Vasant Govardhan recently wrote his institute examinations from home. His mobile phone had to be put on silent mode throughout the two-hour examinations and he had to ensure that all the doors, windows are closed so that he is not distracted.
He couldn't afford to let his attention be diverted, lest he moved his eyes or hands. If he did, the exam would be interrupted, and he would be checked for any attempt to cheat.
Govardhan is among several thousand students across the country for whom online proctored exams are becoming the new normal.
“It was a new experience for me and I had to be extra careful to not take any phone calls or stare away from the screen. But this is better than the exams getting delayed,” he added.
Amidst the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, students are now giving examinations from their respective homes while being monitored remotely. Also called remote proctoring or online proctoring, the lockdown has forced institutes to shift to this model to seek an alternative to physical examinations.
Also read: Live updates on Coronavirus pandemic in India
According to industry sources, a total of almost 50 different examinations across institutes have been held through this medium so far in April and May 2020. While this is a popular method of conducting examinations globally, India is still a nascent market for online proctoring.
What is online proctoring?
A regular examination is conducted on pen and paper or on a computer in a designated test centre. There are invigilators present in the centres to monitor the candidates during the tests.
Online proctoring on the other hand, involves students writing the examinations on their personal laptop at home. Using artificial intelligence (AI), any physical movement including that of the hands, face and even the retina is closely monitored.
Saritha Vijayanagar, Head- Delivery & Operations of testing firm MeritTrac Services told Moneycontrol that the recent onslaught of uncertainties has urged universities and other institutions to consider moving their high-stake examinations online.
“Examinations with remote proctoring are the most popular as institutions want to ensure authenticity and maintain uprightness. Universities conduct majority of these exams between March and May, in line with their academic calendar. MeritTrac has enabled several exams through their remote/online proctoring offering that has greatly minimised the impact on students. We are holding semester examinations for the Manipal Academy of BFSI and are in discussions with an international institute for semester examinations for 20,000 plus students, amongst many others,” said Vijayanagar.
Students are required to have good internet speed to be able to do these tests through remote proctoring. Institutes are also providing mock tests so that the format of the test can be understood well.
Recently, IIM Sambalpur conducted its entrance examination for admissions into the 2020 batch through online proctoring. It was the first Indian Institute of Management (IIM) to conduct the tests online.
Mahadeo Jaiswal, Director of IIM Sambalpur told Moneycontrol that while the written examination was conducted through a third-party online proctoring system where the 400 students could login and write their answers in 300 words limit within 20-minute slot, the personal interviews are being conducted directly by the institute using video conferencing.
Jaiswal added that the institute has decided to conduct the end term examinations of the first year students online as well.
“We will now have 100 students appearing for the end term exam of 10-12 subjects through the same online proctoring system while sitting at home from different parts of the country,” he explained.
Similarly, law entrance test LSAT-India administered by US-based Law School Admission Council, a paper-pencil test since its inception in 2009, will be conducted entirely online and will be remote proctored by AI this year.
C Raj Kumar, Founding Vice Chancellor, OP Jindal Global University and Founding Dean, Jindal Global Law School said that the AI-assisted remote-proctoring solution includes the recording of the candidate’s examination for review with a view to protecting the integrity of the exam process.
But what about cheating?
In a remote proctored examination, AI and other related technologies constantly monitor the student behaviour. Headphones and airpods are not permitted during the test. Also, using the web camera of the laptop, all activities including movement of the eyes are monitored and there is also restrictions on the use of the laptop for other activities during the examination.
For example, if you thought you could Google the answers on another tab during the examination, you will automatically be logged off the test. Or if you shift your attention to your phone to check for answers, the exam will be disrupted.
Vijayanagar told Moneycontrol that in remote examinations, the audio-video and screen share feeds of the candidates are recorded for the entire duration of the test.
In addition to recording, she added that the system monitors the feeds for any suspicious activity using advanced video and audio analytics.
Once the test is over, the AI-based algorithm is used to calculate the credibility score by analysing the captured feeds. Things that could impact your scores include change of focus or tab, full-screen mode disabled, no face in front of camera or several faces in front of camera. Even if the microphone is muted or background noise, student scores would be impacted.
If the proctor suspects any dubious activity, he/she can alert the moderator via online chat or a phone call. Here, the credibility score generated could be an added parameter for evaluation.
If there is a power cut or low internet connectivity, the candidate can restart the test from where he/she left it to ensure that there is no time loss. However, to prevent misuse, Vijayanagar said that there is a limitation to the number of times a candidate can restart a test.
When it comes to IIM Sambalpur, Jaiswal said that the online proctoring system allowed each student to be monitored and invigilated through an AI tool so that they did not receive any external help for writing their answers. The interface also captures the retina movement of the prospective candidates.
“The exam disrupts even if an examinee attends a phone call. The recording of the student’s writing their exam along with the answer script were then sent to IIM Sambalpur for scrutiny. Keeping internet disruption in mind, we allowed students a 30 minute buffer time for the exam as well,” he added.
Here, in case a student was unable to attend the exam due to Internet connectivity issues for long hours, they would have been allowed to appear for the exam in an alternative slot. However, the questions in each slot would have been completely different as it is randomly allotted.
What is the way forward?
An addition to the online proctored exam is the online answer-script evaluation as well. Vijayanagar of MeritTrac said that institutions that wrapped up their examinations before the lockdown are now planning to implement onscreen marking solutions where scanned answer scripts can be marked by the evaluators remotely from home.
If the examination process has a buffer for the possible internet disruptions, this could be a hit especially for tests where candidates have to travel to another city or location. There could be cost savings in the form of no use of papers and physical infrastructure.
Eventually, education sector players said that this could translate in passing on the cost benefits to students in lower entrance fee or cheaper examination fee.
Jaiswal explained that this system of conducting tests online allows more transparency in the process. Moreover, with the help of AI, he said that no scope of human error in invigilation during the exam. Taking a giant leap, the IIM Sambalpur director said that the institute plans to conduct all examinations online, even after the situation normalises.Follow our full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here.