During the corona pandemic, institutions made extensive use of proctoring so that students could graduate without physically going to an exam room. Although digital test and teaching materials will continue to be very popular among higher education institutions after the corona pandemic, institutions must be proactive in protecting their public values, ScienceGuide wrote earlier. According to Tim Fawns of Edinburgh Medical School and Sven Schaepkens of Erasmus University Medical Center, online proctoring imposes standards on students that are stricter and less transparent than those in an exam room.
With proctoring, it is intended that students be supervised while taking exams at home. A program monitors students by capturing images, sound, and activity on the computer and livestreaming it to a supervisor. The ProctorExam program – which was used by the University of Amsterdam, Utrecht University and Erasmus University, among others – even uses an extra camera to film the students from several angles.
Fawns and Schaepkens wonder if online proctoring really only involves a shift to an online environment, as suggested. Critical voices already suggest that proctoring increases inequality due to the negative prejudices of the supervisors and the requirement that students have the right equipment, a good internet connection or a room where they can be alone for a few hours. There are also concerns about students’ privacy. Fawns and Schaepkens’ critique goes deeper: The careful monitoring of online proctoring imposes on students a much stricter standard, which limits them in their behavior and thought process, and which they have no insight into.
‘Students do not know what the proctors do and see’
Although online proctoring should mimic the exam hall, standards other than for a physical administration are used, warns Fawns and Schaepkens. In the exam room, the exam guard ensures that a student does not consult with others or look at sources that are not allowed. But with proctoring, it is already suspicious if one student looks away, makes an atypical motion, or if someone else enters the room. This broader definition of suspicious behavior sets a much stricter standard for students.
In addition, proctoring provides a lot of data about the student, which must then be interpreted by a supervisor, the authors note. The supervisors compare the data with predetermined benchmarks that would involve fraudulent behavior, and students are expected to adhere to these standards. At the same time, the student cannot see the proctor and has no insight into how the software works. “The exam candidates are disadvantaged because their behavior is carefully recorded while they do not know what the proctors are doing and seeing.”
Commercial interests and academic integrity
In addition, Fawns and Schaepkens are concerned about the commercial importance of companies offering proctoring. These companies benefit from portraying students as potential scammers and see fraud as a major and growing problem for which there is a technological solution. This goes hand in hand with the idea that data and technology are objective and neutral resources, while the way the technology is designed and what data is collected depends on the developer’s norms and values.
In addition, the institutions and providers of proctoring have a commercial relationship. An institution invests in a proctoring company in the hope that it can protect its academic integrity. Subsequently, it is complicated and loss-making for an institution to switch to other methods, write Fawns and Schaepkens, which motivates it to defend proctoring against possible criticism.
Institutions take exams because they trust this method of assessment, Fawns and Schaepkens write. The exam is said to test the students’ objective knowledge, but above all they set standards for what counts as knowledge within the relevant scientific field. In proctoring, there is an even more detailed picture of the ideal student; not only how it answers questions, but also how it moves or looks.
Thus, all students who do not conform to the strict standard set by proctoring are associated with fraudulent behavior, the authors argue. This has an impact on how students relate to their subjects and how they develop into professionals. The lack of insight and influence on the assessment process and the fact that they are usually perceived as potential fraudsters also limits the development of the student’s responsibilities.
Now that the situation around Covid-19 appears to be stable, the future of proctoring is uncertain. Nevertheless, it is important to continue to think about the impact of technology on higher education, even when it comes to digital teaching methods, Fawns and Schaepkens say. In addition, the authors encourage other medical educators to be critical of their assessment methods and not shy away from basic questions about the function of assessment. “A good place to start would be an honest dialogue about how the current rating system works.”