Tuesday, June 2, 2020

On Un-Proctoring Exams, Unleashing Learning

In the current sudden expansion of online learning due ot COVID-19, many institutions are increasing spending on proctoring services for classes; some, for the first time.  The proctoring platforms are jumping at the chance to increase their sales, and are offering special discounts to new users.  
Proctored exams, it seems, are the ultimate way to prevent online cheating. Using a proctored exam system, students cannot navigate beyond their test to the Internet itself, and in many cases are actually watched - monitored by video feeds - to ensure that they do not look down to check notes or their phones, speak to another person, or - heaven forbid - take a bathroom break. In many cases they must pass through an airport security-like check-in; showing their ID cards, stating their name, and making sure their faces can be seen clearly.  Any student who is “flagged” is reported to the teacher, who can then - with complete and utter confidence - give the student a 0 on the exam.

Photo by Surface on Unsplash
This assumes that the students will be working on computers with built-in webcams or that one is purchased for exam use; some faculty require that students purchase a second webcam, to show their hands as well as their faces during an exam. Beyond the equipment purchases,  proctoring makes more unrealistic assumptions; it assumes that all students have a desk and chair in a quiet room where they can take the exam for 1-2 hours, uninterrupted.  No kids asking questions, no work calling to say you are needed. It assumes students are native speakers with academic backgrounds, and will never have to look up a word or phrase. And last but not least: It assumes that students are trying to cheat.  
Here's a tweet by an Instructional Designer Dale Coleman at Tacoma Community College (used with permission):

The spy-like visuals of this experience are not only nerve-racking, but fly in the face of the culture of online learning,  where students and teachers not infrequently do their work from the comfort of their beds, back porches, or living room couches, laptops on laps or cellphones in hands. In my own experience as both an online student and teacher, working online means working in pajamas, working in the car, working while eating, and working while others are holding conversations in the same room. One of the main differences between the online experience and the face-to-face experience is the independent study opportunities they provide; we can interact on our own time, in our own way. 
Proctoring takes everyone's focus away from course content and puts it on a very big billboard-like message that says: Trust not Found here. Proceed with Caution.  It causes student discomfort even before it happens; taking a quiz is made into daunting experiences akin to airport security checks; Do I have my passport? Do I have my ticket? Where's my driver's license? Many of our students have stressful experiences in refugee camps and visa offices that still reverberate in their minds. Often this process results in - at the very least - a section in the course devoted to how to take an exam (which could have been used for actual course content); students spending time and often scant resources buying onetime use equipment and preparing to take exams (which could have been used for studying); and multiple, repeated tech issues and help desk requests that must be resolved by support offices (which have many other issues to take care of).  Proctoring - besides the actual high cost of the service - costs in many other ways as well. 
Un-proctoring exams can mean unleashing learning;  supporting lifelong learning involves skillfully utilizing our many free online tech tools, the Internet itself, and our own creativity and knowledge to enhance learning. The Learning Management systems already provide a secure login, and offer a wide array of assessment types that go beyond the proctored environment, from practice quizzes to video projects and everything in between. Combine these options with teaching strategies that chunk material and a UDL mindset that finds ways for students to show what they have learned by creating assessments that build learning, this is exactly the time that the costly add-on of proctored exams should be falling out of fashion, shifting the institutional funds instead towards better empowering faculty to teach online with the resources and professional development  they need to promote academic integrity and trust.  

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