In online Exam proctoring, students are monitored in exams using digital tools. Can that help against cheating – & what about data protection? Online exams are still in their infancy in the education system. From the copyright of teaching materials to teachers’ digital skills to legal questions about data protection, a lot is still in development or simply unresolved. This year, however, the coronavirus forced many educational institutions to take exams online.
It was probably the largest digitization experiment at schools and universities in Germany. And it showed how difficult it is to build a functioning – and secure – digital infrastructure. One of the big problems with this: How can you ensure online that there is no cheating? One possibility currently being discussed, especially at universities, is online proctoring.
Online Exam Proctoring: If Your Eyes Wander, The Software Sounds The Alarm
Proctoring means “supervision”. Online proctoring is about technical applications for supervising students. This can occur in the form of human proctoring, in which a professor, for example, observes the students via a webcam and can thus identify cheating. Another variant is proctoring using automated processes – i.e. using tools based on artificial intelligence.
With its browser plug-in, Proctorio is one of the largest providers in this area. Proctorio is currently used as supervisory software at around 400 universities worldwide. The supervision mechanisms include face recognition, recording and storing audio and video files, or blocking certain browser functions such as opening new tabs.
For example, face recognition is supposed to understand whether the examinee’s gaze is wandering – for instance, into a corner of the room where a cheat sheet could be strategically placed in the camera’s blind spot. Audio tracking is about preventing solutions from being discussed with another person.
If In Doubt, You Fail
This year, the Hochschule Fresenius used Proctorio as a supervisory method for online exams. Students had to sign a form in advance that gave the software extensive access to personal data. Leonard Wolf took an exam with Proctorio but felt very uncomfortable with it. He then filed a complaint with his university because he found the data collected disproportionately.
In principle, the students had the choice between online and face-to-face exams. But since Wolf belongs to a Covid 19 risk group because of diabetes, he decided to take the online exam. Wolf later told Netzpolitik.org that online proctoring had done something to him. For example, he wanted to let his gaze wander for thought but deliberately avoided it for fear that the software would classify this as cheating.
Proctorio users do not receive direct feedback when the tool sounds an alarm. In retrospect, it is not possible to understand what the software classified as cheating. You fail the test because you cannot prove that in case of doubt. For example, you only clicked away from a pop-up window for a Windows update.
Even in the USA, where data protection laws and examination regulations at educational institutions are not as strict as in Europe, there is increasing criticism of the automated proctoring tools from data protectionists.
Proctoring: Lots Of Unanswered Questions
At the same time, digitization for educational institutions increasingly raises the question: How can we prevent cheating on online exams? Because that much is clear, getting better grades by cheating will always be an issue – whether online or offline. Schools and universities must therefore also consider monitoring methods for digital formats.
Only, it’s not as simple as – “let’s install software” – in practice. There are many questions about proctoring, such as financing, technical training for lecturers, setting up an infrastructure and IT support, and data protection.
A university, for example, has to guarantee that the server will not collapse if 500 students take an online exam at the same time. Lecturers must also be trained in advance on the respective software to understand how to use the technology. IT support should also be available to help in an emergency. Finally, it is also a question of cost to provide the appropriate infrastructure – internet connection, server capacities and end devices for students.
And last but not least, the technologies of the software used must be transparent. Students must also be fully informed about the data storage processes, and their consent must be obtained. The programs used must also be GDPR-compliant. For companies in the EU, this is one thing. But how can programs like Proctorio, which also have servers abroad, guarantee that?
Students also do not seem to feel very comfortable allowing companies outside the EU to access their data in initial practical tests. Even in the case of EU-based companies, the educational institutions still have to consider different aspects. For example, you have to decide whether you can use automated or human proctoring.
Changes To The Law May Be Necessary
Automated proctoring uses artificial intelligence and methods such as tracking glances, finger movements or visual 360-degree observation. In this way, the AI can potentially detect and stop more attempts at fraud, but it can also turn out incorrectly. In contrast, human proctoring may have a minor invasion of privacy. But a lecturer will not constantly monitor 200 students in an exam with a camera.
In addition, educational institutions have another problem: There are strict requirements on the right to take examinations. On the one hand, there must be no online obligation in the interests of equality. Students must, therefore, always be able to choose between online and face-to-face exams.
That brings with it the following problem. Universities, for example, must also ensure that all students are examined under precisely the same conditions. How do you guarantee that when you test online and in the seminar room? The conditions in a student flatshare are fundamentally different from those in a quiet classroom.
In some cases, however, the federal states and the universities and schools themselves have individual examination requirements. Finding a uniform solution here may therefore not be possible at all. The legal situation may even have to be adapted to use online proctoring. In the end, each educational institution will likely have to decide independently which method of online proctoring to choose.
Internet Research Instead Of Proctoring?
Some universities currently only use live human video surveillance, and the videos are not saved afterwards. On the other hand, other universities and schools give exams to take home with them. According to the open-book system, the students can explicitly use tools such as internet searches. Then, however, the lecturers have to design the exams accordingly to query the knowledge elsewhere.
This can also be an alternative to proctoring. Tobias Thelen, IT lecturer at the University of Osnabrück, decided long before Corona to allow his students to look up knowledge on the Internet. After all, that’s what you would do in day-to-day work.
In his opinion, it makes more sense to ask about transferring knowledge instead of checking what has been learned by heart. You forget that immediately after the exam anyway. On the other hand, it is much more important to have understood a concept and to be able to apply it.
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