Posted by John Kleeman
A new way of proctoring certification exams is rapidly gaining traction. This article compares and contrasts the old with the new.
Many high-tech companies offer certification exams for consultants, users and implementers. Such exams often require candidates to travel to a bricks-and-mortar test center where proctors (or invigilators) supervise the process.
Now, however, online proctoring is becoming prevalent: each candidate takes the exams at his or her home or office, with a proctor observing via video camera over the Internet. Two of the world’s largest software companies, SAP and Microsoft, offer online proctoring for their certification programs, and many other companies are looking to follow suit. This article explains some of the pros and cons of the two approaches.
Factors for choosing online proctoring
- Reduced travel time. Candidates can take an exam without wasting time traveling to a test center. This is an important saving for their employers – often the test sponsor’s customers.
- Convenient scheduling. A candidate can choose a convenient time, for example after the kids have gone to bed or when work pressures are lowest. Usually one needs to book in advance to attend a test center, but it’s often possible to schedule an online proctor at short notice.
- Fairness. With an exam at a test center, some people will have had a short journey and others a longer one. Some might have experienced a traffic jam or other hassle getting there. This gives an advantage to those who happen to live closer, as they will have less anxiety. An online experience reduces the variability of the exam experience.
- Accessibility. Candidates take online proctored exams on their own computers, using their normal accessibility aids such as screen readers or special input devices, whereas these require setup at a test center. Some test centers only provide their own (often limited) tools for providing accommodations, so candidates are working with unfamiliar tool sets. This places them at a disadvantage. Also, for people with certain disabilities, travel is a major inconvenience.
- Keeping certifications up to date. If candidates have to travel to a test enter, a test sponsor can’t realistically require an exam to be taken more than once every few years. But in today’s world, products and job skills change very quickly, so certification risks being out of date. The availability of online proctoring allows update exams (assessing candidates on what has changed since their last exam) to be taken as products change, which makes the programme more valid.
- Greater authenticity. The more authentic assessments are, the more they measure actual performance. See Will Thalheimer’s excellent paper on measuring learning results for more on this. Assessing someone in their work environment with online proctoring is more authentic and so will likely measure performance better than putting them in a test center.
- Standardized computers. While online proctoring requires the candidate to have an appropriate computer, internet connection and webcam that they know how to use, test centers provide a computer that is already set up. For most certification programmes, it’s fair and reasonable that candidates use their own computers (often called BYOD – Bring Your Own Device). But for some programmes, this might be less fair. For example, in professions where IT literacy is not required, it might not be fair to expect people to have access to a PC with webcam that they know how to use.
- Very long exams. In online-proctored exams, the candidate is usually forbidden from taking a break for security reasons. Most exams can be taken in one sitting, but if exams are longer than three hours, a test center makes sense.
- Regulation. Some regulators or government authorities may require delivery of an exam with a physically present proctor at a test center.
- Geographical convenience. In some cases, test centers may be close at hand. For example, a university might have all its candidates already present, or, for some test sponsors, candidates may all live in metropolitan areas close to test centers.
- Language. In theory, a candidate could schedule an online proctor in his or her own language, though in practice many programs only offer English-speaking proctors. A test center may well not have proctors who can speak different languages, but typically will speak the local language.
- Security. You might think that the security is stronger in a test center than with online proctoring. However, over the years there have been many incidents where face-to-face proctors have coached candidates. Online proctoring also makes it feasible to administer exams more frequently, which helps security by making impersonation harder. This is a big subject, and I’ll follow up with a blog post about security.
I’d welcome your thoughts on any other factors for and against online proctoring.