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About wrenches, hammers, and the 4A.

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated..." - From the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

One of the most notable effects of COVID-19 was society's normalizing of remote working, and distance learning. In the span of three months, America's white collar workforce and higher education students were shoved, from required in-person office work and classes, to mandatory "work from home" (WFH) and distance learning. "Nice jammies bud, but please go on mute, your dog is barking."

In post-haste fashion, certifying bodies and higher education institutions scrambled to modify their processes and procedures linked to the bane of every student's existence (and of many teachers that are saying "cheers here" right now) - exams.


Call them exams, tests, quizzes, assessments, check-ups, or inspections; these anxiety catalysts have generated more types of hive breakouts and other associated psychosomatic reactions than can be reasonably listed on WebMD. They are the tool that is used to measure a student's level of comprehension and mastery of a topic; and the proctor is the entity that gives them worth, by validating they were administered with integrity.


Were it not for proctors, exams would be no more than homework, completed within an arbitrary timeline, and without reference materials at hand.


Requiring distance learning meant that in-person teachers and proctors had to be replaced by capable remote learning management software (LMS) solutions. Just like that, automated virtual proctoring became the new standard in higher education distance learning. Awesome! (Right?) The coolest technology and solutions oftentimes bring some unintended consequences, and virtual proctoring solutions are no exception.


Now, in the seemingly post COVID-19 world, some special features of distance learning remain. One of the consequences of hastily introducing virtual proctoring solutions to the remote learning landscape has little to do with their technology per se, but rather how their capabilities and features are used. Who knew that a laptop mounted 4K camera could cost millions of dollars in lawsuits, per student enrolled in any of their distance learning courses? Please cue the latest "... and find out" meme...


WFH, distance learning, and virtual proctoring borrow windows into the most private spaces of their users; their homes and rooms. In the case of virtual proctoring, this window into the student's space is required, so that the proctoring technology can validate the integrity of the administering process; and that is where technology, policies and process meet the 4th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.


Technology, processes, and policies can and must work in harmony to:

  • Protect the reputation of the higher education institutions that use them in distance learning.

  • Respect the privacy of their students.

Walking a mile in the shoes of a higher education institution, the need to offer distance learning, and by consequence require virtual proctoring is inarguable. But if your technology, process, and policy triad requires your students to undergo a modern day TSA-level strip search of their person, with a side of video room inspection a la CSI; at least one, if not all three elements of the triad is off.


In the same way that no one is ever happy to see a cop "blue light special" when they are caught speeding, distance learning students are not a fan of proctoring technology. This is specially true when technology, process and policy triads are proven to infringe on 4A protection.


Policies and procedures invasiveness, is inversely proportional to LMS and virtual proctoring technology capabilities. (Ok, I could not resist sounding like a math teacher.)

If virtual proctoring technology can...

...then policies and procedures

Validate student identity without the need of a high resolution image

Need not require a full video of the student's face and other private identifiable information (PII), or for that matter, more cameras than there are walls in the student's room.

Determine if sound is coming from voice, music or an electronic device by analyzing patterns and levels

Need not require a Grammy level recording of the exam process containing student PII

Lock down access to all browsers and identify interaction with other electronic devices without collecting PII

Need not require a full scan of the student's room.

The list can go on, but you get the general idea. There are remote proctoring solutions available today that protect the reputation of the institution while respecting the privacy of the students. They are robust, and don't place undue burden on policies and procedures to make up for mistakes or shortcomings in their technical design. At this point, not using privacy-respecting remote proctoring solutions is asking to exercise your legal team to engage in a "division 4A" fight that is neither required, nor desired.


LMS and virtual proctoring solutions are, and will be, part of our educational ecosystem for the foreseeable future. Establish a technology, policy and procedure triad that is technically sound, robust and minimally invasive. You want to spend your resources teaching and educating students; not a jury of your peers.


Of course, if you want to use a crescent wrench because you don't have a good hammer; adjust your process and procedures and go on. We will WFH (watch from home) in our jammies.



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