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Due to coronavirus, many places have been forced to shift to remote online exams. Have any schools issued guidance about the acceptability of proctoring online exams by requiring students to use a webcam to share a video of themselves taking the exam? For instance, one could have students join a group video call where teaching assistants can monitor the video stream of students taking the exam.

I could imagine there might be privacy concerns about this practice. Have any universities either adopted this practice for some of their exams or prohibited this practice?

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    For some age groups in some places this has traditionally been forbidden. There are probably fewer issues if the students are legal adults. Not all university students are of "majority" age. But, I suspect that the practice is regulated differently by different institutions. But requiring such a system will probably be troublesome. – Buffy Mar 27 '20 at 19:24
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    Not everybody has a webcam, so I hope students are aware in advance of this policy, especially now that the virus has spread, going out to buy non-vital stuff is forbidden and getting stuff delivered is probably harder. – Evariste Mar 27 '20 at 20:16
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    Most laptops have cameras though... – Solar Mike Mar 27 '20 at 20:24
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    @SolarMike I didn't have a laptop for quite a few years, since I preferred not to take notes on one. In fact, the only reason I have one now is my department gave it to me as part of my PhD package. – Azor Ahai -him- Mar 27 '20 at 21:03
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    My wife, before this all went down, had to do this for a few classes (she's in a mostly onsite program that has an online class each semester, basically). So it is an established practice, but she agreed to it at the beginning of the semester. There are ethical issues with springing it upon someone mid-semester, but these are exceptional time, and I am not sure the ethical concerns are so insurmountable it would be inappropriate. – Azor Ahai -him- Mar 27 '20 at 21:06
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This puts students on unequal footings. Not all students have access to webcams, a stable internet connection, or even more basic, access to a quiet room where they can work for several hours straight with no interference, for example. And what about disabled students who need special accommodation, e.g. someone to write down the answers for them because they can't move their arms, blind students who need other kinds of accommodation, etc?

Where I work, university is a public service and we can't sweep such issues under the rug. Maybe you can, but you should think long and hard about whether you want to.

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  • I don't see what changes for special-need students. They needed special accommodations before, and they will need them now. They were never on an equal footing to begin with. – Federico Poloni Mar 28 '20 at 19:43
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This sounds comparable to any other assignment where students must record a video of themselves, so I don't see how universities could have a problem with it. I also don't think it is any different than an in-person exam, such as an oral exam. But there are some possible logistical pitfalls, that I would be worried about:

  • Technical difficulties -- How do you expect to proceed if the connection is bad between the student and the TA? Is one TA monitoring several videos at once, which greatly increases the likelihood of bandwidth problems? You will have to have a plan for this. In reality, preventing cheating in the case of technical difficulties would not be feasible, so you just have to hope to minimize this somehow. And you don't want students fiddling with their computer, webcam, and internet settings during the exam, as that could be a serious distraction.

  • Students have a computer in front of them -- OK, so you made students get on webcam with you, but now they have a computer in front of them during the test. They could have the computer, for example, open to a cheat sheet. Have you thought about this? Is it allowed? I think you would have to:

    1. Allow cheat sheets for all students;

    2. Set guidelines surrounding whether students can be touching / typing on their computer during the exam. (But see "technical difficulties" for an exception that needs to be made -- there has to be some line of communication open between the student and the TAs in case the TAs cannot see them...)

  • Access -- You can't assume that every student has a webcam (and demand for webcams online has spiked recently, as well as delivery times for such items). So you need to give students a chance to inform you if they don't have access to a webcam, and come up with an alternative solution.

  • Privacy -- It probably goes without saying but I don't think students should be able to see each other on the webcams. That seems too much. Additionally, you should give students guidelines to make sure they have a webcam setup that doesn't reveal personal details about the inside of their homes, instruct them to put a desk against a blank wall if that makes them feel more comfortable, etc.

Overall, I see a lot of possible logistical challenges, especially technical difficulties, as well as the exact rules surrounding how the web camera must be angled, whether students can touch the computer, have something open on the computer, etc. So evaluate whether despite the logistical challenges, it is worth it.

An alternate approach is to have each student identify a "proctor" who signs a form saying that they proctored the test and ensured that rules were followed. However, this comes with its own set of challenges, and doesn't eliminate cheating in the same way since the proctor might just be a student's parent. Still, this is the approach we took for a recent exam that we unexpectedly administered online, and I think it turned out fairly well, with no obvious cases of cheating.

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I assume some university has adopted this practice, otherwise businesses like this one or this one would not exist.

(Not affiliated in any way, I am just pointing out they exist.)

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  • Or this one, which my university has used for online courses for years. – JeffE Mar 28 '20 at 20:02

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