Biometrics technology isn't just a more effective way of monitoring online exams, but a cost-saving solution for colleges and universities. Traditional passwords could become a thing of the past.

Authentication of web-based exams is a foundational piece of online education's legitimacy, as many in ed-tech would tell you, and passwords and personal identification numbers are falling short. One in four online programs don't address plagiarism or cheating, amazingly, and many that do deploy traditional password-centric approaches that have proven to fall short in curbing various kinds of academic dishonesty.

Cheating in online college classes, long a point of criticism for those skeptical of online education, is being addressed at more than 75 percent of institutions that have adopted academic integrity policies for those nontraditional courses, according to a report released by WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies. Cheating in online education has become an issue of legislative interest in recent years. The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 and subsequent rule making included a regulation requiring accrediting agencies to make sure colleges were verifying students' identity.

What, exactly, goes beyond PINs and passwords? What can serve as a more reliable safeguard against schemes to cheat on web-based classes?

Biometrics is the answer for many colleges and universities on the leading edge of academic integrity policies. Instead of asking a student to punch in a series of letters and numbers, biometrics technology is reliant on a student's gestures and writing patterns that cannot be duplicated by another person.

Biometrics Signature ID, a Texas-based company, is at the forefront of higher education's shift to biometrics as a tool for fighting online course cheating.

Third-party testing, in fact, has shown the technology to be 99.8 percent effective — much higher than more traditional anti-cheating technologies found on U.S. campuses.

That effectiveness rate is more than triple the rate required by the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST), which has pushed for tougher policies around online course plagiarism.

“That gave us considerable bragging rights,” said Jeff Maynard, president and CEO of Bio Signature ID. “And it’s a point of pride for us. … People need to know which technologies are really secure and which ones aren’t. [Colleges] should understand how effective this can be.”

Biometrics, for example, would require a college student to write a series of letters and numbers in a designated box, using a cursor. If the online writing doesn’t match previously entered gestures and handwriting habits, the student won’t be permitted to enter the online quiz or test.

A consortium of Kansas community colleges called eduKan recently published the results of a study that looked into how effective Biometrics Signature ID’s technology could be.

The group of community colleges saw an 80 percent reduction in test proctoring costs. Colleges, on average, saw a budget gain of $121,600. Using the biometrics technology saved the schools money on proctoring exams too, as the cost of proctoring an exam in a class of 4,000 students is $152,000.

“It’s a real budgetary issue for colleges,” Maynard said. “So it’s not just a more reliable way to protect against [cheating on exams], but it makes perfect financial sense.”

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