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Does Your Instructor Know It's You? Issues in Verifying Online Student Identities-

Apr 2, 2010 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

In 2008, evidence came to light of extensive academic fraud involving over 61 athletes across 10 sports disciplines.  The case involved three members of the University Athletics Academic Support Services staff giving assistance during tests administered online.  The tests weren’t proctored or monitored by the professors, and in some cases students were allowed or encouraged to take tests on behalf of other students. 

While a recent study by Friends University shows that online students don’t cheat more than traditional students on the whole—and actually might cheat less—that doesn’t mean that online education isn’t vulnerable to cheating. And one major issue in preventing academic fraud in an online environment is demonstrated in the Florida case: the problem of student identity verification. How does your professor know it’s you taking that exam?

Student Online

Here are a few ways online schools and instructors have been working to make sure they know the identity of students taking exams.


One of the most straightforward ways is insisting all important exams be proctored. This means you have to physically go to the school and take your exam in a room monitored by a proctor. Some schools may be able to arrange for you to take an exam in a remote location near your home, but even if this is possible for your school, this method does defeat the purpose of distance education to an extent—you have to leave the house or your workplace and travel to a test location, which could be problematic. It’s not ideal, but it is an easy way for professors to be sure it’s you taking the test.

Blackboard Acxiom

Many online degree programs use Blackboard to administer classes. Blackboard recently adopted an identity verification process powered by Acxiom, a risk mitigation company. With this software, you’ll have to enter the answers to verification questions, presumably set by you when you sign up for class, that only you can answer. The school using the software controls when students have to authenticate their identity. Of course, this isn’t a perfect solution as students could always simply tell their stand-ins the answers to their proprietary questions.

Certified IP locations

Under this system, also administered by Blackboard, teachers can specify the IP address where the student will take the test. This may allow you to take your test at your home computer, but teachers may also choose a computer for you to test on and then require you to come to campus to take the test in a proctored environment.

Remote proctor systems

There are a few remote proctoring systems, some of which are still being tested. One is the Securexam Remote Proctor System. It’s a small unit that plugs into the student’s USB port, with a fingerprint pad for identification—professors can choose how often during the test students are required to use it to identify themselves. It also includes a 365-degree camera that will alert the professor to anything strange happening in the room—like someone else walking in or speaking during the test. Professors don’t have to watch live; they can watch a recorded version of the test after it’s been taken. The device is purchased by students, and costs somewhere between $100 and $200 in most cases.

Remote proctoring systems may be the best way to assure student identity while keeping the benefits of online education intact; but still, the system isn’t perfect and some students find the costs hard to bear. Online student identification will need to evolve as online education has, to become easy, cost-effective for students and schools, and flexible. With time, hopefully online schools will have a more effective and cost-efficient way to verify online student identity and prevent academic fraud.


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