Screensharing, Webcams Help Cut Down on MOOC Cheating

One of the things keeping massive online open courses from becoming a standard for college instruction is the fact that there's no practical means at the moment to make sure that students do their own work instead of getting help from friends, classmates or Google. Before colleges and universities can move to granting course credit for MOOC work, there needs to be a way to make sure that students aren't cheating.

One approach currently being explored by a number of schools utilizing the learning platform Coursera is to ask students to travel to a nearby testing center where they're given an exam which is traditionally overseen and proctored. However, tying the courses to specific time and place might defeat the purpose of online courses since their selling point is time and location flexibility – very useful to those who are limited in their travel.

But now eavesdropping technologies worthy of the C.I.A. can remotely track every mouse click and keystroke of test-taking students. Squads of eagle-eyed humans at computers can monitor faraway students via webcams, screen sharing and high-speed Internet connections, checking out their photo IDs, signatures and even their typing styles to be sure the test-taker is the student who registered for the class.

According to The New York Times, this kind of digital eavesdropping could prove to be more effective and minimizing cheating and catching rule-breakers than live proctoring ever was. CS Professor at Vanderbilt University Douglas H. Fisher said that while installing what some might term spyware on a student's machine might make privacy advocates nervous, it presents no more of a violation than sitting in front of a teacher overseeing your test.

The product in question is offered by ProctorU. It utilizes not just keyboard and mouse tracking software, but also uses screen sharing and a digital camera to keep an eye on the students. The system is set to get its first test very soon, as the company just signed an agreement with Coursera to proctor one of its credit-bearing courses. Each student will be charged a $60 fee for the service.

Other remote proctoring services offer different solutions. At Software Secure in Newton, Mass., test-takers are recorded by camera and then, later, three proctors independently watch a faster-speed video of each student. Compared with services where proctors are monitoring students in real time, this combination of recording first and viewing later "gives greater latitude for the institution to adjust the timing of exams to whenever they want," said Allison Sands, Software Secure's director of marketing. The cost is now $15 per exam.

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