When COVID-19 first forced higher education institutions to adopt remote instruction, many colleges and universities prioritized online proctoring solutions among their academic technology needs. In April, an EDUCAUSE quick poll reported that 77 percent of responding institutions had already adopted online proctoring solutions or were planning to adopt them in the near future. This finding was corroborated a month later when online proctoring company Proctorio reported 900 percent year-over-year growth.
However, the online proctoring industry was clearly not prepared to cope with rapid expansion or public scrutiny.
Students, faculty, and instructional designers are circulating petitions, publishing articles, and writing position papers in escalating protest against institutional support and faculty use of online proctoring as part of remote instruction. There is evidence that some institutions are paying attention and attempting to limit faculty adoption of online proctoring through informal policies or temporary moratorium (University of California, Berkeley lifted its moratorium on online proctoring once formal policies for its use could be put in place). Nevertheless, online proctoring’s adoption continues, most likely from a subset of faculty working in specific contexts or disciplines.
Historically, campus IT leaders do not (publicly) question the morality, ethics, or pedagogical intent of the academic technologies that have been requested by other institutional stakeholders. Instead, they focus on finding and implementing the best technology that fits the need. However, the ongoing debate surrounding online proctoring has surfaced significant concerns about student privacy and data safety, as well as the technology’s accessibility, equity, and pedagogical effectiveness. In our current state of dependence on remote and hyflex instruction, campus IT leaders have unique expertise and responsibility to assume a central role in delivering on educational missions. They must be vocal in helping to define the parameters and use of online proctoring tools at their institutions. For technology leaders to deliver on their leadership promise, there are questions and considerations that they should be introducing into the campus conversation about online proctoring.
Are we solving the right problem? The initial rush to adopt online proctoring products was driven in part by faculty perception that students are much more likely to cheat in online, at-home assessments than in physical classroom assessments. However, the perception of increased risk is not the same as actual risk.
In reality, there is a lot that we don’t know about student cheating—especially cheating in online learning environments, but also cheating that might take place during an era-defining pandemic. The available research does not paint a clear or consistent picture beyond the fact that some students will cheat regardless of where or how they take an exam. Furthermore, our unprecedented times is not the right time to assume we know what students are doing or why they are doing it. Understanding the prevalence, risks, and impact of student cheating is an important research agenda, but perhaps we should also be discussing faculty perception of cheating and the source and pedagogical impact of those perceptions.
Are we providing our faculty with the necessary support? Faculty autonomy is essential. However, remote instruction forced many faculty (and students) into online spaces without essential preparation or support. Given the growing concerns surrounding online proctoring and equitable practice, many institutional leaders are attempting to find the right balance of faculty development and institutional policy to support their faculty in making effective pedagogical choices.
Do our purchasing decisions and contract terms align with our commitment to our students? Often, institutional requests for proposals (RFPs) for educational technologies boil down to business, technical, training, and cost requirements. Campus IT leaders have an opportunity to focus the purchasing conversation on student privacy and experience more than many currently do today.
Are we good stewards of our students’ data? The length of time for which online proctoring companies store student recordings varies greatly across the industry. For example, Respondus retains Respondus Monitor student recordings for one year or up to five years by institutional request. However, the same companies can delete student recordings in as little as one week as required by many European higher education institutions and GDPR compliance. Campus leaders in the US need to discuss why it is necessary for companies to store student recordings for years instead of days.
How do we justify any additional burden to students with disabilities? April’s EDUCAUSE quick poll on online proctoring also reported that 23 percent of institutions had adopted online proctoring tools that did not meet institutional accessibility standards. Another eight percent had not vetted products for accessibility at all. Many online proctoring solutions (or specific elements of online proctoring solutions) have accessibility concerns; for example, lockdown browsers and screen readers are not often compatible.
Alternative approaches to proctoring are possible for students with accommodations, but research indicates that many students who would benefit from accommodations don’t have them in place. Moreover, the process of navigating workarounds (for any academic technology, including online proctoring) increases the cognitive burden for students who need them. Workarounds for a subset of identified students will not necessarily negate the impact of the technology.
Finally, are we acting as good allies to students as they advocate for their rights? The public debate on online proctoring has seen enormous and valuable contributions from students. Educational leaders not only advocate for student rights; they provide the resources students need to advocate for themselves. Most students (and faculty) need education on the benefits and risks associated with online proctoring technologies and the data they collect. Campus IT leaders are well-positioned to lead the discussion and support students as they practice their right to self-advocacy.
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