On 7th January members of the ELU joined colleagues from across the London area for the first London e-Learning Reading Group meeting of 2021, in a discussion surrounding virtual proctoring in higher education assessments.
The discussion was initially centred around a white paper by Dutch learning analytics company SURF, the Netherlands being another country witnessing what is in an international trend of growth and heightened interest around remote proctoring and online assessment
The report explores online proctoring and the issues associated with it, focusing largely on defining the types of remote proctoring currently available, privacy and security implications, and the challenges faced by higher education institutions in employing online examination methods whilst maintaining high levels of integrity and fraud protection. The report also explores how attitudes and policies may have changed or adapted to the topic within the context of the coronavirus pandemic.
An aspect of the report which was discussed surrounded the idea that attitudes towards online assessments may be softened in the current environment, as they are seen as more necessary when there are obvious blockers to large gatherings, but what will happen after COVID? Feelings were expressed that, particularly within the context of Higher Education, once a technology is employed and adopted within an institution on a large scale, it can be difficult, and indeed uncommon, for that technology to be dropped or disengaged with fully. Concern was therefore raised that practices adopted during COVID, on a basis of need due to the context, could outlast the pandemic without ever being properly reviewed or reconsidered once circumstances change or revert back to normal – or a ‘new normal’.
Issues of security were also discussed and form a significant part of the SURF report. One significant aspect of this which was discussed is the idea surrounding traditional exam hall security versus proctored online exam security. The report makes a key claim that, whilst security is never perfect in either environment, the maximum level of security and prevention of cheating possible in an exam hall is higher than the maximum security possible in a proctored online exam environment. It was a claim that was acknowledged by the group, but also resulted in discussion about assessment design, specifically whether or not the aim of online assessments and exams should be to try to replicate the exam-hall experience as much as possible, or whether a much greater rethink of assessment design is necessary going forward.
This redesign of assessment was a particular talking point, with the point being made that the basic form of assessment through written examinations has largely gone unchanged for many decades and longer, even though what is being taught has changed vastly. An interesting point was also made that historically the written examination had not been the main form of assessment, and practical and oral assessments had been given more weight in the past than perhaps they are now.
Finally, issues of trust were discussed, particularly concerning the relationship between institutions and students and how this has suffered in the past 12 months due to the difficulties universities have experienced in transforming assessment online or to alternative methods translating into negative experiences for students. It was suggested that these trust issues may only be further challenged by the employment of remote proctoring services which rely on remote live invigilators employed by third party service providers, which a lot of technology currently relies upon.
This issue also opened up concerns about the accessibility of the technology, especially considering the assumption that all students should have somewhere private for them to take their exams at home, away from the rest of their cohabitants, particularly if they live at home.
On the whole there was a general acknowledgment that the idea of remote proctoring in online exams is neither a wholly good or bad idea, but that it certainly requires significant thought and consideration from all institutions that wish to employ remote proctoring services, and that the implications of not doing so could be damaging. The redesigning of assessments and the rejection of merely recreating the exam hall environment was acknowledged as a potentially being a preferential direction in many circumstances, particularly from a cost perspective, but also from the perspective of assessment quality.