Dispelling Common Student Data Privacy Concerns with Online Proctoring


Dispelling Common Student Data Privacy Concerns with Online Proctoring

Douglas M. Winneg


Any last-minute change to curriculum, exams, or exam delivery is disconcerting. Moving an exam online that is typically delivered traditionally, particularly when it needs to be launched quickly, isn’t always easy. It’s a change for educational establishments, many of whom will have to select a provider in a short time frame, and it can be worrying for students, who will instantly need to adapt to new technology and an unexpected way of working at what is already a stressful time.

With COVID-19, it’s no longer possible to sit 200 students in a room with a team of onsite proctors. To ensure some continuity during these uncertain times, educational institutions will need to find an alternative to onsite proctoring, which for many means delivering exams online.

When stories about the latest data breach, hack, or security scandal are constantly in the headlines, often involving some of the biggest names in tech, students are understandably fearful of this move. Any change can be a cause for concern, and even more so in the current climate of fear and anxiety. So we’d like to address some of the concerns that we know students have.

Question #1 – Am I being watched through my webcam?

There are different ways to proctor online tests. If your establishment uses live online proctoring, then there will be a person watching you and your fellow students during the exam. If record & review proctoring is being used, your exam will be recorded via your webcam and watched at a later time by a proctor. With both options, the aim is to replicate as closely as possible the experience and security achieved by having an onsite proctor present in a physical exam hall.

This is for the benefit of both students and the institution running the test. Good communication with students during exams is key to reducing any privacy anxiety, as is easy-to-use technology that is minimally intrusive and easy to remove from a computer once the test is complete. At the same time, there needs to be a balance between security and student experience so that any potential for cheating is minimized and every student gets the result they deserve.

Question #2 – Do you have full access to my computer?

This is where the industry has different approaches. We don’t want to get too technical, but it does depend on the remote proctoring platform. For example, at PSI we always use a secure lock-down browser that will never require remote access to your computer. Read more about the threats of remote access here.

Our secure browser provides a fair testing environment where you are prevented from copying, pasting, taking screen grabs, using instant messaging or other applications, and accessing other websites. It’s downloadable in seconds and easy to delete from your system when your exam is complete.

Some online proctoring solutions do require remote access so that a proctor can complete a security review, check what programs you have running on your computer, and if necessary, shut these programs down before the exam begins. With this option, there exists the risk that an aberrant proctor will take sensitive information from a student’s computer during this security check. While the act may be rare, the fact that the risk exists creates an unnecessary unease during an exam.

Question #3 – Is my examination recorded?

Yes. Your examination is recorded whether your institution uses live or record & review proctoring. And this is as much for your protection as the security of the assessment. A level playing field is important for any exam – whether it’s online or onsite – so that no student has an unfair advantage and everyone gets the result they deserve.

We understand that it might feel intrusive to have your examination recorded and we strive to minimize the impact on you while still achieving the security of a traditional examination environment. Recording your exam is purely for the purpose of identifying those few people who are trying to beat the system – a bit like the teachers who walk around the room when you take an exam in person. At PSI, as part of our agreement with the school and individual students we agree to only use the data collected during a proctored exam to ensure compliance with exam rules and academic integrity. Schools decide how long they want us to keep the encrypted data before it is automatically deleted.

Question #4 – Is there always a person watching the exam?

As described earlier, there are two options for online proctoring – live proctoring and record & review proctoring. The two are similar, but with live proctoring your examination is monitored in real time, and with record & review it is reviewed at a later date.

In some cases, this review is conducted by a machine using Artificial Intelligence (AI), as well as, or instead of, a person. It might sound sci-fi, but a machine is far better able to spot anomalies than a human being. An example might be if your eye movements indicate that you are looking at unauthorized materials, or suspicious movement suggests that another device or person is in the vicinity.

This is very similar to a human proctor in an exam hall, where the invigilator will be on the look–out for people copying, passing notes back and forth, or other abnormal behavior. A break in the pattern will raise a flag, which might mean that your exam is then more closely reviewed.

At PSI, we only use AI to flag behavior for later review by a human proctor. We believe determining whether an action constitutes cheating requires human subjectivity. When AI detects that someone enters the test-taker’s room and starts talking with them during the test, we use a human to assess whether the discussion was about the test (cheating), versus something less objectionable (a child asking a parent for a drink of water).

Question #5 – Do I have to reveal personal data to the online proctoring company?

Prior to the assessment beginning, your identity will be checked and authenticated. This is to make sure that the person taking the exam is who they say they are. This process is conducted on a separate system where your ID is checked and verified by an online proctor or administrator before you are allowed access to the test delivery system. The transition is seamless and secure, your personal data is not shared, and your privacy is maintained. We will only check the data that is necessary to confirm your identity.

Question #6 – Is my data being shared between different parties without my consent?

Is your personal data (who you are, where you live, your race/gender, how old you are, etc.) being shared? No. That’s why PSI delivers online proctoring separate to a test delivery system – it has always been our policy to never capture or store unnecessary personal data.

Question #7 – Are you just trying to catch me out?

Absolutely not. The systems and security that we have in place are to preserve the integrity of the assessment. It is never to penalize all students, rather to identify those few people who do try to break the rules. That’s why we utilize systems and technology that are as unobtrusive as possible.

At PSI we have a unique and secure approach to online proctoring that has successfully delivered over 30+ million assessments annually over the past 70 years. PSI proctored assessments have run the gamut from basic history quizzes to exams that credential doctors. Regardless of how high the stakes are of the exam that is being delivered, PSI proctoring technology ensures that the test taker experiences the convenience of taking an exam remotely, without sacrificing any privacy.

Online proctoring is not new. It has been around for decades. At PSI, our priority has always been to maintain the integrity of an assessment while protecting the privacy of all our users and delivering a great online learning experience for students globally.