One of the most-questioned aspects of online learning has always been the process of assessing students. Many critics have long held that it's easier for students in these programs to cheat on exams, especially if they're able to take them from home.
That's where services like ProctorU come in.
Founded in 2008 by CEO Don Kassner and COO Jarrod Morgan — the former president and director of technology, respectively, for Andrew Jackson University, an online institution based in Alabama — ProctorU currently has 550 employees and offices in Alabama, California, Arizona, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Texas. The general idea is that the organization has a proctor oversee an online student's exam by monitoring their activities via webcam and a remote link to their computer, in addition to authenticating their ID.
On Tuesday, the company announced that its ID authentication will get even more intricate with a new Ucard service meant to stave off issues like Title IV fraud rings that enroll under false IDs, gain access to funds, and then leave. "It’s a big problem, but it’s one that not a lot of schools like to talk about," Kassner told Education Dive. "If someone’s stealing from you, you don’t really want to tell the market."
With seven institutions already using the product, Education Dive caught up to Kassner to learn more about Ucard, how ProctorU authenticates IDs, and how online learning is coming back to campus.
Do your client institutions span the full spectrum of nonprofit and for-profit?
DON KASSNER: It’s largely the traditional schools—University of Florida, Tennessee, schools like that in the state-run systems. We thought when we first got into it that it would be the for-profits, but they really have been slow to adopt this technology for whatever reason. I think, in part, [at schools] like University of Phoenix, assessments haven’t really driven their process. They do a lot of work on campus, and they have a lot of project-based work. So this is mostly really traditional schools that are concerned about making sure their online programs are comparable to their on-campus. So if you get a degree from University of Florida online, that should be the same as University of Florida on campus. And that’s really why they’ve come to us to help them with that.
Have you seen a lot of interest from MOOC providers?
KASSNER: We work with Udacity. We work with Coursera. I thought a couple of years ago that it would be really big, but it’s just really small pieces here and there. I know Coursera has done a lot of their own stuff with their own ID. To the extent that they want their courses accepted at colleges and universities, that’s where the proctoring comes in. With Coursera, we went through the ACE evaluation process to get their courses certified, and the proctoring was a big piece of that. But it doesn’t seem like a big piece of their model right now.
Tell me about the UCard product that just launched.
KASSNER: The idea is that we’re verifying your ID. So you’d go to campus to get your campus card, you show up, you present your credentials, they verify who you are, then you get your card. In a sense, that’s the same thing we’re doing online. You show up, we see you, we verify who you are, and then we create this record—this digital signature that you can use throughout the course. So it’s not a physical card, per se. It’s a conceptual card that can be used at multiple points during the course to make sure you are who you say you are.
What are some of the processes that you go through for the ID?
KASSNER: It’s a multifactor process. When the webcam comes up, I can see you, so the very first thing I do is snap a photo so I’ve got a record of that. And then you’re going to show me your government-issued ID. I’m going to look at the picture and the picture I just took of you, and I’m going to check the address to make sure it matches our records. Just like you would do when you went to a counter, check the ID.
And then we’re going to do a secondary step. In the U.S., we use a company called Axiom. They’re basically knowledge-based questions. The idea is there are consumer records out there on all of us, and they have access to that database—there are several companies that do. They access that database and they issue challenge questions to you like, “When you lived at 123 Maple St, how many bedrooms were there?” “Which of the following phone numbers have you been associated with?”
They’re really questions that are unique to you and your history that are very difficult to fake. And it doesn’t require any registration on your part. It’s a pretty independent evaluation of you, so if you add that with the photo and the ID check, it’s a pretty high level.
We’ve also added one additional piece to that specifically for colleges. It’s a biometric. And what it is, is a keystroke. What we ask the student to do is to type about a 160-character paragraph. Essentially, it’s an academic integrity statement. “I’m Don Kassner. I’m enrolled in this course. I’m going to do all the work.”
Each of us has a very different typing pattern. The most conservative records say that about one in 10,000 have the same or close typing pattern. It’s pretty unique. So the nice thing is that we’ve watched you created that biometric, and now the college can use that at any time. If they want to put that in an assignment, at the beginning of the assignment, we can now ping that against the original record and determine with a high percentage whether it’s the same person. That gives colleges and universities the chance to really make sure that people who are doing the coursework are present when it’s being done throughout the course. They’re getting real excited about that for attendance tracking purposes.
I was actually going to ask about biometrics, because I didn’t know if you all had looked into fingerprint scanning or anything like that.
KASSNER: The great thing about the way we’ve set this up is we can adopt any of those technologies. The nice thing about the keystroke at this point is it’s very benign. In other words, it’s not really being used anywhere else, so it’s very specific to academia and doesn’t have any other privacy risks associated with it. I think fingerprints are probably one of the next things that’ll come up. Certainly almost every device now is being made with a thumbprint scanner. It’ll be interesting to see how we fold that in.
I also think that facial recognition is probably a big one. There are still some issues with it, but I think the technology is getting better. The nice thing is we’ll be able to adopt that, especially with the fact that we’re taking a photo. We could easily compare, the next time you show up, that photo with this photo electronically and match them.
Where do you see the future of digital assessment and distance ed heading?
KASSNER: It’s interesting. To me, everything’s coming back to campus. Online was so new 10 years ago, when you had all these online universities that were popping up and the idea that you could enroll a student anywhere, anytime. I still think students would much rather go to school at home, or close to home. I was talking to somebody yesterday and they said the data is still showing that students will still select an online university that’s close to home, within 90 miles.
We’ve been starting to see schools coming to us not to proctor their online courses, but to proctor their on-campus courses. When I was faculty at San Jose State, I used a product called Aplia, which was for economics. I loved it because I could give all my assignments to my students through this electronic medium and I didn’t have to grade it. It’s autograded. It’s a gradebook. So instead of going, “Geez, I need to grade all this stuff, let me give three assignments,” I could give an assignment every week and track their progress. But when it came to exam time, I still had to go print it out, go to the copy machine, make a bunch of copies, get the scantrons—it was still kind of the old way of doing it.
I think what faculty are realizing is, if I can do all this stuff on Blackboard through the course, why can’t I just do the test? One of our clients, University of Florida, came to us last year and said, “We want to start doing on-campus courses.” I’m really seeing it coming back onto campus, where with all of these tools, we’re really going to end up with this flipped classroom or this really blended model where you enroll on campus, and some of the work, you’re going to do on-campus, some work you’re going to do off-campus. You’re going to get the best of both worlds almost in every course.
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