As more and more students choose online courses either as alternatives to the traditional college experience or as a supplement, a lot of colleges have started to worry about how to prevent these students from cheating on remotely administered exams. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the U.S. Congress, too, is concerned about this and has added language into a part of legislation renewing the Higher Education Act that encourages schools to fight cheating more effectively.

Technology

While the legislation will not pass until later this year, a number of schools are already looking at high-tech solutions to proctor online exams for them. The most sophisticated of them is the Securexam Remote Proctor, a small device which features a fingerprint scanner, microphone, and a video camera with a 360 degree view. In order to start an exam, students have to prove their identity by fingerprint and during the exam, while the microphone and video look out for anything suspicious like an unknown voice or movement on the camera.

While Securexam advertises its system as promoting ‘integrity and convenience,’ the device looks to be anything but convenient. It only works on Windows machines and only with Internet Explorer. Given how popular Apple’s computers are with students, this clearly creates problems for a large number of students.

The Remote Proctor is currently being tested by Troy University and costs around $150.

Other programs, like Kryterion’s Webassessor, use a somewhat simpler solution based on webcams and biometrics. Webassessor users human proctors that watch up to 50 students each and its software analyses a student’s typing style and alerts the proctors if there is a change (like when somebody else has taken over).

Challenge Questions

Axicom Corporation, which is being used by quite a few universities for their online courses, uses personal ‘challenge’ questions to establish the identity of a student. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, these questions are based on data Axicom gathers from publicly available databases such as criminal files and property records (surely, nobody would want their friends to have to answer a challenge question about whether they were first arrested for arson in 1995 or 1997).

Privacy

All of these systems carry a good number of privacy issues with them, but they are also all relatively expensive. Then, of course, there are questions if cheating on online exams is even a real problem. As the article in the Chronicle of Higher Education points out, most teachers in online courses rely less on major exams and more on projects and group work anyway.

Also, no matter what the technological solution is, chances are that an intrepid cheater will always find a way around this system. Should Congress decide to make systems like this mandatory, however, then we will soon see a whole new market open up and surely other companies will come up with more solutions. The question that remains, however, is if there ever really was a problem in the first place.

What is your take on this? Do you have experience with these systems? Do you think online students need to be monitored more closely?

Photo by Flickr user dcjohn.

frederic lardinois