Remote Proctoring: Wave of the Future for Academia

Proctor /ˈprɒktə/

1.
BRITISH
an officer (usually one of two) at certain universities, appointed annually and having mainly disciplinary functions.
2.
NORTH AMERICAN
an invigilator at a university or college examination.

Proctoring is an old profession. The task of monitoring exam takers to ensure they are honest and disciplined during the exam process has been undertaken by many noble men and women down the ages.

Oxford_Proctor
1674 engraving of a Proctor in the University of Oxford. From Habitus Academicorum, by George Edwards.
Picture Courtesy: WikiMedia Commons
In India, summertime ushers in proctoring duties for teachers as they trek to far-flung schools and colleges and invigilate the goings-on as millions across the country labour over their answer scripts.

Pre-COVID Proctoring: Evaluating Tech, Exploring

Remote proctoring is a descriptive term for humans sitting in call centres, or automated algorithms that look in via webcams into exam takers as they respond to questions online. Whether with humans or with automation, such systems come equipped with a panoply of fraud detection and mitigation tools to minimise, even eliminate, fraud such as proxies taking the test, opening browsers or other tech to look for answers.

Possibilities

This bucolic image is getting shattered, tap by tap, as the digital divide is being bridged by more and more aspirants – entrance exam writers seeking to get into plum civil services posts, standardized test aspirants dreaming of studying in far-off shores, nose-to-the-textbook students hoping to ace their boards and move on to the next grade, and many others.

To set up physical infrastructure and proctoring facilities for more and more test takers, many opting to login from geographically remote areas, has been straining the resources of educational institutions the world over. Many forward-thinking educationists and organizations have taken advantage of advances in technology to move to the conducting of remote examinations, and consequently, remote proctoring.

Another trend that has contributed to the rise of remote proctoring is e-learning. With more and more learning moving to the digital domain, as evidenced by the rise of edtech companies, testing online went on the upswing too.

Remote Proctoring: New tool in the
Academic Testing kit

online collaboration education work from home

The tech can be as simple as the proctor requesting the test taker to lock the door and show the entire room in 360 degrees to ensure no person is hiding ‘off camera’ to help the test taker, there are no posters on the wall and the desk is clean. It can also be as complex as AI-driven technologies that monitor the test taker’s body language and eye movements to flag potential fraud and cheating.

The tech-driven education movement has led to an explosion of tools and technologies that offer remote monitoring and proctoring solutions for exam takers – from screen monitoring solutions to companies that offer human proctors performing oversight remotely. Bangalore-based HirePro offers AI-powered proctoring for fraud-proof assessments in both live and automated proctoring modes.

The tools and tech have been evolving rapidly to keep pace with test takers who find newer ways to defraud the system, even with the support of answer-providing platforms.

The Great Inflection Point

In his prescient book Only the Paranoid Survive, Intel’s great CEO Andy Grove talks about strategic inflection points in the history of countries, societies and companies – the nightmare moment every leader dreads – periods of massive change that compel companies to rapidly adapt or fall by the wayside. Such points can be set off by almost anything: mega-competition, a change in laws, or a seemingly small change in technology. When a Strategic Inflection Point hits, the ordinary rules of business go out of the window, per Grove.

Echoes of this theory are found in Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s famous ‘Black Swan’ events: the disproportionate role that high-profile, hard-to-predict and rare events play in disrupting human society, beyond the realm of normal expectations in history, science, finance, and technology.

2020’s COVID-19 pandemic was one such event that shook not just companies, but the whole world. Entire industries were upended as schools, factories and offices were closed; work from home became the new norm for those professionals who managed to hold on to their jobs. Even as many enterprises bit the dust – think retailers, malls, restaurants, tourism, transportation and cinemas – many were able to take the knock squarely on their chins and reinvent themselves for the post-COVID world.

Live-or-automated-proctoring
Screen grab from a Live Remote Proctoring Session on the HirePro platform

Academia was one such sector. As the world locked down due to COVID, learning, testing and proctoring accelerated the move to online platforms. Schools may have been shut, but learning continued. Colleges may have been emptied, but entrance exams went online. Remote learning grew up in a hurry via a dizzying array of tools. Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Zoom, Cisco Webex and other products became household names as teachers worldwide ramped up on their PowerPoint knowledge and reached out to students on these platforms. Ergo, it was time for sisters, remote exams and remote proctoring, to accompany learning online as well.

Standardized tests such as the US Advanced Placement (AP) exams moved online; as did the Graduate Record Exams (GRE), many school and college exams and interviews. Schools and colleges hastily cobbled together a system using diverse sets of tech to move classrooms and test centres online.

2020 underscored the need for reliable, scalable remote proctoring technology that could serve the needs of educational institutions worldwide.

Remote Proctoring on the Ground, Circa 2021

As of this date, some exams have moved online permanently. A prominent one is the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) for MBA aspirants. Some exams have been suspended pending a redesign or revamp, such as the SAT subject test. The SAT itself has been made optional by many universities.

McKinsey & Company's Oct 2020 report
A 2020 McKinsey Report on Higher Ed in the United States, a major education market for undergraduates worldwide

Online education has become a very attractive and economical option for students in 2020. While many remain sceptical about the online experience, brick and mortar colleges and universities, as well as edtech companies are gearing up with an array of options to cater to a core that will stay online post-pandemic. The fulcrum has tilted towards online education – it is no longer an option for any educational institution now. Hybrid education is permanent in 2021 and beyond.

The Future: Happening Faster than You Think

“4 billion people will be on the internet by 2030. From an era of learning scarcity, we are now firmly in an era of learning abundance.” – Peter Diamandis, Futurist and Founder of Singularity University.

We think we know, but we are staring in the face of yet-undiscovered and incredible opportunities for learning, collaboration and innovation. When 4 billion people meld minds online, which is happening before the end of the current decade, this will be an unprecedented milestone in human civilization. Another black swan event perhaps? More than an event, we predict that this will be the dawn of a new age of metacognition and meta discovery – the point when humanity will move from building material objects and warring with each other, to unprecedented collaboration, as we look inwards, leap outwards, and aspire to literally reach the stars.

The society of the future will require skills that we don’t know of today. Planetary Mining Explorer? Biophysics Researcher? Space Tourism Expert? DNA Computing Analyst? Quantum Theorist? We don’t know what we don’t know! For this decade, we are skilling our professionals with AI/ML, Big Data, Market Research Analysts, Management Consultants, Public Health Professionals and others. We need more people with such skills than we have today.

E-learning Infographic Set

Skilling the masses – many living and working in remote areas of the world – requires innovative out-of-the-box thinking. Testing and assessment are here to stay. New ways of testing and proctoring will be the order of the day. This is where AI-driven proctoring technologies and tools become so important.

Technologies such as Hirepro‘s, that offer highly reliable systems for remote proctoring that operate efficiently even in low bandwidth settings, and provide multiple proctoring modes and AI-enabled fraud flags, will continue to serve the ever-growing needs of educators and students worldwide.

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