Ethical Discussion on Remote Proctoring
The ethical discussion around remote proctoring is taking place between two sides: on one side, there are those who believe that remote proctoring is fundamentally unsound and should be discontinued, or at least significantly altered; and on the other there are those who may or may not support the practice in all its forms, but nonetheless believe that at least one form is necessary to ensure the legitimization of remotely-administered exams. Below, we have provided five major insights within this discussion — two from the point of view of remote proctoring critics, two from the point of view of its proponents, and a fifth that may be used by either side to support specific views on remote proctoring in its various forms.
1. Transmitting and recording video of students presents serious potential for abuse.
- This is a primary consideration in the discussion of remote proctoring ethics — as the nonprofit Educause describes, "A wide range of ethical considerations accompany software that takes video of students, records information on their IDs, and may capture video of their living quarters."
- Not every remote proctoring technique captures video of students, their IDs, or their living quarters in this manner. A basic type of remote proctoring involves " the use of code or programs within the testing platform itself that prohibit the test taker from stopping and restarting the test, opening other programs, using communication technology such as email or instant messaging programs and performing common tasks such as copying, saving and printing."
- Still, most remote proctoring involves the use of software that accesses students' cameras, uses them to confirm their identities, and monitors them throughout the course of the test.
- This may also include a "Record and Review" technique, wherein the test session is recorded via the students' cameras and may be reviewed at a later time, if necessary.
- Allowing such access to video transmission and recording of students presents serious ethical concerns. Jill Leafstedt, Executive Director of Teaching and Learning Innovations and Senior Academic Technology Officer at California State University, Channel Islands, describes it as "creepy and anxiety producing...it goes against much of what we teach students about online privacy. When would we encourage students to give a stranger access to their webcam?"
2. There are non-video-related remote proctoring options available.
- Fundamentally, video-related remote proctoring is "intrusive, excessive and a violation of civil liberties," according to its critics. However, even remote proctoring proponents, such as PSI senior vice president of certification and education services Rory McCorkle, say that these practices should be eschewed, instead promoting "noninvasive [solutions that] protect the student’s privacy."
- As mentioned above, not all remote proctoring practices are equal. Using the so-called "computer/browser lockdown" software that prevent test-takers from pausing the allotted test time, saving the test, or accessing resources by which they could cheat is one method that largely preserves students' privacy, though it leaves openings to cheat in other ways (e.g. looking up answers in a book or on a separate device).
- G.R. Cluskey, Jr. et al. produced a list of eight "Online Exam Control Procedures" that can be employed in lieu of invasive remote proctoring practices. These are as follows:
1. The exam should only be offered at one time, to prevent "a team of conspiring test takers" from taking the test one at a time, sequentially, and sharing answers.
2. Test-takers should only be allowed to start the exam within a brief window, again seeking to prevent (to the greatest degree possible) one or more students from finishing the test before others and providing answers or other assistance.
3. The exam's questions should be randomly sequenced, making it more challenging for students to share answers mid-test.
4. Exam questions should only appear one at a time, without the option to return to previous questions after one is completed, again making collusive cheating more challenging.
5. The exam should be sufficiently challenging, and the time allotment sufficiently small, that students who earn an A or a B "complete the exam with only a few minutes to spare," and students earning lower grades may not even complete it within the allotted time.
6. Test-takers should only be able to access the exam once.
7. Test-takers should be required to use a lockdown software described above (the authors recommend Blackboard's Respondus Lockdown Browser).
8. Instructors administering the exam should change one-third of exam questions, at minimum, every semester (or every time the exam is offered).
- The authors of this paper assert that while these practices "will not entirely eliminate exam cheating...a good plan will provide reasonable assurance that academic integrity has been achieved at a satisfactory level." Thus, it is possible to circumvent the primary ethical pitfall of online proctoring and still enforce academic integrity to a substantial degree.
3. Remote-Proctored exams fail to demonstrate student topic mastery.
- This insight is not so much about the grade results of remotely-proctored exams. As John A. Weiner and Gregory M. Hurtz detailed in a 2017 study, quantitative differences between online, remotely-proctored exams and in-person, onsite-proctored exams is minimal, with remote vs. onsite test-taking and proctoring having "virtually no relation to test performance."
- Rather, this critique of remote proctoring gets to the heart of educational theory. As Leafstedt argues, exams — both onsite and remote — fail at "demonstrating student learning or mastery of a topic."
- Traditional exams are good at two things, according to their critics: "managing faculty workload and assessing low level skill and content knowledge." This is in contrast to most course learning objectives, which "are often written around one’s ability to create, evaluate and analyze course material." Put in more technical terms, traditional exams measure the lowest levels of Bloom's Taxonomy, whereas better-designed assessments provide more holistic pictures of a student's learning.
- Thus, some remote proctoring critics like Leafstedt argue that another ethical layer to be considered in this space is that remote-proctored exams fail to meaningfully measure the test-takers' knowledge, and, by extension, may fail to adequately provide the education promised in the given course.
- This problem — along with the need for remote proctoring — can be circumvented by employing alternate assessment methods. These include fairly standard ones like essays and collaborative assignments, as well as case study analyses or debates. Each of these allows instructors to assess students at higher levels of Bloom's Taxonomy while simultaneously avoiding the potential or actual ethical pitfalls of remote proctoring.
4. Remote proctoring, in some form, is necessary for legitimization and accreditation of an online course.
- As noted at the outset, proponents of remote proctoring may or may not support the practice in all its forms, but fundamentally believe that it is necessary in at least some form to legitimize remotely-administered tests.
- This is true at several levels. On a basic, legal level, the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act requires American colleges and universities "to verify the identity of students to ensure those who register for an online course are the ones who participate."
- On a second level, "faculty and administration generally feel it’s important to include safeguards against cheating on assessments," and generally have a detailed academic honesty code to enforce this at the school level, making anti-cheating measures on online courses a necessity.
- On a third level, "online courses that do not provide a secure means of assessment may not be regarded as reliable by other accreditors." In other words, the legitimization of online education may hinge on the instructor's ability to demonstrate that substantial anti-cheating measures were implemented.
- These observations do not come together to form an argument that all forms of remote proctoring are ethical; rather, they are used by remote proctoring proponents to demonstrate that remote proctoring, in some form, is necessary, with additional arguments (like insight 2) presented to support an ethical form of remote proctoring.
5. Remote proctoring can be expensive, and choosing who will bear the cost has ethical implications.
- As Educause notes, "some commercial proctoring services are expensive, with per-student prices that can be prohibitive for a large-enrollment course." Additional costs to students may include the cost required to reach a testing center or obtain the requisite computer technology and time taken off work to take the exam itself (given that exam times are generally inflexible).
- In most cases, institutions "pass the cost of remote proctoring on to the students." One immediate concern in this regard is that disadvantaged students may be unable to grapple with these increased costs.
- Additionally, some employment opportunities leverage online, remote-proctored exams to determine a candidate's eligibility, but passing extra costs on to job candidates "raises serious ethical concerns."
- This insight may be used not only to argue against the implementation of remote proctoring, but also to argue in favor of noninvasive forms of remote proctoring; indeed, when establishing their noninvasive remote proctoring best practices, G. R. Cluskey et al. cited exorbitant costs as a primary reason to eschew more extreme proctoring measures.
Your research team employed the following strategy:
To find information and insights regarding the ethical discussion on remote proctoring, we conducted an extensive review of relevant academic and industry literature. This encompassed academic studies, white papers produced by firms and nonprofits in the education space, and media reports written by industry experts. After collecting a sufficient base of information, we identified and detailed the five key insights compiled above.