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Unattended (Automated) Online Proctoring – A Practical Exploration

By Rick Beaudry, CEO, B Virtual

When evaluating the best way to prevent identity fraud and cheating during your online tests, it is important that you filter out the sales pitches, and apply simple, practical evaluations.   You also need to be honest about your trade-offs in thinking about live attended monitoring versus unattended. And, I need to be clear here that a “locked down” environment, as the sole secure tool, while allowing the student to take their tests remotely has absolutely no value in keeping the testing session secure.   For, without unattended or attended video and audio monitoring of the environment, you can almost guarantee cheating is occurring.   A locked down browser environment, alone, provides absolutely no assurances of integrity. It just means, that on that one particular computer, the environment is locked down. However the test taker can easily have multiple computers running, and have multiple human “guests” assisting in the test. So, for the purposes of this blog, we are discussing the use of monitoring techniques, unattended (fully automated) and attended (live online proctor).

It is clear that in many cases there are challenges balancing budget and security.   “How can I afford $20 per session for live online proctoring, when for less than $10 we can just apply an automated solution and no advanced scheduling?” Good question. Let’s explore.

As long as you take a practical look at your objectives.   Automation is an option when budget won’t allow.   At best, an “unattended” automated proctoring solution is a deterrent to cheating. And, if budget is an issue, you still have choices to consider.

Automation is thought to be the lowest cost (other than a simple locked down browser, which, as mentioned, provides as much security as not doing anything) per test session and the student’s do not have to schedule in advance. When they are ready they can connect to the unattended software and have their session recorded. Ah.   Simple, cheap and, with automated “flagging” of questionable behavior, looks appealing on the surface.

Now, let’s imagine the ever-critical security step of the room inspection at the beginning and mid-session, when required, of the test takers remote environment. A live proctor requests a full scan, and often will ask that the camera focus be adjusted and that certain areas of the room be looked at again.   In contrast, hopefully we all understand that the room scan can not be comprehensive in unattended automation and can most certainly not request further views of questionable scan results. How critical is it to ensure that the test taker’s camera is, in essence, an extension of the proctor’s eyes.   Only a human can really ensure the thorough results from this step at the beginning of the exam.   What happens if there is a suspicious noise during the exam?   How do you deal with that noise, if there is not an interruption to view the surroundings? Flagging and reviewing the recordings after the fact may not provide any further evidence in either direction.

Why not consider the growing popularity of the alternative live monitoring option that matches ON DEMAND (immediate) connection to a live proctor to initiate the ID validation and room scan, and provide the “fear” of live monitoring.   For a similar price you can still get the Live Proctor as a deterrent, just in higher ratios of student to proctor. You can connect to a Live Proctor, the student knows they are being watched, recorded. Not really aware that the service is being provided with higher ratios than the traditional 1:4 ratio for higher stakes exams. And a thorough room scan, ID check and live monitoring “threat” can be ensured.

With full integration into any Testing environment and/or learning management system, “click to start your exam and connect to a live proctor”.   No Scheduling.   Same or Lower price points than many automating unattended tools.   And enhanced deterrent.

If you want your test results to stand up, ultimately to scrutiny, be honest with yourself and your institution – for budgetary reasons you need to choose deterrent over enhanced security.   Just understand the risks.

I always suggest having a healthy debate, and that you really look at the practicality. The inability to request clarification and to provide a live deterrent should be considered.   For price points that match pure automation, live online proctoring, utilizing higher student to proctor ratios and ON DEMAND (no pre-scheduling) start times, with guarantees on “wait times” to be less than 5 minutes – you may need to ask yourself – why eliminate the live presence?