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Is Remote Proctoring Secure?

It’s a truth universally acknowledged in academic testing: the higher the stakes for the exam, the greater the risks of students cheating. This is especially true for licensing and credentialing exams which represent an all-or-nothing proposition for adult learners to demonstrate months or weeks of studying in one exam sitting. Passing means entry to a new career while failure brings career delays and embarrassment. It is no wonder that important exams are entrusted to exam supervisors—also known as proctors or invigilators—who are trained to detect cheating. 

But the pandemic has wreaked havoc on in-person exam delivery over the past year. Many organizations have turned to online exam delivery as the solution. There is no question that remote proctoring is a safer option for the health of both the learner and the proctor. But is remote proctoring secure enough to meet your organization’s security expectations? 

The evolution of remote proctoring

Digital delivery makes corporate training more convenient, and in most cases, less expensive. Many firms were reaping the benefits of digital delivery for instructional content before the pandemic. Yet, fears about testing security made some organizations reluctant to move their exams online. They still asked their learners to book an exam appointment and drive to testing sites where proctors could administer tests in person.

The public health requirement for social distancing has created a bottleneck for firms that rely on in-person exams. The result is a recent explosion in remote exam proctoring. During the pandemic the convenience of online exam delivery into the best option for most exam administrators. But going online brings its own challenges. Learners now access exams from their offices or even their own homes. These ad hoc testing sites vary dramatically, which presents a challenge for proctors. 

Is remote proctoring secure?

Many organizations had concerns about remote proctoring prior to the pandemic. During a 2018 survey by the Council on Licensure, Enforcement and Regulation the majority of respondents said they did not think remote proctoring was sufficiently secure. Even so, 60% either already used or were considering implementing remote proctoring for at least some of their exams. 

Rapid technological evolution complicates the issue. The International Guidelines on Computer-Based and Internet Delivered Testing, created by the International Test Commission were finalized in 2005. These guidelines offer only the most general guidelines for online  test developers, publishers, and users. They can’t provide specific rules for using modern technology to create a secure testing environment.

While no universal standards for creating a secure testing environment online exist, organizations like the International Accreditors for Continuing Education and Training create frameworks for best practices

These frameworks and guidelines vary from organization to organization. Yet, when it comes to exam security, most test developers and providers focus on four primary goals: 

Four Security Goals of Testing Organizations:

  1. Verify the learner’s identity
  2. Secure the testing environment
  3. Monitor the learner during the exam
  4. Maintain adequate records in case results are challenged

Remote proctoring can help achieve all four of these goals while meeting social distancing guidelines. Technology makes this possible. Proctors use the learner’s own webcam and microphone to verify the environment before the test and monitor changes during the exam. They may also use special monitoring software to lockdown the learner’s computer, limiting access to unauthorized materials and preventing third-parties from accessing the student’s computer remotely during the exam. 

How remote human proctoring secures the test environment

Human remote proctoring is the most secure remote proctoring method. Ideally, a proctor will monitor one learner at a time but this increases the cost per exam. Other automated remote proctoring solutions are less-labor intensive, but may not ensure the same level of security. Here are the steps for a good process.

Step 1: The learner verifies their identity prior to launching the online exam. Typically, learners are asked to present photo identification.

Step 2: The learner logs into the test using a secure link, a username and password, or other assigned credentials. Good systems will close down all unnecessary programs on the student’s computer and restrict the student’s access to the web (i.e. other than to the secure exam server).

Step 3: The proctor confirms the learner’s identity by comparing the student’s face as recorded by the webcam against the valid photo ID on record. Good systems will perform this comparison continuously to ensure that the student does not step out of frame to allow a confederate to take the exam in their place. 

Step 4: The learner writes the exam under continuous observation by the proctor. The proctor listens to make sure the learner isn’t getting answers from an outside source. They also watch to confirm that the learner remains in their chair, does not look to anyone offscreen, and does not use any unauthorized materials. And unlike in-person exams where proctors may be required to monitor a large group of students, with human online proctoring the student-to-proctor ratio can be as low as 1:1. 

Step 5: When the learner has completed the exam, the proctor indicates whether the student’s session was compliant. Then the results are recorded and shared. A copy of the exam session recording may also be stored in case questions arise later. 

The old saying that, “Necessity is the mother of invention” is true with so many organizations over the last year moving their exams online. The existence of best practices and industry experts should reassure organizations considering remote proctoring that it is is comparable to in-person exam supervision. 

Support for remote exams and online learning

For help creating and administering secure exams, contact Oliver. We are accredited by the International Association for Continuing Education and training and comply with their internationally recognized standard of excellence in instructional practice. From course materials to proctored remote exams, we help corporations and regulators meet the highest standards of security and defensibility.

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