While many college officials were relieved that their IT departments would not have to purchase hundreds or thousands of cameras this year, some campuses are experimenting with monitoring technology. Troy University in Alabama is watching about 500 online graduate students with small web cameras, or “remote proctors.” The university first piloted the devices last year.

The technology requires students to submit to a fingerprint scan, and it locks down a student’s computer and disables internet and database searches to prevent cheating. The camera is pointed into a small, reflective ball, so a professor can have a 360-degree view of the test taker’s surroundings, making sure he or she isn’t taking a peak into a notebook or textbook.

The remote proctors cost $150, and Troy officials said students can sell them to their peers once they no longer need the device. Officials said the university might help facilitate sell-backs in the coming years.

Troy University, along with other schools that specialize in online degree programs, has been in talks with remote proctor vendors for several years, well before the College Opportunity and Affordability Act was passed last summer, said Deb Gearhart, Troy’s eCampus director.

“Distance education has always had to jump to higher standards than they do in the regular classroom,” said Gearhart, who added that Troy had no documented student complaints about test-monitoring privacy violations. “We have not had one issue with anybody concerned about privacy.”

Officials at Western Governors University, an online university based in Utah, said web-based exam validation can be two-pronged–combining advanced technology with traditional human monitors. WGU recently spent about $45,000 for web cameras with facial recognition capabilities, meaning students’ faces would have to match previous pictures taken by the camera. A test proctor also would compare student pictures each time they take a test.

“We know the technology can’t pick up on every aberrant behavior, and the human eyes are very important,” said Randall Case, the university’s manager of objective assessment development. Case added that WGU would continue to buy web cams for its 14,000-student population.

But many higher-ed officials said they are pleased to see the use of such technology is optional, not required. Leaving the use of more stringent, expensive exam-monitoring measures out of the validated-learning guidelines, campus IT officials said, could be taken as a sign that online learning is gaining acceptance among federal officials.

“I think you have the same kind of responsibility in face-to-face learning,” said Peterman from Park University. “You have to make sure you validate that the person who is taking the test is the person who is getting the grade. … To validate [exams] takes some work either way.”

Links:

Troy University

Higher Education Opportunity Act

Excelsior College