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How To Mitigate Candidate Concerns With Online Proctoring

June 10, 2020

The COVID-19 crisis brought about the most sudden and dramatic shift in test delivery that we have ever witnessed. Many test sponsors that deliver high-stakes assessments, whether as part of critical certification or credentialing programs or in higher education, were forced with a binary choice of moving testing online or stop testing. Many organizations chose the former and moved with agility to adopt online proctoring in weeks, rather than the typical deliberations and roll out over months or years. 

iStock-1216461404There are a couple of ways online proctoring can be facilitated. One way involves a proctor watching a candidate in real time through a video connection (live online proctoring). The other way is when a test taker is recorded during the test administration and the video is later reviewed (record-and-review proctoring). It's also possible for organizations to use a combination of both methods. Both methods were being used prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, but their use has quickly expanded to include many high-stakes tests. Just like an in-person proctor, a remote proctor (whether human or automated) supervises the integrity of the testing process and flags anomalies that could indicate cheating. 

The huge increase in the use of online proctoring has raised its profile dramatically and created a level of public debate not seen before. Commentators have drawn attention to specific cases where online testing has resulted in widespread malpractice, and data privacy advocates have questioned how much data is collected, how it used, and by whom. 

Candidates themselves have also voiced concerns over issues such as the use of remote access to their devices used by some online proctoring systems to prevent use of prohibited apps and internet browsing during tests. There’s also the broader charge that online proctoring is invasive and creepy or that its use of AI is opaque and potentially unfair.  

Change inevitably brings uncertainty and there are understandable anxieties here, so how can you, as the test sponsor, address these candidate concerns? 

The Critical Need for Communication and Consent 

With both live and record-and-review online proctoring, the aim is to replicate as closely as possible the experience and security achieved by having an onsite proctor present. This is for the benefit of both candidate and sponsor alike. Good communication with candidates well before the exam itself is key to reducing any privacy anxiety, as is easy-to-use technology that is minimally intrusive and easy to remove from a computer once the test is complete. At the same time, there needs to be a balance between security and test taker experience so that any potential for cheating is minimized and every student gets the result they deserve. As the test sponsor, you will need to communicate with your candidates regarding the collection and use of the candidate’s personal information. 

As stated by the Association Of Test Publishers (ATP), "It is equally important to remember that the concept of data minimization should be applied to the greatest extent possible; that is, personal information that is not absolutely required for online/remote proctoring should not be collected." 

At PSI, we never share candidates' personal data. That’s why PSI delivers online proctoring separate to a test delivery system – it has always been our policy to never capture or store unnecessary personal data. As part of our agreement with you and individual candidates, we agree to only use the data collected during a proctored exam to ensure compliance with exam rules and test integrity. You decide how long we keep the encrypted data before it is automatically deleted.  

Test Integrity Without Compromising Candidate Privacy 

Prior to the assessment beginning, the candidate’s identity will be checked and authenticated. At PSI, this process is conducted on a separate system where their ID is checked and verified by an online proctor or administrator before the candidate is allowed access to the test delivery system. The transition is seamless and secure, personal data is not shared, and privacy is maintained. We will only check the data that is necessary to confirm identity.  

This is where the industry has different approaches, dependent on the remote proctoring platform. For example, at PSI we always use a secure lock-down browser that will never require remote access to your computer. Some online proctoring solutions do require remote access so that a proctor can complete a security review, check what programs you have running on your computer, and if necessary, shut these programs down before the test begins. With this option, there exists the risk that an aberrant proctor will take sensitive information from a student’s computer during this security check. While the act may be rare, the fact that the risk exists creates an unnecessary unease during an exam.  

The assessment will be recorded whether you use live or record-and-review proctoring. And this is as much for your protection as the security of the assessment. We understand this may feel intrusive to and we strive to minimize the impact on the test taker while still achieving the security of a traditional examination environment.  

Our secure browser provides a fair testing environment where candidates are prevented from copying, pasting, taking screen grabs, using instant messaging or other applications, and accessing other websites. It’s downloadable in seconds and easy to delete from their system when a test is complete.  

The Benefitsand Limitations of AI  

When it comes to online proctoring, AI can be utilized throughout the process – either in partnership with a human, as we do at PSI, or on its ownDuring the check-in process for example, automated ID authentication increases accuracy to ensure a candidate is who they say they are. During an assessment, facial and voice recognition can also be used to identify another person in the room. Equally, object recognition will pick up anomalies in the test environment, such as a student referring to a mobile phone or other unauthorized materials. And AI integrated technology such as eye movement tracking will also detect movement patterns that might indicate malpractice. 

The main benefit of AI is that it can quickly help scale testing programs by quickly proctoring high volumes of testsWe believe determining whether an action constitutes cheating requires human subjectivity. For example, when AI detects that someone has entered the test-taker's environment and starts talking with them during the test, we use a human to assess whether the discussion was about the test (cheating), versus something less objectionable (a child asking a parent for a drink of water). Every candidate flagged should be checked by a trained professional to prevent innocent students from being punished. Some AI systems are better than others, so in order to keep false reports of cheating low, make sure the technology behind AI has clear guidelines on what constitutes suspicious behavior. Perhaps more diligently, ensure that whatever program you choose uses AI in combination with a human proctor.  

The Role and Status of Professional Proctors  

Ensure you’re hiring and training proctors as a professional role. Training must be provided to all proctors to ensure the same level of scrutiny is applied to each test. 

At PSI, proctors are required to train on the following topics: 

  • Security, privacy, and regulations pertaining to these 

  • Confidentiality and conflict of interest, with their agreement 

  • Overall duties and responsibilities 

  • System functionality 

  • Troubleshooting 

  • Client business rules and violations 

Additionally, all remote proctors have required hours for job shadowing and nesting. Shadowing is where the new proctor watches an experienced proctor. Nesting is where the new proctor does the work under the guidance of a supervisor or experienced proctor and lasts for a minimum of five days. 

All proctors obtain an initial certification that the original requirements have been met through an assessment. The certification must be maintained through recertification. 

The security of the exam data, the candidate experience, and the quality of proctor are all vital to the confidence of the remote proctor modality. By providing a clear understanding of the expectations of the remote proctor, setting high standards for quality, and measuring these attributes regularly, you can find and correct causes of poor quality and continue to make improvements. These efforts are one of many quality processes in place to oversee the remote proctor efforts. 

The systems and security in place are to preserve the integrity of the assessment. It is never to penalize all candidates, but rather to identify those few people who do try to break the rules. That’s why we utilize systems and technology that are as unobtrusive as possible.  

At PSI, we have a unique and secure approach to online proctoring. We have successfully delivered over 17 million assessments annually over the past 70 years. PSI-proctored assessments have run the gamut from basic history quizzes to exams that credential high-stakes professions, such as medical professionals. Regardless of how high the stakes are of the exam that is being delivered, PSI proctoring technology ensures that the test taker experiences the convenience of taking an exam remotely without sacrificing any privacy. 

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Rory McCorkle Rory McCorkle is the Senior Vice President, Certification & Education Services at PSI Services LLC. He has extensive experience both managing and consulting for credentialing programs, specializing in the strategic organization of these programs, their design and development. During his career, Rory has worked with over 350 associations and IT credentialing organizations, including well-known licensure programs and globally renowned certifications. Rory received his PhD in Organizational Leadership from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, as well as his MBA from Drexel University’s College of Business.