Are remote proctored exams most viable way of assessment amid COVID; experts weigh in

  May 14, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has escalated the role of technology in every sector including education. As the country battles the second wave of the pandemic, universities and schools are looking to override the long haul of uncertainty and worries by adopting technological tools.  

Recently, the Institute of Company Secretaries of India (ICSI) had to re-conduct the Company Secretary Executive Entrance Test, (CSEET) 2021 for candidates who faced technical issues during the exam held on May 8 through remote proctored mode. The exam was conducted again on May 10.

As the education sector prepares for prolonged online education and online open-book exams, those critical of the sanctity of traditional evaluation systems for promoting rote learning are favouring proctored exams over offline exams as a reliable option. 

Skipping or cancelling examinations would have negative consequences on the future of the students, said Niranjan Hiranandani, Provost – HSNC University, Mumbai. Hence, it becomes crucial to adopt an alternative method of assessment, he adds.  

Ensures assessment with diligent monitoring 

“At the beginning of the pandemic, institutes were doubtful about managing remote exams for students. Gradually, however, many institutes have quickly adopted the viable option of AI-enabled remote proctored exams to assess students. Remote proctoring provides a viable alternative to physical exam invigilation. Exam invigilators can monitor the activities of students in the form of audio, images, videos, and screen activities. The most important improvement we have observed is quick result processing and flexibility in defining exam patterns with technology-driven exams,” Hiranandani added.

Reeta Sonawat, member of advisory council, Association of Indian Educacy Schools (AIS), said, “As an alternative way, what we can adopt is a 360-degree assessment methodology, which takes into consideration 50 per cent of online and 50 per cent continuous assessments. For online cognitive ability assessment, students could be assessed on answers to application-based questions. In addition, they can submit a mind map of the topic, which will give a teacher a clear understanding of the student’s mindset. Our education system is exam-oriented and this ensures that students adhere to a daily routine. It is important that some assessment pattern is put in place.  

“Remote proctoring is efficient, secure, cost-effective, and evaluations are accurate, reliable, and timely. Especially at a time like now, when health is a priority and we must maintain safe physical distance, institutions need to implement technology to maintain academic timelines.” 

No loss of answer scripts or chances of misevaluation  

“Online exams provide a clear advantage due to the nature of technology that is far easier to track and manage from a centralised secure server, as opposed to managing physical test centres across the country. There is no chance for paper leaks, loss of answer scripts during transit, or missing evaluating a question. Since April last year, MeritTrac has remotely proctored over five million assessments for various institutes and none of the exams had to be rescheduled or called off,” said Sujatha Kumaraswamy, CEO, MeritTrac Services. 

Vaidyanathan Jayaraman, Dean – UG programs and professor of supply chain operations, data sciences & analytics at SP Jain School of Global Management, said, “The software tool should ensure biometric authentication based on ID scan, face scan and a 360-degree view of the room in which the candidate is taking the exam. A crucial feature that can make this tool authentic, reliable and trustworthy is the feature of a lockdown mechanism the second the exam taker tries to access any applications or web-browsers during the test.”  

Jayaram believes if these features can be combined with a single sign-on functionality that can be seamlessly integrated with a learning management system, the tool becomes trustworthy. The student experience before, during and after the exam is not only the deal breaker but a game-changer. 

Open books exams – another alternative  

Akhil Shahani, Managing Director, Thadomal Shahani Centre for Management, and CEO of ask.Careers, considers open-book exams to be a better alternative.

“While proctored exams ensure that students solve a question paper, much similar to the traditional format without cheating, in open-book format, students are given complex problems to solve that require them to refer to different concepts from the subject and apply their minds to solving the problem. The focus is assessing the students’ understanding of the topic and not how much they have memorised,” he added.   

The extension of lockdown has led to the postponement of numerous big examinations at beginning of the outbreak last year. Students have been in a state of constant uncertainty owing to exam dates and the closure of education and coaching institutes. While online exams can be held for entrance tests or semester exams, they may not be a viable option for school exams, especially board exams. 

Not a viable solution for rural areas 

“Online proctored exams in rural setup amid COVID is not possible, especially in school education, as there are many problems such as less connectivity, limited access to e-gadgets, less awareness among teachers. Students in rural areas are not well-versed with handling technology and if anything goes wrong then they could be at a great academic loss,” said Sudhershan Punia, lecturer, District Institute of Education and Training (DIET), Jhajjar, Haryana.   

Schools have been closed down in most areas across the country and the government has recommended moving to online learning as a stop-gap arrangement to avoid disruptions in academic calendars.  

“Online proctored board exams are not a viable option as conducting online exams will lead to all sorts of misconducts, students who have studied throughout the year and not studied throughout the year will be at par, which is not the right thing. Besides, the arrangements required to conduct online exams will cost a fortune to the government and we cannot ignore the fact that many areas of India are still devoid of internet connectivity,” said Kumar Tarun Narula, Class 12 student, SAI International School Bhubaneshwar. 

COVID-19 accelerated technology adoption 

While the technology was available for a long time, the shift from traditional exam to online was triggered during the last year. The benefits of proctored exams such as accuracy, flexibility, cost-effectiveness, secure, scalable, fast and personalised assessments are designed to fulfil the gap while minimising the dependency on physical infrastructure.  

“It becomes essential to educate and familiarise students and examiners with the advantages and good practices of proctored exams to make students feel conformable,” Sunil Kumar Agarwal, Head, Portfolio, Test Prep & Assessments at Pearson India. 

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