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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Explained: How proctoring keeps a tab on candidates taking online exams

Several universities have adopted a multiple choice questionnaire format, which might also enable a candidate to quickly search the Internet for the right answers.

Written by Abha Goradia | Mumbai | Updated: October 13, 2020 11:04:29 am
A candidate has to make sure that there is no noise in the background during the exam.

With colleges allowing students to take final-year exams online from home, proctoring, a technology deployed to ensure the identity of the test taker and the integrity of the test taking environment has gained currency.

What is proctoring, and why is it necessary?

At exams conducted in colleges, invigilation helps keep a check on students. For online exams taken at home, the possibility of cheating increases. Several universities have adopted a multiple choice questionnaire format, which might also enable a candidate to quickly search the Internet for the right answers. To maintain the veracity of an individual’s grades, as a measure to evaluate a student’s performance, invigilation becomes mandatory. Proctoring comprises artificial intelligence (AI) based algorithms and tools that keep a check on candidates during online exams not taken at an exam centre.

What set of rules does a candidate need to comply with during online exams?

Most commonly, college or government-issued identity cards are to be displayed by candidates in front of the camera to prove their identity at the time of taking the examination. Use of electronic devices, textual material and stationery items like smart watches and pen drives is prohibited, and so is the use of telecommunication devices like cellphones, head phones, bluetooth earphones, pagers and health bands among others. A candidate has to make sure that there is no noise in the background during the exam. No other application or web page should be open on the computer except the provided exam software.

Switching, minimising or closing the exam window is not allowed. A candidate also has to ensure the availability of hardware, software, broadband Internet and power back-up. Further, no other person should be present in the room.

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How does proctoring work?

Before the exam begins, the image of the student on the screen is compared with the photo available in the system, based on which a user is allowed to continue.

AI-based algorithms keep users from opening other tabs on their screen. In case of multiple such attempts, the examine is suspended from appearing for exam in most cases. The algorithms also keep a record of the number of times students opened other windows, and captures surrounding audio. Any change in the user’s line of sight — to the left or right — is flagged to the invigilator by an alert.

Audio-video streaming or continuous capturing of photos at intervals of about 15 to 20 seconds, which can amount to 200 to 240 images in an hour, is deployed, apart from capturing all activity on the user’s screen.

What are the types of proctoring?

Proctoring can be done in two ways: full-view and face proctoring. In full-view proctoring, the student’s laptop is kept on the side at a suitable vantage point to obtain a view of his or her face, hands, answerbook, and the cellphone used to take the exam. The “full view” can also be obtained using a phone instead of a laptop, but has limitations such as storage issues.

In face-view proctoring, a student takes the exam on a laptop, and the laptop camera monitors his or her face. The hands are not visible. Given the limitations of equipment and Internet connectivity faced by students, most institutions have opted for this mode of remote proctoring. However, there are two types of integrity risks with face view proctoring — there are workarounds that web-based remote proctoring software cannot catch. Separate devices, such as cheat sheets, notes or phones kept on or beside laptops, which are out of view of the laptop cameras, are harder to catch.

Is this method foolproof?

Regardless of the technology solutions adopted by colleges, there is a common consensus among faculties that online exams are not foolproof. “The software deployed for exams has so far not flagged any student for misconduct, yet we have come across screenshots of question papers that are being shared on informal WhatsApp groups. Most students have been achieving good marks, which would not have been the case if physical exams were to be conducted,” said an exam coordinator of a south Mumbai college.

Videos have been trending on YouTube explaining ways to cheat during online exams. Institutions such as IIT-Bombay have proposed solutions requiring a laptop with a webcam and a smartphone, or two smartphones in the absence of a laptop, to minimise instances of cheating. However, it may still not be a full-proof solution to curb malpractices.

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