I spy with my little eye... someone taking a test

There's a great post up at LibrarianShipwreck on the direction test proctoring has started to take alongside the growing interest in online education options, in particular with MOOC's (Massive Open Online Course) pursuing recognizable credit with college programs.  This caught my eye at first because as a Reference librarian I often receive requests by students to serve as a proctor, and patrons additional use our public computers for online classes or various assessments.
"Much of the irony of the idea of such Orwellian proctors is that it seems to run counter to some of the utopian visions attached to online courses. The evangels for online education frequently speak of how wonderfully freeing it can be: allowing students to work at their own pace, allowing students to take classes from all over the world, providing assistance to students who would be less comfortable in a traditional classroom environment. What such proctoring does is take the “freedom” granted by online education and buries it beneath a comically intrusive system in the name of guarding against cheating."
The post is in response to Behind the Webcam's Watchful Eye, Online Proctoring Takes Hold (Steve Kolowich, 15 April 2013, The Chronicle of Higher Education) which looks at the companies that proctor online tests.

After reading both the blog post and the original article I am SO GLAD that I have never tried to take any online/remote learning course requiring online proctoring.  Actually, it reminds me a bit of when I worked as a cashier in a gas station.  Periodically corporate management would review a full 8 hour shift, and at one point the shift belonged to yours truly.  This was actually a compliment on the part of my manager, he thought I would be the best example to represent the store.

Things I got written up for included:
  • Taking food out of the walk-in and eating it without paying.  This was my dinner I brought from home and was not even a product available in store.
  • Taking newspapers out of the store with out paying at the end of the night.  These were the left over papers that I was bringing to the recycling bin after appropriately processing them.
  • Taking donuts out of the building with out paying.  Now this one I will admit was a bit of a fuzzier area.  Generally ANY waste food (hot dogs from the grill, snacks past their sell by date) had to be counted, recorded, bagged and put into a box in the walk-in so that the store manager could VERIFY that we in fact threw out the amount of food recorded.  We had an in-store exception for the donuts which were delivered fresh every morning from a local donut shop and they were really phenomenal.  As long as we recorded the amount left at the end of the day and bagged them during normal closing clean up.
I had nothing to hide at all about my shift and that did not stop a formal write up against me.  Fortunately I did not receive reprimand for "giving away newspapers" (The Valley Advocate, a free publication), something previously included on past reviews.

I cannot image taking an online test with every move scrutinized. Even in a situation where I went out of my way to minimize interruptions I can think of a plethora of behaviors that could mark me as "potentially cheating" ranging from dealing with the cat attacking my hand on the computer mouse possibly even to my tendency to work various types of problems or make notes to guide my answer long hand on scrap paper.  I use a dual monitor set up which means I almost never have my focus on just one screen.  My significant other may yell a question to me from across the apartment (if he's not playing video games on his computer in the same room).  I could have to answer the front door.  The list goes on.  Short story: regular life is filled with distractions that these companies reportedly make note of.
"What we look for is eye movement," says Ms. Schnorr. "When the eyes start veering off to the side, that's clearly a red flag."

Kryterion notes "aberrant behavior"—a test-taker leaves his seat, or answers the phone, or some similar breach—in about 16 percent of the exams it monitors, said Mr. Dorman. This does not always mean the students are cheating, but it does mean the university will be notified.
On a personal note, while different companies attempt to stymie cheating in different ways, I would drop a class rather than take a test that involved installing software that allowed the proctors some amount of control over my computer.  I find it too high of a risk for breech of trust.  I also find one of the great benefits of at home learning is staying comfy... my home lounging clothing choices would need modification for the scruitny of a webcam.

So this is taking a test at home.  Things are distracting but you get through it.  Now what about people who use public facilities like libraries for their online courses and test taking.  The lucky who have their own laptops likely have a built in webcam and have control over installing software.  Those using the public computers may be out of luck and not even able to install the required software to take the test.

The really awesome thing about MOOCs is that they offer opportunities not otherwise attainable due to finances, resources, etc.  My own obsessions with privacy aside, I feel invasive observation is out of sync with the ideals of open learning.


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