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Online Proctoring


When the pandemic started, higher educational institutions were pushed to look for solutions to continue providing their educational services, without delay and the loss of quality. At the Open University of the Netherlands (OUNL), students were provided with an opportunity of online assessment using online proctoring.

Good practices

Online proctoring at OUNL Online proctoring is a form of location-independent digital assessment that involves online invigilation using special software (SURF). At OUNL online proctoring takes place using software that allows ‘live’ proctoring as well as ‘record-and-review’ proctoring, i.e., a recording is saved and assessed later. OUNL so far has only used the ‘record-and-review’ option making use of webcam recordings, screen recordings, sound recordings and internet visits. For the room scan, prior to the assessment, a second camera is required. No lockdown browser is used. For the initial review of the recordings, artificial intelligence is applied to ‘flag’ possible irregularities. All flagged fragments are subsequently assessed by a reviewer. Where irregularities are detected/confirmed by the reviewer, the recordings need to be sent to the Examination Board for further investigation. OUNL started out from the principle that setting up the system of online assessment, the interests of students are central, meaning: [1] there should be a balance between the domain specific quality of the examination and measures taken to protect the quality of the assessment process; [2] tools used must be user-friendly. OUNL is responsible for providing information and technological solutions to the students to make online assessment possible. However, a basic requirement is that students possess a PC/laptop, webcam and internet connection. Education and examination regulation When using online proctoring it is essential that students are informed beforehand about the procedures and what irregularities may be further investigated. The Education and examination regulation – established by the Examination Board clarifies the concepts of fraud, plagiarism and irregularities. Irregularities are defined as “(…) any event as a result of which the knowledge and ability of the candidate cannot be determined or the quality of the interim or final examination cannot be guaranteed” (Education and examination regulation, 2020).

Students find an information tile on their OUNL dashboard providing all information about online exams at home, as well as access to these exams in one place.

For students it is of course important to be informed about the rules and what constitutes a violation of the rules so that they can feel confident during the exam. This is especially important since there is no invigilator present who can take remedial action in case of irregularities - e.g. notify the student that no books are allowed lying on the desk - as might be the case with an exam at the study centre or at home with ‘live’ proctoring. Therefore, it is important also with a view on fairness, to clarify the rules to students every time before an exam starts. Student support in e-assessment software In addition, the proctoring software provides various student support opportunities prior to and during the exam:

• a test exam: during this test students can become familiar with the procedure and check whether their room meets the requirements. However, the number of tests is restricted in order to prevent ‘experimenting with fraud’;

• a system check: students have to check the system before the exam starts. The student will be given access to the exam only if this check has been successfully completed;

• a clear step-by-step instruction about the procedure (ID-check, room scan, materials check, and wrist/ear check) including a video instruction.

Trust in the system

Reasons why students do not choose for a ‘home’ exam, even if they would like to, are varied: because they do not have a suitably quiet environment at home, because they are ill-equipped technically or do not feel sufficiently technically skilled, or because they are afraid of making mistakes that will lead to the exam being declared invalid (Nielissen, 2021). This is undesirable. Every student should feel safe taking an exam at home. The OUNL is therefore responsible for organizing the examination process in such a way that: [1] every student is able to provide recordings of sufficient quality so that there is no doubt regarding the validity and students can trust the system; [2] the Examination Board is able to carry out its tasks: to investigate irregularities detected by the system, and to formulate sanctions if necessary.

Legal grounds for personal data processing

Last but not least, based on a court decision (De Rechtspraak, 2020), during the pandemic the legal ground for personal data processing in the frame of online proctoring at the OUNL was a public interest. After the pandemic it will be students’ consent as students will have a choice: taking an assessment at the study centre or at home. Both grounds are included (along with several others regarding other purposes) in the corporate privacy statement of OUNL (English version). Consent is “any freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous indication of the data subject’s wishes by which he or she, by a statement or by a clear affirmative action, signifies agreement to the processing of personal data relating to him or her” (art. 4 GDPR). An informed consent procedure has two purposes: [1] providing relevant information to students through an information letter, and [2] documenting students’ consent through a consent form. The GDPR establishes minimum information requirements (art. 13 and 14 GDPR). The template provided in the Appendix provides a full overview as well as instructions for filling it out (see also: Muravyeva et al., 2020). However, meeting these requirements does not necessarily mean information is complete and sufficiently clear to everyone. Therefore, ideally, when presenting the information letter there should be enough time left to consider the consent decision and make further enquiries through contact details included.

Furthermore, rec. 39 GDPR requires information to be “easily accessible and easy to understand, and that clear and plain language be used”. Plain language means that people can find information they need, understand it from the first time they read it, and use this information to perform a task, in the case at hand: take an informed decision (Redish as cited in Schriver et al., 2010). Art. 12 GDPR provides further suggestions regarding transparent information and communication, including that information “may be provided in combination with standardised icons in order to give in an easily visible, intelligible and clearly legible manner a meaningful overview of the intended processing”. A consent form is usually attached to the information letter and replicates the key points to ensure understanding. To record consent students can be asked to sign a paper or click a button in a web-form. When sensitive data (such as biometric data for identification in e-assessment) are collected then students need to provide an explicit consent meaning there should be a checkbox for this type of data in a consent form which needs to be explicitly ticked by a student.

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Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Education and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA). Neither the European Union nor EACEA can be held responsible for them.