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Oregon State Turns to Webcam for Proctoring Tests

Students in the vicinity of a physical campus can typically go into an institution's testing center and take their exams for free under the watchful eye of a proctor. Students who live farther afield or who can't take tests during standard university hours may struggle to find a testing center that meets the standards set by their school. Oregon State University has begun recommending a proctoring service that caters specifically to this latter group of test-takers. In December 2010, it added ProctorU to its list of acceptable proctors, which also includes certified librarians at a public library, college administrators, and "educational officers" at military installations, among others. The advantage of ProctorU, however, is that the exam can be taken online and at any time of the day.

Between April 1 and Aug. 1, the company proctored 537 exams, with a big increase in volume during April and May. All that's required is a reliable Internet connection with a minimum 768 Kbps download speed, a browser with Adobe Flash Player installed, and a Web camera and microphone connected to the computer.

This service, which costs between $20 and $25 per test, relies on the virtual presence of a human proctor who interacts with the student in real-time via streaming video and audio. The student shares his or her desktop with the proctor. Then the exam session begins after the student's identity is checked by the proctor online and the work area is examined through the Webcam. Just as in a physical testing center, the proctor monitors multiple students simultaneously; the online approach is done from one of the company's operations in Pelham, AL or Livermore, CA.

The student has to schedule the exam for a specific day and time, and ProctorU sends confirmation by e-mail.

"ProctorU allows our students to take exams anytime during their testing window. It also allows them the flexibility and convenience of taking their exams from home, work or while traveling," said Rick DeBellis, the assistant director of department and learner services at Oregon State.

DeBellis added that the service has been especially helpful to students in the military that may be away from educational centers located on their bases. He's impressed by ProctorU's "ease of access for our students," as well as the fact that the university doesn't have to pay to make the service available. At Oregon State the student picks up the fee.

Recently, ProctorU also added Carnegie Mellon University to its list of 90 customers, which also includes Kansas State University, Northwestern University, and the University of Mississippi. ProctorU posts the locations its institutional customers to a Google map.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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