Remote Teaching and Assessment: Some Considerations and Concerns for Exam Monitoring and Online Testing

As we’ve embarked on an unprecedented journey to quickly pivot our campus classes into remote learning experiences, many questions have arisen (and continue to arise) about how to ensure the integrity of our academic environment, with a big part of that discussion around student assessment.

Because of the many challenges in “proctoring” students’ exams in a remote learning environment, the Provost’s office strongly encourages instructors to consider other methods of assessing student learning outcomes in lieu of proctored exams, including, but not limited to, open-book exams, projects, papers, reflections, etc. You, as the instructor, do have the freedom to make changes to your original plans for exams and to decide how you will be evaluating student learning in your course. It is important that you notify students of any changes you are making to the syllabus as a result as soon as possible.

For those who feel strongly that a proctored exam is the only practicable way to evaluate learning in their course, DELTA enabled Respondus Lockdown Browser and Respondus Monitor in Moodle as ways to monitor (but not truly proctor) an exam. As we get started in this endeavor, it appears to be working from the technical perspective; however, you and your students are effectively the beta testers of how this tool works within the current situation. 

Considering the non-ideal circumstances that many students and faculty are facing, including low bandwidth, shared internet connections and lack of the technology at home, we want to acknowledge that monitoring exams using Respondus may be challenging, and share with you some of the questions and concerns we’ve heard, and things we have learned, within the first week of the deployment of this tool.

  1. Neither Respondus LockDown Browser nor Respondus Monitor will work for all of your students. (See the limitations section at the end of our Knowledge Base article.) We have had questions already from faculty about what to do when not all of their students have webcams; and our answer has been and will remain, for those students, do not use Respondus Monitor. (Respondus Lockdown Browser, but not Respondus Monitor, will work without a webcam.)  If you have questions about differences between these tools, email learntech@ncsu.edu.
  2. Yes, it is technically feasible to give a monitored exam to some of your students (the ones who have broadband internet and webcams), then create a separate exam for those who cannot use one or both of the Respondus products. You can duplicate tests in Moodle without having to start from scratch (contact learntech@ncsu.edu for assistance), or create an alternative assessment for students for whom remote test monitoring is not a workable solution. As you do with make-up exams in a more typical semester, you should do your best to assure that separate exams are reasonably equivalent in content and difficulty.
  3. For students who do not have a webcam, the Libraries expects to have a limited number available for long term loan by May 28 (the original date was April 9 but delivery is delayed). A limited number of Windows and Mac laptops are also available for long term loan. Long term loan equipment may be requested from the Libraries’ Coronavirus Response page.
  4. Respondus does not work when virtual machines are detected on a system, thus will not work with the NC State Virtual Computing Lab (our campus’s virtual computing environment).
  5. Respondus does not work on Linux machines. Read more about students’ system requirements for Respondus to work.
  6. There have been concerns raised by both instructors and students about what happens when student internet connections time out during an exam and/or students get disconnected.  If the disruption is brief, then Respondus will attempt to reconnect and the exam can continue.  If the disruption is more than a few minutes, students will need to restart the browser and attempt the exam again. With some students sharing internet connectivity and experiencing unreliable internet connectivity, this is a real possibility, and if this happens to your student, please allow them the opportunity to retake the exam.  Another approach is to provide a larger testing time window. For example, they can take it anytime within a four- or eight-hour time period.
  7. Students are raising concerns about ambient noises occurring when they are taking exams that they are not able to control; specifically, dogs barking, people talking and moving about a shared space, etc. Many of our students are now with their families, and the reality is that they are not always able to keep a pet, a parent, a sibling or other disturbance away from their exam. They are worried about how noises, or even movements that they make during an exam period, may potentially be flagged by Respondus as “suspicious activities, anomalies, or situations where the data is of too low of a quality to analyze.” We want faculty to be very aware of their concerns. 
  8. Respondus Monitor results include flags at times when it is recording what it considers an anomaly that the instructor may wish to review by watching the video. Respondus does not “interpret” the anomaly; that anomaly may be something as innocent as a pencil being picked up off the floor, a dog barking, a cat jumping on the desk, a student stretching, a student looking around in pensive thought, etc. Thus, instructors must review the video. Respondus has a guide to understanding flags, milestones and review priority and Marian University has a short guide to reviewing exam results.
  9. Remember that flags do not equal cheating. However, if, upon reviewing the student video, you feel that an academic integrity violation has occurred, you should follow the steps to report it that are outlined here by NC State’s Office of Student Conduct. Another link to review from the Office of Student Conduct is Academic Integrity and the Online Environment

We appreciate your patience as we learn to best support your teaching and assessment with this new software. We know you will show the same patience with your students as they navigate potentially stressful situations around monitored exams.  This week, we have really appreciated the thoughtful questions we have been getting from faculty members, and how you are working with your students to ensure that assessment is fairly and equitably considered for each of your students’ unique situations.