While many brick and mortar students and educators have struggled with the recent unexpected transition to online education, the very nature of AU’s unique educational model has allowed the institution to bypass many issues. Although many aspects of life and work have been significantly altered for AU staff, faculty, and students, our educational system has not faced the drastic changes experienced by many institutions, with one exception.
Prior to the pandemic, AU students were given the option of in-person or online exam invigilation; this has been reduced to an online option only. Previously, students were able to write exams in any of AU’s buildings in Athabasca, Edmonton, or Calgary, free of charge. Other options included invigilation through the Exam Invigilation Network at local accredited post-secondary institutions, such as community colleges or technical institutions, as well as educational institutions, such as high schools or libraries, at varied rates.
For students unable or simply uninterested in in-person invigilation, AU has long offered ProctorU exam proctoring, at a cost of approximately $30 CAD per session. ProctorU is currently used by over 1,000 institutions in over 129 countries worldwide, administering over 2,000,000 exams per year. Other schools use similar platforms, such as Examity, which maintains relationships with over 500 institutions, organizations, and corporations, administering over 1,000,000 assessments per year. For AU students with varied schedules, due to careers, travel, family obligations, disabilities, and illnesses, online invigilation is often a lifeline. Exams can be scheduled for virtually any hour in any time zone; in the early morning, in the middle of the night, and weekends.
However, the recent compulsory transition to online invigilation has created a great deal of problems. For many students, exam writing, a stressful process under regular circumstances, can become unbearable online. Being closely observed through a camera can cause discomfort and anxiety. Other problems include lags, computer malfunctions, technical problems, and software crashes. For students with children, those living in small accommodations and those without access to proper Wi-Fi and bandwidth, the online process can been difficult, especially when exams go over the allotted time due to problems. During the pandemic, students have reported extra time lags waiting for invigilators in addition to their exam time. For many, online invigilation also leads to privacy and surveillance concerns, with screen sharing, remote access to all data, and photo ID demonstration feeling increasingly invasive to some.
Student input about the transition to online invigilation, as well as online invigilation in general, has been mixed. AU student Dave Boyle states, “My setup at home isn’t conducive to using ProctorU as I don’t own a webcam, and secondly my machine is in an open living room in our basement. Our house isn’t setup to move my computer into a different room and Wi-Fi drops in the house so it isn’t feasible to move my desktop to a different location anyway.” Boyle continues, “I have anxiety issues. Having a person stare at me doesn’t make me excited to write. At my local library, it is cheaper and they don’t make me uncomfortable because they leave me alone in a room to work and randomly check in to make sure I’m not cheating. That is preferred.”
Similarly, AU student Hyacinthe Abel describes a ProctorU experience, “It was ghastly. The exam was scheduled for 10am. But I started the exam at noon; by then it did not matter if I pass or fail. At the end, I submitted my questions and ended the exam but the ProctorU did not respond. While waiting for the ProctorU to respond, I telephoned the university and I was told by someone very friendly and helpful not to worry as the exam was saved as I went along. Never knew what the Proctor did.” Hyacinthe continues, “The psychological effect of preparing for an exam, combine with the frustration of waiting for the ProctorU was too much. I nearly gave up.” When asked if ProctorU would be an option once exam centres, Hyacinthe responded, “If I have a choice, no.”
In contrast, AU student Cleopatra Sarantakos states, “My experience with ProctorU has been nothing less than exceptional. My wait time to connect with an invigilator has never exceeded 10 minutes and the instructions to get started were easy to follow. When technical issues arose, the invigilators were always swift in solving it. Before starting the exam, the invigilators always wish test-takers good luck, which I thought was a nice touch.”
Similarly, AU student Katherine states, “I have only used ProctorU four times but I really do enjoy it! I have a bit of test anxiety when I’m in a class environment, so this helps me be able to concentrate and I end up doing way better. I love ProctorU and highly recommend!” Katherine continues, “My only concern with ProctorU is that the invigilator often is late or there is a lag in the video so sometimes I get interrupted. They also forget to turn off their mic and I can hear them typing.” Katherine states, “I will keep using ProctorU as long as my finances allow. I sometimes don’t have the extra cash to be able to do my exam at home, so then I am forced to go to campus where there is no additional fee.”
Although ProctorU appeared overwhelmed at the start of the pandemic, service has recently improved, as they appear to have slowly adjusted to the influx of users. Although some students appear pleased with their experiences with online invigilation, others have been disappointed. Perhaps, some will continue with ProctorU in the future; however, it appears that many students with the option to write in-person will choose to do so. For others, despite problems, platforms, such as ProctorU will allow students to continue their education uninterrupted, even in post-pandemic times.
For students with questions about the ProctorU process, consult AU’s FAQs.