Our universities are utterly incapable of conducting physical exams during the COVID-19 pandemic without putting students at risk. This has been made abundantly clear by the recent student protests. Yet, they have also not devised any other way of evaluating the students’ knowledge and grading their abilities fairly (despite several alternatives being readily available). So, if educational institutions insist on exams and want those exams monitored to supposedly protect their integrity, then they need to change their examination process. And this change can be a transition to online proctored exams.
Proctoring, also known as invigilation, is the act of supervising students taking a test to ensure that no one gains an illegitimate advantage through the use of unauthorised means. Our academic establishments often cite the inability of proctoring as an argument against non-physical exams. But this only shows a lack of technological knowledge on their part because non-physical tests, specifically those taken via the internet, can be monitored and regulated so easily that it is almost ridiculous.
One of the easiest ways to do this is through the ‘live online proctoring’ method. This is when students taking the exam are required to join a virtual space – perhaps a conference call or online group – and keep their webcams and microphones on during the exam period.
The university can even mandate the angle of view the cameras have to be positioned in and can randomly ask the students to move the camera around to see that they do not have any prohibited material with them in any way. Except for the students taking the exam from their homes, live online proctoring is very similar to physical invigilation.
If we want something more advanced and if the schools and colleges are ready to invest a little in their infrastructure, then we can use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to invigilate remote exams. AI nearly eliminates the need for any human intervention and, based on their programming, can detect suspicious behaviours in real-time by using techniques like facial recognition, eye tracking and changes in ambient noise, among others, through the use of cameras and microphones.
However, if live proctoring is not possible and AI proctoring is too expensive, then educational institutions can opt for recorded supervision. Here, the students’ screens are recorded, via software, in real-time and are viewed and scrutinised by the invigilator at a later date.
This removes some of the stress of the human invigilator having to actively engage with the examination candidates without being physically present with them. Also, students’ behaviour can be examined by more than one invigilator, making the proctoring process more efficient and error-free.
So, as we have discussed, alternatives to physical exams are available and easily accessible. Also, they are very beneficial to the universities that adopt them. First, remote proctoring eliminates the need for exam centres. This relieves the university of a significant logistical and financial load. Remotely proctored tests are also both teacher- and student-friendly. They do not have to brave the virus to take and give the exams which, in the grand scheme of things, may hold little importance.
Universities will also be able to expand the scale. Currently, they are forced to conduct exams in phases, setting different dates for different levels and faculties because of resource constraints. But, if they choose remote proctoring, they will not need to manage exam centres, seats, answer papers, transportation and other logistics. They will only need to forward question papers and receive answer sheets. This will allow them to conduct many different examinations at the same time.
So, if exams are truly about integrity like universities claim and not about the vested interests of the management or the staff, then remote proctoring can be a viable option.