4 Virtual Proctoring and Academic Integrity

Tammi Kolski

Central Michigan University

 

Abstract. From elementary school through higher education, students have taken examinations to evaluate their knowledge, abilities and accomplishments. With increased pressures to have superior performances for future occupational or academic consideration, students may consider cheating to achieve higher exam scores. The evolution of new technology enables students in all learning environments to have unlimited access to digital content. Therefore, some form of exam proctoring is needed in a digital environment to ensure a quality, educational experience is maintained. The issue of academic integrity regarding cheating is particularly important when considering how online students are completing their course exams. Holding students accountable for their actions of violating university policies on academic integrity is demonstrating a greater societal value of personal integrity. It also accentuates the expectation that students will perform ethically in a digital society.

Institutions concerned with the academic integrity in their online courses are considering the use of virtual proctoring software designed to protect against academic dishonesty behaviors in their students. Virtual proctoring takes place with a student being on their own computer, initiating a secured testing session via a dedicated web browser (or having accessed an instructor designated website) that is subsequently recording the student’s behavior. Remotely the student is using technological means, a functional webcam and microphone, while they take their exam. To ensure the integrity of the exam-taking process in online learning, exams monitored through a virtual proctor are being found to be as secure as those completed in the presence of the instructor or another human proctor.

Introduction.

Since the latter part of the 20th century, advances in technology have dramatically changed the way education is delivered in colleges and universities. Online learning (also referred to in literature as eLearning or web-based distance education) has become an accepted means of delivering quality, accessible education to students in many different disciplines (Li & Irby, 2008). In the 2015 Survey of Online Learning (Allen & Seaman, 2016), for the thirteenth consecutive year, the number of higher education students taking at least one online learning course was up 3.9% over the previous year. With the increase in online learning opportunities, educators question how to maintain academic rigor while holding both on-campus and online students to the same standards, expectations, and academic integrity principles, particularly when considering methods of completing online course exams. Online learning fosters the perception, perhaps unfairly, that because students are separated by distance, it is difficult to monitor assessments and cheating – or academic dishonesty – may therefore occur (Poutre, Hedlund, & Nau, 2015; Watson & Sottille, 2010).

Despite efforts to prevent it, cheating remains widespread in academic institutions (Fass-Holmes, 2017; Kyzer, 2010; Lajoie & Bolichowski, 2010; McCabe, 2005; Rose, 2009). Placing an increased emphasis on grades, students in all learning environments may opt to cheat to achieve higher exam scores (McCabe, Trevino, & Butterfield, 2001). Higher education institutions must help students understand that embracing academic integrity is a necessary part of achieving success. As a means of contributing to a greater ethical society, universities should be taking steps to reduce instances of academic dishonesty by instilling a prominent level of ethical behavior and promoting digital citizenship in their students. As a part of the course design, instructors could incorporate how students would demonstrate digital citizenship in the exam completion process. Robb and Shellenbarger (2013) identified a way to promote digital citizenship and academic integrity in the classroom by addressing prevention, awareness, and role modeling. Prevention begins “with a clearly defined academic integrity policy that guides students in appropriate digital etiquette and helps them become responsible digital citizens. These statements, consistent with institutional academic integrity policies, should be included in the syllabus” (para 4). Offering activities within a course that demonstrate digital etiquette not only increases student awareness but serves as a good example of the instructor upholding academic integrity standards. “Perhaps most important in being a good role model are faculty addressing academic dishonesty when it occurs. Academic dishonesty has consequences and student offenders should experience them” (para 7). Mullins (2000) adds that “failure to address student academic dishonesty conveys the message that a core value of academic life, honesty, is not worth any significant effort to enforce” (p. 26). By allowing a student’s violation to go unhandled, or not be addressed even informally, faculty are not best preparing students for the professional world that awaits them (Amua-Sekyi & Mensah, 2016). According to Kiviniemi (2015), the “consequences should be serious, should cause students some psychological pain, and should require effort on the part of the student to overcome. Anything less is a disservice to our students as we prepare them to engage in their professional worlds” (p. 38).

The continual and rapid evolution of new technology enables students in all learning environments to have unlimited access to digital content, resources, and databases. While the focus of this chapter is regarding examinations, instructors who use other methods to show content mastery (e.g. presentations or portfolios) need to also consider technology resources (e.g. software plagiarism detectors) to ensure academic integrity is maintained. However, to ensure the integrity of the exam-taking process, there are creative solutions that instructors can implement. This chapter will first review how an online instructor could use Learning Management System (LMS) control procedures to achieve reasonable assurance that academic integrity has been maintained and that significant cheating has not occurred during online exams. Next, human and virtual proctoring options will be discussed followed by use of virtual proctoring software or websites in more detail, including this authors’ pedagogical experiences using a virtual proctor. Virtual proctoring is defined as a student being on their own computer, having initiated a secured browser and webcam or instructor designated website, that is subsequently recording the student’s behaviors remotely using technological means while they take their exam.

LMS Control Procedures.

With higher education institutions utilizing virtual proctoring tools in their online courses, the responsibility remains with the instructor to ensure that the correct tools for assessing student learning are in place. In addition to the proctoring of exam sessions, instructors who continue to offer traditional exams (e.g. multiple-choice questions) in their online learning environments can utilize LMS features (e.g. group work, portfolio development, restricted amount of time to take the exam, no going backwards in answering questions, etc.) and not just rely on test banks solely for the development of exams. The institution’s LMS controls the time, date, type, and length of the exam. Instructors can create exams from publisher purchased test banks or create their own multiple choice, fill in the blank, matching, or essay type exams; to name just a few of the options available. In setting up the online learning course exam, the instructor can adjust the length of time the student has to take the exam so the timing is congruent with the student’s cognitive processing and reading abilities. An instructor can choose how exam questions are displayed to the student: all at once or one question at a time; to have the questions randomized for each student; or if the instructor wants to allow – or prohibit – the student from backtracking or prevent changing an answer already submitted. Instructors can allow students just one exam attempt or multiple exam attempts; where different exam questions can be generated for each attempt allowed. Instead of using the same exam each term (or semester), instructors can generate exams from pre-established randomized question pools that are stored within the course LMS making it easy to create new exams for each course (Fang, 2012). Use of LMS control procedures can provide instructors reasonable assurance that academic integrity has been maintained and that significant cheating has not occurred during online exams (Cluskey, Ehlen, & Raiborn, 2011).

Human Proctoring.

Traditionally, instructors within a classroom or lecture hall on campus have proctored exams within the same physical space that the student is taking their exam. Also, live or human proctoring takes place in a university approved location. Students travel to this site to take their exam so both the human proctor and the student are in the same physical space. While offering a greater degree of confidence that the actual student is present taking the exam, the scheduling inconveniences, travel time, and other potential costs affiliated with human proctoring services are contrary to the reasons why students have chosen to take online learning courses. Additional drawbacks to the use of human proctors are a single person monitoring multiple students concurrently; poor training; lack of motivation; becoming tired, distracted, or overwhelmed; and being more subjective or biased towards the student they are proctoring (Marcus, Raul, & Ramirez-Velarde, 2008; Rios & Liu, 2017). Additionally, the subjectivity and variability of human proctoring also does not guarantee a cheating-free evaluation (Rose, 2009).

Virtual Proctoring.

Virtual proctoring looks quite different. The “eye” of the webcam focuses its attention on just that one student and acts in a more objective and unbiased way than a human proctor can (Marcus et al., 2008). Respondus Monitor, one virtual proctor option, requires that student’s complete exams in front of a computer-mounted or manufacturer-installed webcam that provides the instructor with live streaming images of the student and their environment while taking the assessment (“Respondus”, n.d.). The exam session is recorded and stored for the instructor to review after the student completes their exam. Concurrently, the use of software like Respondus LockDown Browser (“Respondus”, n.d.) prevents students from searching for answers on the Web while taking exams through the online course. While there are additional virtual proctoring services beyond Respondus Monitor (B Virtual, Examity, Honorlock, Kryterion’s Online Proctoring service, ProctorCam, ProctorU, and others), there is a lack of published research comparing the existing virtual proctoring systems (Foster & Layman, 2013).

With virtual proctoring, students secure an Internet connection, download required software (or log on to an instructor designated proctoring website) and complete steps for their authentication prior to taking their exam. To ensure that the student who is completing the exam is, in fact, the enrolled student, instructors could rely on technological tools to authenticate the student’s identity. Capturing an image of a government issued photo identification, or the university photo student ID, through their computer camera is one way to verify the identity of the student taking the exam. Students may also be asked to complete a 360-degree scan of their environment, including the specific area adjacent to their computer, where the student is taking their exam. This captures video and sound to provide a complete monitoring solution and to ensure other electronic devices, people, or supplemental external resources are not being used to assist the student in answering exam questions. Asking the student to check a box in the startup phase of their exam acknowledging they understand their institutions academic integrity policy and what is – or is not – allowed to be used when taking their exam can act as a deterrent against their engaging in academic dishonesty. Wilkinson’s descriptive research (2008) found that students engaged in cheating behaviors due to lack of knowledge of their institution’s academic integrity policy or lack of understanding what constituted a cheating violation for a particular course. If this information is presented to the online learner prior to them starting their virtual exam session, a student would be imprudent from using this as an excuse for their cheating actions.

Requiring students to complete a risk-free assessment, such as a two-question sample test, would allow students to exhibit their mastery of downloading the virtual proctoring software and completing the authentication steps required to successfully proceed through the test startup sequence. Completion of the no-risk sample test also models the navigation routine that will be the staple of the course for the student’s exam taking sessions in the online learning course. The sample test can also be an easy yet effective best practice for reducing online student anxiety (St. Clair, 2015). Instructors can then review the student’s sample test and address any problems before the first course exam. Knowing that their instructor will be reviewing their recorded exam session can affirm for the student the importance of academic integrity in this digital society forum.

Many institutions offering online learning courses and who are concerned with the academic security of these digital learning environments are implementing virtual proctoring software designed to protect against academic dishonesty behaviors in their students (Baron & Crooks, 2005). Utilizing virtual proctoring tools while students take online exams can provide the instructor reasonable assurance that academic integrity has been maintained (Cluskey et al., 2011). Virtual proctoring seeks to dissuade the perception that cheating on exams is easier and more common among online learning students (Bartini, 2008). Research by Bedford, Gregg, and Clinton (2009), on both faculty and students, showed that virtual proctoring may be a valuable resource to higher education online learning programs because of its functionality, low cost, and help in deterring students from engaging in acts of academic dishonesty by cheating. Furthermore, the use of a virtual proctor is at least as trustworthy as a human proctor (Marcus et al., 2008) while upholding exam integrity, academic rigor and university standards of a quality education.

Pedagogical Experiences with Cheating Violations.

When I first began teaching undergraduate courses in the online learning environment, the university’s psychology department required the online learning student to take their course exams in the presence of a human proctor. In addition to the set of human eyes watching for overt acts of academic dishonesty, the human proctors could discretely capture screenshots if they saw or suspected the student to be looking up information on the Internet. It was during my third term of teaching that my first incident of a student looking up exam content on the Internet while taking her exam was detected by the human proctor. Over the course of the next two years, six more students were caught looking up exam content on the Internet while actively taking their exams and being proctored by a human. This institution had a clear, detailed academic integrity policy which outlined what constituted a violation (in this case cheating) as well as the options for how to process the suspected violation (options ranging from a stern dialog with the student to recommending the student be expelled from the university). While there was a scripted policy, there remained a lack of any standard for how to proceed. For each of the violations I processed, the students received a sanction of a failing grade for the course. Aside from the administrative time required to process these cases, the personal stress experienced in addressing these violations was taxing, regardless if it was the first or the seventh violation.

Because of these cheating violations, when I heard that my university was considering the use of virtual proctoring software, I volunteered my course as a pilot for implementing this exam monitoring technology. With training materials offered by the software company, as well as my university’s office of information technology personnel, learning how to build virtual proctoring into my course, with the right balance of constraints, was not complicated. Prior to starting their webcam invigilated exam, the online students needed to install the Respondus LockDown Browser program to prevent them from accessing other websites while taking their online course exam(s). The Respondus software program allowed for me to review the recording of the students taking their (submitted) exams within 24 hours of the exam-taking session. There were options to view each student’s exam session in its entirety or to review randomly timed thumbnail images of the student. I could also watch before or after times when the software detected something unusual (e.g. student not in the picture, student looking to the side, another person presents in the image, etc.). Though several instances like these were documented by the software, upon further investigation and review of the exam recording, none showed a student to be cheating or otherwise engaged in unethical behavior. It was in 2014 when my course was piloted using virtual proctoring technology and I continue to use Respondus LockDown Browser and Respondus Monitor for all of my traditional online course exams – which now includes two universities. To date, there remains no academic integrity violations having been detected upon my review of each student’s recorded exam sessions.

Does Virtual Proctoring Deter Students from Cheating?

Within the academic community, it is commonly believed that cheating is more likely to occur in online classes than face-to-face classes (Miller & Young-Jones, 2012). It is perceived that online learning courses lend themselves to cheating by nature of the classroom environment utilized (Poutre et al., 2015). Such pervasive notions exist despite a lack of empirical evidence within the literature to support this comparative idea. Baron and Crooks (2005) conducted a meta-analysis relative to academic dishonesty in online learning settings and concluded both faculty and students believed it was easier to cheat in an online environment than in a traditional classroom setting. Whereas, Watson and Sottile (2010) utilized an academic dishonesty assessment tool with undergraduate and graduate university students deducing there were no significant differences in the student’s’ admission of cheating for live (face to face) and online courses. When querying the benefit of a virtual proctor in preventing students from cheating, Moten, Fitterer, Brazier, Leonard, and Brown (2013) found that 43% of their student participants thought the use of a webcam would prevent cheating. Karim, Kaminsky, and Behrend’s (2014) experimental study found that remote proctoring did not directly affect test-taker reactions and performance, but it did decrease instances of cheating. Thus, technology innovations such as virtual proctoring are improving instructor confidence that online summative assessments can be as secure as those completed in the presence of a human proctor (James, 2016).

Previous research about what propels students to engage in acts of academic dishonesty support these conclusions. Lim and Coalter (2006) reported that students are less likely to cheat if they perceive faculty to hold matters of academic integrity in high regard, if faculty respond appropriately to violations, and if faculty enforce institutional policy regarding acts of dishonesty. Professors are sometimes criticized for testing students on the memorization of formulas and equations that they would have access to in the working world electronically (Hodgkinson, Curtis, Macalister, & Farrell, 2015). It has been suggested that students may feel cheating is justified in retaliation for trick questions or being tested on material not adequately covered in the course (Cizek, 1999 as cited in Hodgkinson et al., 2015). Harding (2001) found that students were less likely to cheat if the test was perceived as fair. Wilkinson (2008) concluded the top eight common reasons for students to cheat included:

not understanding the rules of referencing, laziness or bad time management skills, easy access to material via the Internet, the student is not aware they are doing anything wrong, not feeling like they will get caught or penalties if they are caught are insignificant, wanting to get a better grade, and badly designed assessments. (p. 102)

The Internet has allowed for different methods of cheating that were impossible before its widespread popularity, but it is unclear whether students have dropped their old methods of cheating and replaced them with techniques involving technology (Heneghan, 2012). Students should be increasingly aware that they leave digital footprints in their work. For example, from my own experience shared above – when students looked up information while taking their exams, the technology utilized provided evidence through the content captured in a screenshot. Using a virtual proctor, the “eye” of the webcam documents the student’s every move. If any cheating was taking place, the exam recording would offer the instructor evidence of an academic integrity violation that could then be provided as indisputable evidence should that level of inquisition be rendered.

Conclusions.

Academic dishonesty in the form of cheating on examinations remains an issue in traditional (seated) classroom environments as well as in the digital age of online learning environments. Within the academic community, there is dissonance among researchers regarding increased prevalence of cheating in online classes compared to face-to-face classes (Baron & Crooks, 2005; Miller & Young-Jones, 2012; Watson & Sottile, 2010). Students may try to cheat, regardless of being proctored by a human or by a webcam, because students who make the choice to cheat will find a method for attempting such regardless of the learning environment. While institutional efforts occur to reduce acts of academic dishonesty, the pressure on students to succeed (or the belief that cheating is an easier way out) remains a part of human nature for some college students. Educators should not assume that students know what constitutes academic integrity. They need models of good practices and guidance on appropriate digital behavior; including needing new ways to monitor student behavior during their online course exam sessions. By instilling in college students the importance and value of ethical behavior, and using tools like virtual proctoring to convey a message of importance regarding academic integrity, institutions are then contributing to a greater ethical society.

We cannot teach behaviors of academic honesty if integrity is not part of the university’s culture (Fang, 2012). Holding students accountable for their actions of violating university policies on academic integrity is demonstrating a greater societal value of personal integrity and expectation that students will perform ethically in a digital society. Being consistent with student accountability and following through with consequences has been found to be one of the most useful ways to decrease instances of academic dishonesty (Hulsart & McCarthy, 2008). Although various techniques can serve to detect or minimize cheating, universities have a greater responsibility to teach students about the ethical implications of academic cheating (Fang 2012). In the online learning environment, in particular, utilizing virtual proctoring tools with students taking exams can provide the professor reasonable assurance that academic integrity has been maintained (Cluskey et al., 2011), thus upholding academic integrity standards. As the virtual proctoring technology continues to improve, further research specifically regarding its effectiveness in deterring students from engaging in cheating behaviors while taking their online course exams is encouraged. The use of virtual proctoring technology to uphold academic integrity standards as a cornerstone for a quality educational experience while not compromising academic rigor, especially in the online learning environment, should be considered by all university administrators and instructors.

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