Multiple Choice is written for educators who are leading the way in building secure online learning and testing environments at schools and universities across North America. The blog is written by staff and friends of Software Secure, developer of technology that secures the computing environment from cheating and digital distractions.
Developed with the assistance of Troy University, Remote Proctor eliminates the need for students to go to campus to take an exam or arrange to have a proctor for every testing situation. The product combines security software, biometrics and video to authenticate the identity of a test-taker and ensure the test experience is as honest as it would be in the classroom.
Every exam can be a take-home exam. The ability to take the exam remotely while ensuring academic integrity is a big issue. For nontraditional students, including distance learners, who no longer have to go to a testing center or find a proctor. For professors and educational institutions, who can now be assured that their remote testing is credible as well as convenient.
But it’s actually even more important, because what this technology does is remove one of the biggest roadblocks to viable, widespread distance education.
Thanks to the Internet, we’ve overcome many of the obstacles to distance learning. Web sites. Email. Second Life. Podcasts. Course Management Systems. All these tools make it possible for a professor to share her knowledge and teach her students, no matter where they are. And in the case of time-shifted lectures via podcast, they don’t even have to be “in class” at the same time. Teaching, learning. We’ve got that covered.
But an education system requires evaluation and assessment. Accreditation. But the test alternatives for remote learners have been limited, and often expensive, depending on how far the learner is from an approved place to take the test. Without a cost effective way to ensure the integrity of remote, unproctored, testing, the development of comprehensive distance education – topic to test – is next to impossible.
Not anymore. Remote Proctor changes the landscape. And it costs about the same as the average college textbook.
Think about it. If you are just taking an online language course so when you go to France you can ask for a coffee or the check, when you cheat on the test, the only person you cheat is yourself. If you are taking a comprehensive exam for a certification or a degree, it is an entirely different story. You are cheating yourself and everyone else who is taking the exam without cheating. You are cheating the people who rely on your degree or certification to ensure a certain level of competency.
When we eliminate cheating, we eliminate a significant roadblock to distance education.
Now, I am well aware that this little post isn’t going to change widespread terminology. Distance learning is the terminology in use today, and is likely to be for some time. But now that we’ve eliminated a key barrier to acceptance of remote testing, over time folks will develop a new expectation for true distance education. One that includes assessment with test integrity as well as instruction.
How Remote Proctor works
For something so critical, it is pretty simple. I’m sure the engineers who developed it would read me chapter and verse on how making something this simple and easy to use is actually a pretty complex and involved task. But for the students and professors using it, it will be easy. A lot easier than driving to a testing center.
The Remote Proctor device connects to the student’s computer. When it is time to take the test, she identifies herself by fingerprint. The Securexam software provides access to available exams, and also locks down access to other resources that might be on the computer -- Internet, email, files, etc. The student has access to the test and only the test. The camera in the unit records a 360-degree real-time video and audio view of the environment during the entire exam. Movement, other than the expected typing away at the keyboard, is transmitted to the professor. The result: the professor knows that the person taking the test is the student, and she isn’t getting any additional help from friends in the room. Or not, as the case may be.
Remote Proctor was developed with the invaluable assistance of Troy University. Here’s what one of their professors has to say:
“Having the Securexam Remote Proctor System in my class will allow me to preserve the essence of distance learning while maintaining academic standards. The Securexam Remote Proctor System enables me to maintain exam integrity and the ‘anytime, anywhere’ flexibility of online education.” -- Dr. Murray Widener, professor of Public Administration at Troy University,
The Securexam Remote Proctor System will be available in September 2007.
It echoes in my brain as I ponder the recent revelations about the Duke MBA students accused of cheating on a take-home exam.
Cheat cheat, never beat.
Clearly today's students don't agree with this refrain from my childhood. Especially in business schools. Consider this statistic from the study "Academic Dishonesty in Graduate Business Programs: Prevalence, Causes, & Proposed Action," (Academy of Management Learning & Education, September 2006):
56% of graduate business students admitted to cheating one or more times in the past academic year, compared to 47% of nonbusiness students. (reported in BusinessWeek; see also our September 20th post)
And the varied ways students are cheating boggles the mind. Or at least mine. I thought an iPod was a music and video player. Not so according to AP, which last month reported on high schools across the US banning digital music players because they were being used as high tech cheating devices.
The reasons given for why students cheat range from a general loosening of ethics, especially in the business world, where cheating is almost assumed, to fierce competition for the top colleges, graduate schools and jobs. "Everybody's doing it" appears to be the new refrain, and upholding the honor code an idea, not an expectation.
Educational institutions are doing their best to deal with the problem of rampant cheating on exams, but the most common solution is to ask the teacher or professor to take on the role of monitor as well as their principal job of instructor. To be both coach and cop.
There is a better alternative. Technology has created improved methods of cheating, but it can be used to prevent cheating as well.
For example, our Securexam product suite prevents students from cheating on exams -- blue book or within course management systems like Blackboard and WebCT. In fact, it is widely used in law schools in large part because the students want it. They want the level playing field that the assurance that no one can cheat provides.
And just as importantly, technology like Securexam lets the professor focus on his principal job -- teaching the students and assessing their performance, not performing a forensic investigation to determine whether or how students may have cheated.
We can wish, and hope, that students won't cheat, but wishing won't make it so. Isn't it simpler, and saner, to just eliminate the temptation, so students and teachers can refocus on learning?
Last month, I wrote about the "software as service" discussion, and how it impacts education, and particularly the implications for testing and evaluation. This month, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at how educational institutions are including Web 2.0 tools like podcasts and Second Life in the curriculum.
Let's start with podcasts. A podcast is simply an audio program that can be downloaded to your computer or MP3 player and listened to at your convenience. Delivered through RSS, once a user subscribes, new shows are automatically downloaded into a "podcatcher" program like iTunes. Why is this so powerful for education? Professors can record, and students can listen, to lectures at their convenience. Class is no longer tied to a specific place or time. UC Berkeley currently offers more than 70 podcast courses on iTunes -- everything from Human Emotion (Psych 156) to Physics for Future Presidents (Physics 10).
While the benefits for distance learning are immediately obvious, the podcast format can be useful to deliver supplemental material for any class. For example, speeches by a guest lecturers such as Senator Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, journalist Bob Woodward and Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer are now available long past the original "real" dates from Princeton and Yale on iTunes.
The podcast format does of course have its limitations. It is simply an information delivery format. Because it is pre-recorded, it is highly suitable for lectures, but generally inadequate as a sole method of delivery for classes or subjects that require in-depth discussion and interaction.
That's why some institutions are looking at virtual worlds like Second Life. What's a virtual world? In the simplest terms, it is a computer-based simulated environment in which the users interact via avatars.
This week, the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative Spring Focus Session being held in Raleigh North Carolina is focused on immersive learning environments like online games and virtual worlds. Prior to the conference, Jarret Cummings, an EDUCAUSE blogger, interviewed Sarah Robbins, a TA Instructor in English at Ball State University on her Second Life class.Well worth a listen.
Also, check out this post direct from the meeting reporting on a session about MIT's Second Life efforts by Phillip Long, MIT's Associate Director of Educational Innovation and Technology.
Some other interesting courses and places in Second Life:
the New Media Consortium's Second Life campus. You can watch an introductory video here. They are also blogging from the ELI sessions and hosting Second Life versions of some of them.
Of course, neither podcasts nor virtual worlds were specifically developed as educational environments. In order to evaluate student performance, we still need a way to test. If the students are on-campus, we have choices, including computer-based tests secured by technologies like our Securexam. Once we go off campus, in a distance learning environment, browser-based testing using the software as service model that we discussed last month seems to be the emerging solution. But for widespread adoption to occur, we need a way to ensure that the person taking the test is the person who should be taking the test. And he or she is taking it without outside help.
We have been working on a solution which is now in beta at a large US university. You can get a sneak peek here. More next month.
Over the past few months, we have been watching the "software as service" discussion with some interest. While much of the debate in the technology press seems to circle around business applications such as CRM (customer relationship management), the simple question of whether a web-delivered application should reside entirely on the Web or have a client-side component has interesting implications for the education market.
More and more educational institutions at all levels are embracing online offerings -- to expand their reach, make it easier for students, overcome geographic or demographic barriers, etc.. At the same time, technology advancements have made Web-based experiences much richer. Going forward, it is increasingly likely that online classes and materials will be delivered over the Internet using standard Web technology and Web-based applications rather than proprietary systems and software that need to be downloaded and run on the local PC.
Provided that the Web-based application can authenticate the student as having the right to participate in the class, delivering the class through a standard Web browser offers a great deal of flexibility to both the professor and the student. The professor can take advantage of all the new technology bells and whistles to make the class engaging - podcasts, YouTube video, Second Life and so on. And the student can take the class anywhere, without worrying about having to be at a certain computer.
But what about when it comes to evaluating the student? Simple authentication with a password is not enough. We'd rather not admit it, but people do cheat, and the higher the stakes, the more likely it is. When it comes to securing the test, stronger security is required, and that is going to require some code on the client computer.
The challenge is that the service should make this necessary client-side code easy to manage. And not just for IT, but for the actual users. This means there really shouldn't be much for the users, whether professors or students, to do with the software on their computer. The Web-based services should manage everything, including software updates.
Of course, challenge is just another word for opportunity, and we're thinking hard about how to meet this one, particularly in light of Vista. Stay tuned....
My posts here are usually about computer security, online testing and distance learning trends. Today, however, we're taking a break from our regular scheduled programming to bring you a few technology blogs that, while not strictly about education, I think you'll enjoy.
Creating Passionate Users. The principal writer on this blog is Kathy Sierra, the co-creator of the bestselling Head First series. Posts do tend to be long, but well worth your time. From the About page:
"The Creating Passionate Users bloggers are all fascinated by brains, minds and what science can tell us about the practice of making users passionate about their lives and tools."
Colleges aren't the only place to find online initiatives. Check out this article about the Maine Distance Learning Project, which aims to ensure that remote students are offered the same educational opportunities as students in more populated areas.