Welcome back, readers. In the January/February issue (Furby, 2020), I authored the Headlines From the NLN and discussed the need for testing standards and policies. Little did we know in January the tough decisions that would be awaiting schools of nursing in April. In a short two to three weeks, education changed across the United States. Nurse faculty created online courses and clinical experiences with little assistance and few resource. Many schools waived standardized testing for summer and fall. Some faculty uploaded classroom exams into learning management systems, and some replaced traditional assessments with others that were not traditional.
As you read this article, some of you will know the scenario for your nursing program for the fall semester. For those of you who will return to normal, that will be fantastic. However, I presume most of you are not there yet, and that means you are still considering solutions for remotely proctoring exams. Many options are available.
The Association of Test Publishers and the National College Testing Association (2015) have taken a firm stand that live proctoring be the industry standard. As such, the National League for Nursing (NLN) and other standardized test publishers have required an in-person proctor test administration. However, the pandemic left test publishers with no choice but to seek remote proctor solutions or close up shop. Suddenly, inboxes were overflowing with advertising for proctoring solutions.
REMOTE PROCTORING OPTIONS
Generally, there are three types of remote proctoring: live, automated, and the honor system. Let us take a look at these options (see Figure 1).
Although live online proctoring may be the best option, this method is expensive. It also requires that tests be scheduled when proctors are available. With kindergarten through graduate school simultaneously transitioning to eLearning during the early stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, vendors became quickly overwhelmed with increased requests from their established customer base and waitlists for new customers. Furthermore, although these proctors may be anywhere in the world, vendors have central locations where proctors work in a proctoring center. When shelter-in-place and quarantine mandates came down across the world, some vendors had to pause their service while transitioning their proctors to work remotely from home and training new employees to meet the demand.
With educators eager to finish the semester and complete the graduation and admission processes, the pause forced educators and institutions to rethink high-stakes exam requirements. Many test publishers, like the NLN, are still moving forward and establishing a relationship with live online proctors to ensure institutions have a high-stakes testing solution for summer and the new 2020–2021 school year. Under the heading COVID-19 Resources, the National College Testing Association lists well-known and established remote proctor vendors that provide live proctoring (see https://www.ncta-testing.org).
The second option is automated proctoring, also referred to as record and review and on-demand proctoring. This option allows the student to complete an exam without scheduling a proctor. The NLN has worked with our vendors to integrate this proctoring service directly into our test administration portal. The vendors listed in Table 1 have developed sophisticated, artificial intelligence solutions that will complete an identity verification of the student and monitor the student’s progress through the exam. These smart systems allow the educator to set parameters for behaviors that should be marked and reviewed. To scale costs, the vendor may offer to complete the recording review; for a lower cost, the institution performs the review.
A few words of caution…I spoke with the representative from one testing center that self-reviews utilizing an automated proctor solution. I was told that, with more parameters selected, the monitor reporting is less useful to the center staff, who must spend more time watching and reviewing individual recordings. Also, unlike the live proctor with the ability to terminate an exam, the automated proctor will only provide proof of a data breach after the transgression has occurred. For this reason, this solution is not recommended for high-stakes exams at this time.
The easiest of the three solutions is to implement an honor system. There is no proctor and no recording, and the educator should expect that the student will utilize class materials and enlist help from classmates or other online homework assistance (e.g., Chegg Study or Quizlet). Some faculty encourage students to make a “cheat sheet” of sorts for a quiz or low-stakes test. Honor system assessment has a place in learning. According to Kleeman (2011), “Quizzes and tests can reduce the forgetting curve through memory retrieval practice.”
TRANSITIONING TO REMOTE PROCTORING
Making the transition to live online or automated proctoring will require a transition plan. First and foremost, do your students have access to stable Internet? Our more rural schools have opted to wait to return to in-person proctoring and the honor system because they do not live in areas with the necessary Internet infrastructure.
Second, do your students have access to a laptop or desktop computer, web camera, and microphone? The types of virtual proctoring services reviewed will have specific hardware requirements, including access to an account on the computer that has administrative rights to install necessary plugins and applications. Check with the institution’s legal department if you are not using a product with a campus-wide license. Laws regarding the storage of student identification, student demographics, exam scores and reporting, and video recording vary by state and region.
With more time to implement a fall scenario, vet the proctoring solution, especially those integrated into the learning management system. Several vendors have created quick solutions that have failed to meet expectations. Carefully read data and proclamations made on company websites and other marketing materials. What is the user recommendation rate for the proctoring vendor?
DO NOT FORGET SECURITY
As the saying goes, “When there is a will, there is a way.” This holds true for all exams. Whether your exam is proctored in person, virtually, or automated with a lockdown browser, your exam is at risk for cheating and piracy/theft. New attempts at cheating not encountered in the past are constantly emerging, for example, hidden answers on wall hangings or eyeglass frames, earbuds with audio transmission from another room or embedded in a music playlist, friendly service pets with collar cheat sheets, and proxy test takers.
Recently, there has been an increase in the number of students utilizing remote proctor high-stakes exams at alternate testing locations to “preview” test items. The NLN uses item banking to reduce the success of a “preview.” Try Googling used exam items. How many items were found by the search? Piracy and theft of test items are also rising, as is the use of hidden cameras in jewelry, writing instruments recording the screen, and taking selfies of test items. Information technology departments must be vigilant against hackers, and even so, we have all read about institutions in the United States that have been vulnerable to data breaches. Be sure when vetting remote proctor vendors that security is discussed, along with the features and functionality available to deter, detect, and react.
No doubt, this is not the first or last article you will read on the topic of remote proctoring. The changes brought about by the pandemic will no doubt carry into the future of education and assessment. With social distancing expected to continue in the months ahead, remote proctoring will continue to grow, and technologies will change and improve. Take this time to virtually meet with colleagues and testing centers to determine what high-stakes, mid-stakes, and low-stakes options are available to benefit student learning in the coming semesters.
Association of Test Publishers & National College Testing Association. (2015). ATP-NCTA proctoring best practices
Furby L. (2020). Implementing educational testing standards in nursing education [Headlines from the NLN]. Nursing Education Perspectives
, 41(1), 70–71. 10.1097/01.NEP.0000000000000628
Kleeman J. (2011). Forgetting curve: Evidence from medical education that quizzes do slow the forgetting curve. Questionmark