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