Do you ever feel like your computer screen is watching you? Or that somebody in cyberspace is following your every keystroke? don’t worry. You’re not caught up in a conspiracy-theory movie plot. In fact, You’re probably on the cutting edge of the latest trend in education?online tests that allow the watchful eye of your proctor to follow you anywhere in the world.
It’s a response to the popularity of MOOCs (massive open online courses) and the move toward distance education in general. Although most MOOCs aren’t taken for credit, several now offer that option. And with millions of students attending the online classroom, there needs to be a way to test them in that same environment?while at the same time dealing with the age-old problem of cheating.
That’s where services like ProctorU and Software Secure can bridge the gap between old and new. Instead of a proctor overseeing exams in person, they can now ?watch test-takers by using screen sharing and webcam feeds,? as The New York Times reports.
But the remote proctoring tools don’t end with simply staring at a student via webcam. Remote proctors can follow every mouse click, letting them see whether the test taker is searching the web for answers. Proctors are also trained to watch students for tell-tale behaviour such as eyes wandering off the screen toward books or smart phones. Photo ID can be used to ensure that the right person is writing the exam, and some services even analyze typing samples against the keyboarding habits used during an exam.
It might sound a little too Big Brother, but there’s very little difference between a proctor watching a student in person or online. The online method could even help alleviate exam anxiety. If students can write tests in the comfort of their own home, rather than at a test centre with unwelcome distractions, it could make a noticeable difference in their final grades. I’ve personally written exams at universities where the test environment included proctors dropping keys on the floor, putting files away in squeaky drawers, and even a very loud film being played in the classroom next door.
Not only does online proctoring solve the problem of travelling to exam centres (a real obstacle for many students in rural areas), it also eliminates the worry of leaving valuables unguarded in hallways if an exam location doesn’t provide lockers.
It could also put an end to the bane of many students? lives: the painfully cramped fingers that result after three hours of writing essays on Shakespeare or tax law.
One potential drawback is the possibility of power outages in the middle of an exam, shutting down either the student’s or proctor’s computer. But the lights can go out in a traditional exam centre too, ending a test unexpectedly.
There’s no denying that human interaction can never be replaced by computers. A teacher’s encouraging smile can make all the difference to a struggling student of any age, and many students learn better with the immediate feedback of a classroom discussion.
But for thousands of people for whom time or distance makes reaching an exam centre impossible, remote proctoring could allow them to pursue their education. If You’re one of them, It’s time to get ready for your screen test.
S.D. Livingston is the author of several books, including the new suspense novel Kings of Providence. Visit her website for information on her writing (and for more musings on the literary world!).