Goodbye, Classroom. Virtual Tests Let Students Stay Home

Ever wish you could take your college exams in your pajamas, from the comfort of your living room? Well, now you can. Colleges and universities are increasingly using technology to proctor and monitor students remotely – anytime day or night.

“It used to be that we had to have students go to test taking centers across the country … but it wasn’t very convenient for students,” said Bob Mendenhall President of Western Governors University (WGU).

WGU and other schools are now allowing students to take their tests at home or in a workplace with virtual proctoring that uses cameras and biometrics to monitor students every move.

The system is especially helpful for non-traditional students, those that don’t go to to a four year college right after high school and older students who already have established lives.

Kristian Sevison, 39, a WGU student getting his Bachelor’s in business management, has taken advantage of the flexibility. He has a full time job and a family, spending most of his free time playing baseball and going to karate with his son.

“I can’t always take an exam at a set time on a set day because this is how a professor wants it. You have got to kind of work around life a little bit. And it [WGU] gives that ability and flexibility to do so, Sevison said.

Testing online has made it easier for WGU students, whose average age is 37 and most are working full time, Mendenhall said. About 80% of the school’s students now take tests online using ProctorU and other vendors.

“Obviously that saves us money, but it especially saves the students both time and money and makes it easier for them to complete their courses,” said Mendenhall.

Students using online platforms has risen sharply in the past few years, from 1.6% in 2002 to 6.7% in 2011, according to the Sloan Consortium. The move to online learning hasn’t increased the cheating rates. It’s about the same on both platforms, 32.7% online versus 32.1% in a live classroom, according to Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration.

Companies, like ProctorU, monitor students from thousands of miles away using technology to prevent cheating. Proctors, sitting in an office, watch a handful of students at a time and monitor the test-taker from a remote location. They also check photo identification, a student’s individual typing patterns and use webcams to ensure that the person taking the test is actually the student.

“We took the classroom process and we broke it down into three concepts. What are you doing when you watch someone take a test in a classroom? You essentially do three things. You have to see the student, you have to see what they’re doing, and you have to know who they are,” said Jarrod Morgan, Executive Vice President of ProctorU.

Traditional schools, like Northwestern, Louisiana State University, University of Florida and many more have also begun to employ the test-taking technology.

“You saw in the early 2000’s online education was a real specialized thing that really specialty organizations did, and now it’s really becoming widely accepted. You see a lot of really established, traditional schools opening online programs,” said Morgan.

Beth Akers, a fellow at Brookings Institution’s Brown Center on Education Policy says there is a concern that the quality of online coursework isn’t the same as in-person instruction, where professors and students can interact directly with one another.

“In an online classroom students don’t have the same level of interaction with their peers, but you also want to think about the fact that online education offers an option to students who may not have gone to college in the first place,” said Akers.

It may be convenient, but students should remember that someone is still watching (so maybe no pajamas).

“I’ll tell you that people do some awfully interesting things when they’re deep in thought,” said Morgan. “They laugh and they get very comfortable with their proctor, so they’re scratching themselves in strange places.”