The move to online learning caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has required higher education institutions to explore new and different strategies for assessing student performance. This has led to increased use of proctoring software in assessments. This article explores the advantages and disadvantages of proctoring software and the inevitable adoption online proctoring as the future of assessment in Australia.
The impact of COVID-19 on higher education institutions and the speed at which most institutions adapted their practices was impressive, particularly the abrupt move to online classes and associated online assessments. In early 2020, at the beginning of the transition period, many institutions chose the most cost-effective and user-friendly quick-fix vehicles for assessment, such as Moodle and other familiar student management systems and learning management platforms. However, some institutions also explored online proctoring – a service that allows students to take their exams in their own homes while being supervised either by a human invigilator online or by artificial intelligence software (or a combination of both) via a webcam and screen-sharing capability.
The higher education regulator and professional accreditation bodies in Australia did not impose mandatory requirements on assessments at the start of the pandemic. They were supportive of, and flexible with, assessment strategies employed by various institutions, provided that academic integrity and a positive student academic experience were driving factors in the decision-making processes and that the strategies chosen by the institutions were regarded as temporary and other options were being explored.
A shift to the use of proctoring tools and associated concerns
In 2020, several Australian universities, such as the Australian National University and the University of Queensland, seeking to retain the integrity of face-to-face supervised exams, announced plans to use online-proctoring software such as ProctorU and Proctorio (Currey, 2020). This decision was met with apprehension and criticism from many students, academics and privacy experts, who expressed concerns about online proctoring, including:
- Proctoring software is invasive and accusatory. The legitimacy of this concern must be considered in light of the following question: Is being seated in a physical exam venue under constant surveillance from human invigilators less invasive than the use of proctoring software during an online exam?
- Equity - students need access to WI-FI and other technologies such as webcams, microphones and speakers, as well as spaces that are quiet and free of interruption. However, with the world literally moving online, it is hard to imagine that students do not already have the technology needed to meet the requirements of online proctoring.
- Online proctoring encourages unlawful use and distribution of data storage. It should be noted that the proctoring software companies, and ProctorU in particular, meet privacy-legislation and industry-standard security requirements.
- Some students lack confidence with technology, and this could be a significant disadvantage to their academic performance in proctored exams. This concern did not apply to UBSS, since online classes and assessment tasks using proctoring technology had already been adopted by the time exams were held.
At UBSS, a survey conducted in February 2021 showed that 88% of undergraduate and postgraduate students preferred to continue their studies online, confirming the notions that students at UBSS have embraced online technologies and are comfortable using them in their studies and exams.
There is now a wide range of proctoring software that can be used by institutions based on the assessment type and the individual needs of the institution. Artificial intelligence, human-invigilated online proctoring, or a combination of both can be used effectively.
Advantages of proctoring tools
There are many advantages associated with using proctoring tools to assess student performance, including:
- A wider range of assessment questions, by being able to access huge memory banks.
- Reduced carbon footprint, by eliminating the use of paper and of student travel.
- Replacing handwritten with typed answers. In the current digital age, most students prefer to type rather than write, and academics find it easier to read typed rather than hand-written answers.
- Saving of student time, by not having students travel to exam venues as well as enabling students to avoid the stressful logistics required before they are seated for face-to-face exams (Dimeo, 2017).
- Authentication (student identity is verified before the commencement of the exam).
- Lockdown (access to documents and notes, websites, and other software can be blocked for closed book exams).
- Effective monitoring, with strict exam conditions being maintained using the microphone and webcam (Dawson, 2021)
Heightened use of technology
The increased use of technology is beneficial for students undertaking higher education. Even pre-COVID, the world was heavily dependent on technology, and those students who had not embraced it or were not comfortable with it were considerably disadvantaged. The pandemic-induced move to at-home work and online meetings and the widespread acceptance of these will generate, post-COVID, a demand for even greater familiarity with technology in almost every job market. Students participating in online assessments are being exposed to technologies that better equip them to meet these demands.
COVID-19 has revived a common and highly controversial question in higher education: Are face-to-face exams an outdated approach to summative assessment? While no assessment approach (face-to-face or online) can stop cheating and other forms of academic misconduct completely, use of the latest online proctoring tools can dissuade students from doing so, and therefore strengthen the integrity of the assessment process in general.
- Currey, E. (2020). Australian Universities should think twice before installing spyware on students’ computers. The Strategist. Retrieved from https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/australian-universities-should-think-twice-before-installing-spyware-on-students-computers/
- Dawson, P. (2020). Strategies for using online invigilated exams. Retrieved from: https://www.teqsa.gov.au/sites/default/files/strategies-for-using-online-invigilated-exams.pdf?v=16037580322.
- Dimeo, J. (2017). Online exam proctoring catches cheaters, raises concerns. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2017/05/10/online-exam-proctoring-catches-cheaters-raises-concerns.
Assistant Professor Jotsana Roopram is Deputy Dean (Student Experience) at UBSS.
Her main areas of expertise are examination management, developing academic systems, policy implementation in administrative processes and procedures, and school operations.
Jotsana’s research interests include governance and quality assurance in higher education, leadership, new managerialism and online assessment.