Secure exams outside the testing center
Posted by Joan Phaup
The increasing numbers of students studying online in recent years – many of them raising families and holding down jobs – have embraced the idea of doing all their coursework at the kitchen table, so to speak. But until recently, when it came time for a test, these students had to travel to at testing center. Many of these students raised the question: “If I can study at the kitchen table, why can’t I take an exam there, too?”
Today, taking tests from home or the office — using online monitors or proctors — is an option for certification candidates as well as students, and there are various means of providing secure testing at a distance.
Delegates to the Questionmark Users Conference in Baltimore March 3 – 6 will have the opportunity learn more about online proctoring/invigilation during a presentation on Secure Testing in Remote Environments.
Don Kassner, president of ProctorU, will co-present this session with Maureen Woodruff, who directs the Office of Test Administration at Thomas Edison State College. I spent a few minutes with Don the other day and asked for some details.
Can you explain what makes it possible to offer secure remote proctoring or monitoring?
There are three key elements to this: the environment, the computer and the test taker. The first thing we need to do is to make sure each test taker has reliable internet access and is in a fairly controlled environment. This is not about testing anywhere. It’s about testing in an environment that’s predictable. The person gets to choose the place, but it has to be in a certain kind of place. And the test taker must “show” us their environment using a webcam. Second, we have to secure their computer. Test takers use their own equipment, but we need to make sure they are not switching tasks, accessing the Internet for answers and so forth. Last, we have to secure the test taker themselves, by using a layered authentication approach to make sure they are who they say they are having our online proctors observe them as they complete their tests.
What are the biggest security challenges in delivering tests to people outside of test centers?
In a test center, you already know that the environment and the computers are secure; you can focus on the identity and behavior of the test taker. When proctoring at a distance, you have to give a lot of importance to all three of the elements I mention; there are a lot more decisions to be made about the testing process.
With online proctoring, we have to be willing to stop a testing session and say that something doesn’t meet our standards – that the test taker is not meeting the requirements and must reschedule.
We also need to be able replicate our processes across the board and make sure that the testing experience replicates no matter who is taking the test or where they are taking it. We have to focus on making sure the experience is identical for every test taker.
How will you address those challenges during your session?
We will introduce the basics of online proctoring and give examples of how different institutions and organizations have used it. We’ll also drill down into the details of what it takes to secure the environment, the computer and the test taker.
Maureen will share a case study about what they did at Thomas Edison State College and the important factors they had to take into account when they set up remote testing for their students. And I’ll differentiate between the factors that are important for academic institutions and those that matter the most for certification tests. Students are likely to take a number of tests and end up have a long track record. Certification candidates tend not to be repeat test takers, so that means using slightly different procedures.
What kinds of tests are best suited for online monitoring or proctoring?
If you are going to use this kind of proctoring, you really need to think about the nature and structure of the test. You are trying to minimize the risk inherent in someone taking a test, so you need to ask yourself what issues you are concerned about relative to that. Tests with large data banks are best, because they help mitigate the risks of people stealing questions or colluding. Standard tests increase the risk factor and may not be appropriate.
What would you like your audience to take away?
A real understanding on how effective this approach can be in some situations and an understanding of when it may or may not be appropriate – so they can think about their own programs and consider where they think this will fit.