Online Exam Proctoring


I drafted this as a briefing doc to help with decision making related to how we handle online exams for courses that are now being conducted remotely as a result COVID-19. It was circulated for feedback, so it may be useful to have a copy for reference here. I wrote it based on information gathered from the various vendors’ websites, and from conversations with colleagues. The doc was intended to give a high level overview of online exam proctoring software without delving into technical aspects. I’m intentionally not linking to vendor websites so this doesn’t turn into a sales pitch.

Update: EDUCAUSE used these categories as the basis for their survey of institutions that use online exam proctoring.


Online exam proctoring is a category of tools that attempt to replace in-person invigilators with software-based methods to deter academic misconduct while students are taking online exams. While an ideal solution to online exams would involve modifying course designs to incorporate more flexible assessment strategies, traditional exams may remain necessary in many scenarios.

This particular category of tools is typically based on surveillance technology that is deployed into students’ own computers and homes. They typically employ webcams to record video of students and their surroundings during exams, and also install software on students’ computers to enforce controls over other software that students have access to.

There are four types of solutions to online exam proctoring, often implemented in combination:

  1. Passive monitoring of activity on students’ computer
  2. Active restriction of software on students’ computer
  3. Passive video surveillance of students
  4. Active video surveillance of students

Passive monitoring of activity

This type of software is designed to document which application(s) a student is running on their computer, and to notify and document if they switch to another application while taking an exam. It may also use software techniques to monitor activity patterns on the computer, including keyboard and mouse inputs. This method may not require special software to be installed on the student’s computer and can work in any web browser.

Pros:

  • Minimally invasive
  • Cost-effective – our Top Hat campus license includes this feature
  • Compatible with most computers and operating systems

Cons:

  • Does not monitor activity on other devices – a student can use a second computer/tablet to access content without knowledge of this software.
  • Does not monitor the student or their surroundings – they will be able to have a “helper” to coach them on their online exam responses.

Examples of this type of software:

  • Top Hat Test

Active restriction of software

Online exams can be conducted within a specially designed “lockdown browser” application that is installed on the student’s computer. This software is able to block access to other software applications on that computer.

Pros:

  • Cost – a full 30,000-seat campus license could be $6,395 USD/year
  • Prevents student from accessing other software or content on their computer

Cons:

  • This software is not 100% reliable and it can inadvertently block software such as assistive technologies.
  • Does not monitor activity on other devices – a student can use a second computer/tablet to access content without knowledge of this software.
  • Does not monitor the student or their surroundings – they will be able to have a “helper” to coach them on their online exam responses.

Examples of this type of software:

  • Respondus LockDown Browser
  • ProctorTrack ProctorLock

Passive video surveillance

This software accesses a student’s webcam to directly monitor a student and their surroundings during an exam. Video can be monitored automatically by software to identify patterns that may indicate cheating, and the video can be viewed by an instructor during the exam or reviewed after the exam. This can build upon active software restrictions, to detect visible student behaviours that may indicate cheating.

Pros:

  • More reliable monitoring of students during exams, making it difficult to use second devices or receive assistance.

Cons:

  • Cost – a full 30,000-seat campus license could be $60,000 USD/year or more.
  • Access to technology – students would need to provide a compatible webcam to be used by this software.
  • Privacy – video of students may also include family members in the background.
  • Bandwidth – streaming video from a student’s computer to a server will require reliable broadband internet at each student’s location.
  • Reliability – an enterprising student could creatively apply technology that may be overlooked by their webcam, or they may use specialized technology to generate or alter the video stream used by their computer to mask visible cheating.

Examples of this type of software:

  • Proctorio
  • ProctorU record+ and review+
  • Respondus Monitor
  • ProctorTrack ProctorAuto and QA
  • IntegrityAdvocate
  • Examity
  • HonorLock

Active video surveillance

This is similar to the passive video surveillance software but adds human invigilators to monitor the videos in real time. ProctorU describes their service as employing “professionally-trained live proctors monitoring every session and active intervention into cheating behaviors”.

Pros:

  • Less reliant on software that may miss some cheating

Cons:

  • Cost – exact costs are not available, but we have reports from peer institutions of students being charged $10-$100 per exam.
  • Access to technology – students would need to provide a compatible webcam to be used by this software.
  • Expensive – people are hired to monitor the video streams from each student.
  • Privacy – video of students may also include family members in the background.
  • Bandwidth – streaming video from a student’s computer to a server will require reliable broadband internet at each student’s location.
  • Reliability – an enterprising student could creatively apply technology that may be overlooked by their webcam, or they may use specialized technology to generate or alter the video stream used by their computer to mask visible cheating.

Examples of this type of software:

  • ProctorU live+
  • ProctorTrack ProctorLive AI

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