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The new honor code: Testing under online eye

Universities hire proctors to watch students through webcams as they take Internet tests

POSTED: August 3, 2014 1:00 a.m.

When Gainesville college student Rachel Henderson learned a test for her online class was administered 20 miles away in Dahlonega, she opted instead to use a fee-based mobile proctoring service called ProctorU. The result, she said, was “pretty easy and kind of strange.”

The service allows students to take their tests from any computer that has a webcam and meets minimum system requirements. It also allows a proctor to view students over the webcam and access student computers remotely.

Students pay a fee of $15 or more using their credit cards, and then take the test online while a proctor watches them work and monitors activity on their computers using remote access screen-sharing software.

“It was really convenient not to have to drive to Dahlonega from Gainesville,” said Henderson, a senior at the University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus, “but it felt really strange to have them watching you the whole time. ... It was really weird for me because the person was chewing gum the whole time and it was really annoying.”

Still, Henderson said she’d use the service again in the same situation because of its ease and convenience.

The University System of Georgia signed a deal with ProctorU on May 1. UNG began using the service in the fall semester last year. Six Georgia institutions use ProctorU, but Franklin Hayes, the company’s media coordinator, said he expects more will sign on.

“We like to have an agreement in place because student records are protected by law,” he said. “That deal was signed not too long ago, so we’re in the process of reaching out to schools, letting them know about the service.”

Chaudron Gille, associate vice president for university affairs and academic services at UNG, said the school began using the service to give online students an additional option for testing.

“For all of our UNG online courses, we require that all students complete a proctored activity. That normally requires that a student come to campus or go to a proctored area,” she said. “Sometimes it’s difficult for them to get to campus or even to get to a testing center.”

Gille said students previously had two options for online tests: come to campus or go to a fee-based testing center. Now, she said, they have an option that doesn’t require them to go far from home, and often they don’t have to leave home at all.

Henderson said her home computer does not have a webcam so she used a computer at UNG’s Gainesville campus library. It was convenient, she said, but also awkward.

This is because the service requires the student to provide a 360-degree view of the room using the webcam.

“It was strange because I had to move a desktop computer,” she said.

When students take the test from their personal computers, that 360-degree view is often of their homes or even their bedrooms.

“I definitely think it would be weirder to do it on my own computer or even in my house because I had to show the four corners of the library,” Henderson said.

Students also have to allow access to their computers via the remote access software. The proctors use the software to ensure students do not have any notes or Internet tabs open on their computers as well as to ensure the computers meet minimum system requirements and to troubleshoot any technical problems.

Hayes said the software is also used to make sure there is no additional screen-sharing software in use as the test is taking place.

“We do a system check, which will basically tell us how the system is running, how much RAM is running,” he said. “We literally are seeing whatever the end user is seeing on their computers.”

He said the company uses a version of the remote access software LogMeIn Rescue, which he said is customized to be less intrusive than the standard version.

To protect student security, Hayes said the proctors are required to pass a criminal background check and undergo a monthly audit. The proctors, who work part time, are paid $8 to $9.75 per hour, and they must have a high school diploma and be 18 or older.

As the test begins, students must click a box giving the proctor consent to access the computer. They show the proctor their photo ID and the room, then the proctor uses the webcam to watch them throughout the duration of the test.

“It felt really strange to have them watching you the whole time,” Henderson said.

According to the website for LogMeIn Rescue, customers may terminate a session using their software at any time, and all traces of the software “disappear” from the customer computer once the session is complete.

When asked about privacy concerns, Gille said the company has been vetted by the University System of Georgia, and that in most cases students who are uncomfortable with the service may opt to come to campus or visit a testing center.

Henderson said she’s taken several online classes for her major of Human Services Delivery and Administration, and this is the only time she’s needed to use ProctorU. In the other classes, arrangements were made for faculty on the Gainesville campus to proctor her tests, and no additional fee was charged.

Henderson paid $18 to take the two-hour test. Gille said UNG students are charged $15 for one-hour tests and up to $19.75 for two-hour tests. These fees, she said, are “comparable or cheaper than testing centers usually are.”

Hayes said it’s up to each university whether it absorbs the costs of the test or pass them along to the student.

Gille said ProctorU is just one more option the university has to make it easier for students to complete their courses.

“Proctor U is relatively accessible to students because all it requires is a webcam really,” she said. “We see it as a tool to provide greater flexibility to students.”

Henderson says while there are a few concerns — like gum-chewing proctors — that may need ironing out, she was generally happy with the service.

“Aside from the annoying proctor, it was really good,” she said. “I don’t have any complaints. I just had to turn the volume down. It was really easy and better than having to drive.”



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