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Trust and confidence - are you being invigilated?

Updated: Dec 31, 2023

The UK and worldwide press are writing more stories on exam invigilation malpractice. Parents, learners and press journalists are asking exam boards and their regulators: what can we do to protect learners and exam content?

The perennial coverage of exam results and malpractice is mutating into an incessant, corrosive issue. Exam boards and government agencies that were hitherto venerated and revered, are now finding long-standing practices constantly under the spotlight. Technology and rapidly evolving social norms are stripping away the mystique and opaque practices of exam creation and delivery, that few understand properly and fewer still can explain. The guardian of the supervised exam, the invigilator, faces huge responsibilities, but is only too aware of his or her own vulnerability.

Invigilation is a tough, often thankless job. Outside of a small group of providers with dedicated, centrally managed centres and invigilators, the role is too often considered as casual piecework – actually a gig economy placement, many years before that label entered the lexicon. Exam boards are therefore caught in a paradox in desiring trust and confidence for qualifications, whilst seeking to manage exam delivery costs: scan job ads for invigilation and you’ll see roles predominantly involving zero/ limited hours, minimum wage, one-way flexibility: not conducive to continual improvement and raising standards.

So, could it be done differently? What if someone invigilated as a full-time career choice, and knew all the good practice areas, could nip malpractice in the bud, and provide a service quality that reflects learner expectations and challenges in 2018?

Proven technology solutions are catalysing changes to increase invigilation quality and protect learners and exam content. With remote invigilation (remote proctoring), the invigilators (proctors) can be off-site at a central location and themselves subject to supervision, quality assurance checks and a support network. Learners sit their exam online in a traditional hall, test centre, pre-approved third-party venue or even at home. The proctor interacts with the learner and their screen in real time - checking the process, listening and watching for any untoward activity. Very similar to how tech support helps diagnose problems with your home computer. The proctors are officiating one-to-one or one-to-many learners, aided by technology that provides automated malpractice indicators to flag abnormal activity.

High-stakes services such as banking, passport issuance and doctor’s appointments are actively using the internet for face-to-face service encounters. The proven technology has existed for decades. While BT in the UK claim their videophones were operational in the 1970s, Skype is now in its 15th anniversary year, and Facetime is into its second decade.

Societal norms are also changing quickly: interacting with someone you don’t know on-screen has become culturally acceptable in many countries. Learners now expect technology-enabled security such as two-factor authentication or, face recognition by mobile phone, rather than remembering passwords.

As many lifestyles ebb away from a standard 9-5 Monday to Friday, learners want to reduce the time away from their family and workplace, and sit exams at a time which complements their lifestyle, rather than acquiesce to a bi-annual exam cycle. With these embedded societal changes rapidly evolving into norms, remote proctoring becomes ever more attractive for learners.

For exam owners, sourcing professional remote proctoring services anytime throughout the year alleviates real issues. UK awarding bodies, scaling up and internationalising, can access multi-time zone proctors or supplement traditional invigilation for additional assurance; apprenticeship end-point assessments gain auditable independence, creating clear blue water between training and assessment providers; and an invigilator’s pre-existing relationship with a learner can be verified through pre-event identity validation and a post-exam data trail audit.

Remote proctoring providers are rapidly learning from early adoption and academic studies (such as Rosalind James’ 2016 paper on remote invigilation in universities) to ensure exam programmes are still underpinned by trust and confidence. This includes the sourcing and training of remote proctors, ensuring their language and communication skills are quantified and benchmarked, keeping them up to date with local and international data protection and safeguarding laws, enhancing the knowledge and understanding of cultural norms, and committing remote proctors to continuous improvement programmes.

The James study noted that clearer communication was required in three areas: the service encounter, how learner data is used, and pre-empting technical issues, such as browser/ operating system choices.

With the rapid uptake of remote proctoring, regulators are seeking new policies and procedures to ensure exams are still performed in a fair, valid and reliable way, aligning with their conditions of recognition and regulatory principles. We should expect leadership from vocational and professional exam bodies, just as they did with on-screen exam delivery 15 years ago.

As usage increases and early adopter service issues are resolved, exam owners are preparing to implement remote proctoring in far greater numbers - providing trust, confidence and contemporary relevance, where traditional invigilation becomes more scrutinised for its shortcomings.


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