This article featuring Biometric Signature ID's BioSig-ID technology appeared in Dean and Provost.

 

When students enroll in classes online, how can you verify that they are really who they say they are? Verifying the identity of students who register for online courses presents challenges. And if your institution doesn't do it well, that enables them to behave in dishonest ways that range from cheating on tests to committing financial aid fraud.

 

eduKan, a consortium of six community colleges that provides online education in Kansas, verifies students’ identities using biometric signatures, said Mark Sarver, chief executive officer.

With BioSig-ID, students write their password with their computer’s mouse. No one else can duplicate factors in an individual’s password entry, including stroke speed, Sarver said.

“Most students never dream of cheating,” Sarver said. But those that do are likely to see BioSig-ID as a deterrent and choose to take their courses elsewhere, he said.

It takes students about four minutes to set up a BioSig-ID account, Sarver said. They can use it for all classes after that, across the consortium. Since many students take classes at multiple institutions, having one identification method for all of them is convenient for both the students and the institutions, he said.

Faculty members can set BioSig-ID to authenticate the student’s identity at times throughout the course. With proctored exams, a common solution to verifying the identity of online students, students produce identification only at the exam, Sarver said. But with BioSig-ID, the faculty member can ask them to verify their identity when they participate in discussions, when they submit assignments, and more.

Some students verify thousands of times and seem to use the tool as a game, Sarver said. But that’s fine because the system learns from every log-in. The rules become more stringent each time, he said.

To log in, the student has three attempts to enter the biometric signature and then gets locked out of the system. The image below shows the message a user will see if the log-in fails:

 

Institutions have the option of allowing students to reset the biometric signature or having them go through Biometric Signature ID, the company that provides the service, to reset it, Sarver said.

eduKan allows them to reset it themselves. To do so, they have to identify pictures associated with their account. eduKan watches those resets very closely, Sarver said. A common scenario for a fraudulent reset would be that a husband and wife are working together on a class. The husband might know the pictures but can’t replicate the biometric signature.

Faculty members like the system because they have help spotting attempts to cheat, Sarver said. They are alerted if students engage in suspicious behavior. For example, when students repeatedly verify their identity but then log out without completing any work, that can be a red flag that they are attempting to commit financial aid fraud, Sarver said.

Faculty members also like not having to arrange proctored exams, he said.

Of course, a student could log in and then have someone take the class for her. But that’s unlikely, Sarver said. Most people don’t have someone who would sit next to them and take a course for 16 weeks, he said. “If you have a content expert sitting by you taking a course, you’re probably learning something anyway,” he said.

 

Identity monitoring catches financial aid fraud

Without effective identity verification, online enrollment options can make it easier for financial aid fraud to be perpetrated. BioSig-ID’s reporting can help identify suspicious behavior. In one instance, it revealed that five “students” were all using the same IP address and the same password, said Jeff Maynard, president and chief executive officer at Biometric Signature ID.

Plus, the system can be used to track attendance. That gives officials an easy way to identify the last day a student who did not complete an online course attended it. They need that information to remain in compliance with federal laws.

eduKan created a shared database to catch financial fraud and Pell running. It is open to all 19 community colleges in Kansas, Sarver said.

When officials spot suspicious activity, they share it with academic officials at the institution.

 

Cost is reasonable

Institutions pay for BioSig-ID based on their unduplicated student headcount. Students can log in as often as they need to in multiple classes without impacting the cost, Maynard said. The more students enrolled at an institution, the lower the cost per student. But no matter the institution size, the cost per student is less than the cost of one proctored exam, Maynard said.

Student attendance reports are included in the cost, and institution officials can run them any time, Maynard said. Training is also included. Suspicious activity reports are extra, he said.

In initial studies of the product at 22 institutions, 98 percent of users had a positive experience using BioSig-ID, Maynard said. “It’s all about the user experience,” he said. “If you put too many barriers in front of people online, they are not going to come.”

 

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