Hiding in Plain Sight: Online Proctoring as ‘Just Another Feature’

Laura Gogia |

Tambellini Analyst

Top of Mind: Online Proctoring as ‘Just Another Feature’
Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes

Even as institutions distance themselves from online proctoring platforms, the same technologies and functionality are emerging in other digital learning tools.

Arguably, online proctoring platforms are the most controversial educational technologies in use on higher education campuses today. Student rights advocates have long voiced accessibility, equity, and privacy concerns about online proctoring, and its use to support remote instruction at scale has provided ample evidence to validate their concerns. Some higher education institutions are strongly discouraging, placing moratoriums on, or discontinuing online proctoring, but these moves have not come fast enough for some advocates. Northwestern and DePaul Universities were recently sued for implementing online proctoring tools in a way that may violate Illinois state law on biometric data collection.

Even as institutions distance themselves from online proctoring tools, the same functionality is emerging in multi-purpose learning and assessment platforms. The newly launched virtual classroom Class (Class Technologies) offers student screen monitoring for attention surveillance (“Lose Focus”) and proctoring solution. In its bid to become an all-in-one assessment suite, Turnitin acquired Exam Soft and its online proctoring technologies. In the last year, McGraw Hill Connect and Top Hat partnered with Proctorio to augment native course authoring and assessment functionality with online proctoring services. “It’s a back-door approach that supports online proctoring without calling attention to the fact. It’s online proctoring hiding in plain sight,” observes Dr. Lee Skallerup Bessette, learning design specialist for Georgetown University.

The Why

Vendors often explain the addition of online proctoring features or services by citing their dedication to faculty requests, academic integrity, and cohesive student experience. Nick Stein, Top Hat’s chief marketing officer, is quoted as saying, “By partnering with Proctorio, we are helping institutions ensure the integrity and rigor of tests and exams.” The same press release explains the virtues of integrating proctoring so that students do not have to leave the Top Hat environment to take a proctored test.

In many ways, the development of proctoring-as-a-feature is evidence that educational technology companies know how to read the room. Online proctoring platforms can offer skittish institutions a less transparent approach for appeasing faculty who require online proctoring. Meanwhile, all-in-one platforms provide opportunities for institutions to streamline licensing agreements for greater cost-effectiveness—one of the biggest industry trends to emerge in the post-COVID higher education landscape.

The Problem

Campus leaders who seek to monitor, regulate, or problematize online proctoring need to be aware of the new trend. Many of the all-in-one platforms now adopting online proctoring already combine synchronous learning, community-building, interactive content, formative feedback, and assessment functionalities. The features lists tend to be complex, and untangling one feature from another can be difficult conceptually and technically. “Bundling online proctoring with other academic technologies only normalizes it. When proctoring becomes just another product feature, the less we question its pedagogical purpose, and the harder it is to take action against it,” according to Skallerup Bessette.

Furthermore, it is challenging to monitor and regulate how students experience an embedded or integrated product feature—which administrators may not be able to control—compared with a point solution. While Proctorio is a paid premium feature at Top Hat, McGraw Hill activates end-user access to basic proctoring without institutional input. The action circumvents administrative oversite and may create challenges for institutions with online proctoring policies or pre-existing proctoring contracts.

The To-Do List

Regardless of an institution’s position on online proctoring technologies, several items should go on every campus IT leader’s to-do list.

  • Follow the trend. The sweet spot for new online proctoring features lies at the intersection of virtual classroom, course authoring or management, and assessment solutions. Look for the functionality to pop up in any related technologies (including video learning platforms and classroom response systems). Even if your institution welcomes the added functionality, it’s important that you know it is there.
  • Plan an exit strategy. Public concern regarding online proctoring is growing and has evolved to include legal action against institutions. While the harsh spotlight may dim once students return to campus and pandemic-related proctoring resolves, many institutions will still need to take a stand on student surveillance, privacy, and proctoring. Understand how and why proctoring occurs on campus and the tools–every tool–that faculty use to support it. Know your options for replacing, restricting, or deactivating functionality (and communicating these actions to the affected faculty) if your institution moves to limit or end proctoring on campus.
  • Craft policies intentionally. Campus policies on online proctoring should focus on underlying technologies and pedagogical practices rather than specific products or product categories. This approach offers flexibility and coverage as online proctoring expands beyond point solutions to other learning technologies.
  • Support your academic technology and instructional design teams. These staff are often the first to learn of new functionality and its use on campus. “Naturally, some faculty will see a new feature in their favorite teaching tool and decide to try it out,” explains Skallerup Bessette. Academic technologists and learning designers are essential for faculty development and can help effectively communicate when institutionally approved tools include specific features that may not be supported or approved.

Special thanks to Dr. Lee Skallerup Bessette for her contributions to this blog post. You can read more of her work in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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Laura Gogia |

Tambellini Analyst

Laura Gogia
Dr. Gogia researches, advises, and publishes at the intersection of pedagogy, student experience, and academic technology. She has extensive experience in online learning design and faculty development across higher education, community, and professional learning contexts. Prior to joining The Tambellini Group, she served as the Director of LX Innovation at iDesign.

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