Whether or not students should be required to take proctored exams in an online course has been debated for as long as there have been online courses and I suspect it will not be resolved anytime soon. Nevertheless, there has been a good deal written about the subject that is worth considering.
A recent study compared proctored and non-proctored student outcomes in online courses. Lee William Daffin, Jr. and Ashley A. Jones from Washington State University, found that with the non-proctored online exams, students took about twice as long to complete their exams and performed between 10% and 15% better than students taking proctored exams.
Despite the instructions that the exam was to be taken closed-book, we might reason that students spent the extra time looking up answers in the text or searching online. Again, this brings up the issue of how to prevent cheating in an online course without requiring students to visit the testing center.
Daffin and Jones suggest trying the following methods to discourage cheating:
- Explaining the technology used to discourage cheating (e.g. Safe Assign, Bb Monitor)
- Creating a large enough test bank from which to draw questions
- Randomizing both questions and answers
- Including essay questions
- Posting class and/ or institutional policies and penalties for cheating
- Shortening the time frames to complete tests
- Having students sign Code of Conduct / Honor statements
Daffin and Jones offer yet one more option…
A final possibility is to make online exams open notes/book from the start but increase the difficulty of such exams so that they are not simply testing the recollection of facts (Feller, 1994; Williams & Wong, 2009; Stowell, 2015). Though students would be permitted to utilize outside sources, eliminating student misconduct issues, they would still need a good understanding of the material to be able to accurately apply it and could not simply look up answers as they took the exam. – L.W.Daffin & A.A.Jones
In another study, Beth Johanns, Amber Dinkins, and Jill Moore, from Indiana State University, looked at the research around open-book vs closed-book exams and found there are some unique advantages for student learning with both formats. Open-book exams, in particular, were found to help learners develop critical thinking skills. While the closed-book required students expend more time and effort in preparation for the exam, they were also more likely to cram and therefore rely on short-term memorization. On the other hand, open-book exams were shown to engage learners more deeply by encouraging them to gather and critically analyze information – oftentimes from multiple sources.
In their study, Johanns, Dinkins, & Moore explored yet a third type of exam – collaborative testing. In this approach, students prepared for a closed-book exam but were permitted to collaborate with other students while completing the examination. This approach has been shown to promote creative thinking and increased metacognition.
Finally, it is clear there are both opportunities and challenges with any single approach to online assessment. Perhaps the best solution is to provide multiple options. Rather than requiring students to schedule weekly visits to the testing center, consider reducing the closed-book to the midterm and/or final exams and maybe mix things up with open-book and collaborative exams in the interim.
Daffin, Jr., L.W., & Jones, A.A. (2018). Comparing student performance on proctored and non- proctored exams in online psychology courses. Online Learning, 22(1), 131-145. doi:10.24059/olj.v22i1.107
Johanns, B., Dinkins, A., & Moore, J. (2017). A systematic review comparing open-book and closed-book examinations: Evaluating effect on development of critical thinking skills. Nurse Education in Practice, 27, 89-94. doi.:10.1016/j.nepr.2017.08.018