different grade than on previous tests. Out of an average class of 40 students, O’Hara estimates that she will review 10 videos.
In four years of using online proctoring, Millsap says about 2 percent of her students have been caught cheating. “I’m in a health science field, and our students are very conscientious and careful,” she says. “They know that cheating or plagiarizing can damage their future careers.”