Mr. Mirza is Registered Nurse, Bridgepoint Health, Toronto, and Dr. Staples is Coordinator, Ontario Primary Health Care Nurse Practitioner Program, and Assistant Professor, School of Nursing & Department of Family Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
Address correspondence to Eric Staples, DNP, RN, Assistant Professor, School of Nursing, Faculty of Health Sciences, McMaster University, 1200 Main St. West, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada L8N 3Z5; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Distance learning has become a new trend on which many institutions and students of all ages around the world rely. Distance learning often uses networked multi-media technologies, and it is increasing in reputation due to the flexibility it provides learners. Even nursing institutions globally now offer higher education programs via the Internet; some have an onsite campus class component, whereas others are completely online. Ontario’s Primary Health Care Nurse Practitioner (PHCNP) program combines both face-to-face and distance learning methods. In some areas of Ontario, where geographic boundaries are expansive between students, a predominantly distance delivery model has been formed. Students attend campus three to four times per semester to consolidate learning and to write their final examinations, whereas their midterm examinations are completed online and are invigilated via webcam.
Students are asked to purchase a basic webcam with a 640×480 resolution or higher. The webcam is intended to be attached to the screen of the computer or laptop so the student’s face can be seen. A student can take the examination from home. In a webcam-invigilated online examination, the start and end times of the examination are determined by the institution and students are expected to log into their off-site computers ahead of time to complete preexamination runs. The students are sent a practice examination link, which allows them to test their webcam 2 weeks prior to the online examination. These practice runs are monitored and ensure students are connected to the webcam and the Adobe Flash® Media Server that invigilates students through their webcams. The online examination is programmed in Adobe ColdFusion® software, which runs on basic port 80, making the examination as accessible as an ordinary Web page. Therefore, a student is not locked out from using other programs.
All webcam images are displayed and monitored on a large screen through the designated distance education headquarters at a central campus. Two or more invigilators monitor how often students change pages and how long they take to answer questions. The invigilators do not have a nursing background, but they are experts in the field of Web-based examination processes.
To increase examination security and to prevent copying and cheating, the server scrambles the examination questions so that each student attempts a different question at one given time. This is done to prevent students from logging onto chat systems to share answers with others. Students are also not allowed to leave the examination to go to the bathroom, although exceptions are made for students who are pregnant. If cheating is suspected, the student is disconnected from the examination and can reschedule the examination or present his or her case to the educational institution.
Although webcam-invigilated online examinations in the PHCNP program may seem to be a more convenient and flexible alternative to on-site examinations, their effectiveness in completely preventing cheating is questionable. Given that no literature is available in which the effectiveness of webcam-invigilated online examinations is tested or proven, the PHCNP program may be overestimating the effectiveness of webcam invigilation of online examinations. Therefore, this study aims to contribute to the scarce literature available on webcam invigilation of online examinations in general or specific to PHCNP programs, and provide valuable information to educational institutions seeking an alternative method for invigilating distance learning examinations.
Various search engines (e.g., Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, Medline, Social Sciences Index, and Education Resources Information Center) were searched to find literature on webcam invigilation and proctoring, the use of webcams in education, online examination invigilation and proctoring, and online examination cheating. Information was found on examination performance and academic dishonesty, but results related directly to webcam invigilation of online examinations were limited and were only found on Google. In the realm of education, webcams have been suggested as useful alternative face-to-face communication methods that can be used for online tutoring between teachers and students (Houge, Peyton, Geier, & Petrie, 2007) or for conversations and discussions between postgraduate students and their supervisors (Wisker, Robinson, & Shacham, 2007).
Web assessors who use webcams and actual proctors and invigilators allow the software to recognize typing styles and speeds and whether a student pauses between certain letters. This system allows invigilators to monitor up to 50 students at a time by viewing and often listening to them (depending how modern a student’s webcam is) through the webcam. This allows the invigilators to stop the examination if they suspect cheating (Rose, 2008). A recent technological advancement of 360° webcam hardware with a fingerprint recognizer allows the webcam to view the whole environment (from the walls to the student to the computer screen and beyond), and the fingerprint recognizer ensures the correct person is taking the online examination (Pope, 2007). There is also a built-in microphone that picks up sounds from the student’s room. This new device has recently been introduced in the market and is not currently being used by Ontario’s PHCNP program. Instead, Ontario’s PHCNP program is using a similar system, by which multiple students are visually monitored on a large screen and their typing styles and speeds are electronically examined.
An online questionnaire was developed for distance PHCNP students currently enrolled in the Ontario PHCNP program, in which midterm online examinations are invigilated through a webcam. The questionnaire was posted on SurveyMonkey ( http://www.SurveyMonkey.com) and a link was created to provide potential participants with access to the online questionnaire. All students (N = 43) were contacted via e-mail invitation and encouraged to access the questionnaire through the link and participate in the study. The questionnaire consisted of eight questions (Table 1).
Table 1: Questionnaire
The introduction to the survey provided study participants with confirmation that the survey was anonymous, as they were not asked to provide any information that could identify them. Following the initial e-mail to PHCNP students involved in writing webcam-invigilated online examinations, the link was available for access. Three weeks after the initial e-mail, a reminder e-mail was sent to all potential participants regarding the study. After another 3 weeks passed, the link was made inaccessible. Data were collected by Survey-Monkey throughout the 6-week period while the link was accessible to the study participants. Demographic data were not measured because they were not relevant to the study.
The response rate to the questionnaire was 77% (N = 33). The collected data were retrieved from Survey-Monkey and analyzed to determine whether any patterns existed in the responses. Responses to the questionnaire indicated that more than 80% of the study participants felt comfortable writing an online examination and said they were provided with enough instructions. More than 70% of the participants stated they felt uncomfortable being continuously monitored by a webcam while writing their online examination (Table 2).
Table 2: Students’ Comfort and Perceptions of Cheating on Webcam-Invigilated Online Examinations
Because the questionnaire had an open-ended component related to a participant’s comfort level, responses showed that some participants felt comfortable, some felt uncomfortable, and some had mixed feelings when being invigilated via webcam. When asked to rate their comfort level during an online webcam invigilated examination, approximately 60% of the participants indicated they felt comfortable throughout the examination, whereas others indicated otherwise. Finally, when participants were asked to rate how comfortable they felt with webcam invigilation, 46% indicated very comfortable, 33% indicated comfortable, and the remaining 21% were uneasy about the webcam invigilation process.
In terms of cheating, 21% of participants felt that someone is quite likely to cheat on a webcam-invigilated at-home online examination versus a university-based onsite online examination. This was followed by 24% that were unsure and 55% that felt someone is unlikely to cheat (Table 2). When asked whether they thought webcam invigilation of online examinations is effective in preventing cheating, 55% of the study participants thought this process of invigilation is somewhat effective to very effective in preventing someone from cheating, whereas the rest of the study participants did not agree. The results also showed that more than 40% of the participants thought webcam invigilation is less effective than onsite invigilation in preventing cheating on online examinations (Table 2).
Because the questionnaire also had an open-ended component related to cheating on webcam-invigilated examinations, responses were similar and primarily showed there is always a possibility of cheating on any type of examination, including one invigilated via webcam.
The results indicated two major themes: participants’ psychological comfort with continuous webcam invigilation, and the possibility of cheating on webcam-invigilated online examinations.
An area of concern in the study was that more than 80% of students felt uncomfortable being invigilated via webcam. A person’s discomfort can be seen as a type of cognitive anxiety toward a stimulus, which in this case was webcam invigilation. Studies on the effects of cognitive anxiety on performance show that an increase in cognitive anxiety can have either a positive or a negative effect on students’ performance—a small increase in cognitive anxiety can increase performance, whereas a high increase can drop performance level drastically (Hardy, Jones, & Gould, 1996; Humara, 1999). A similar correlation between psychological comfort and performance levels is further supported by Humara (1999) and by Wiggins and Brustad (1996). To see how many study participants could have had a possible decreased performance due to their decreased comfort, data revealed that more than 20% felt either uncomfortable throughout or periodically during the examination. This is comparable to more than 20% of participants who indicated they did not feel comfortable with the overall webcam invigilation process. Some study participants described their discomfort as such:
- I am always afraid of doing something wrong.
- I feel that even though I am not cheating…they may suspect that I am because I often look up or look down when I am thinking.
- Feeling of being watched.
These responses are a clear indication of continuous or recurrent feelings of discomfort, fear, nervousness, and apprehension, which hint at a state of anxiousness. Therefore, if experiencing these phases of increased anxiety leads to reduced performance rates, then it is evident that the webcam invigilation process may be jeopardizing the examination performance of at least 20% of the study participants.
Cheating and Webcam Invigilation
Because it is a universal occurrence, the possibility of cheating can be questioned on every type of university examination, including one that is invigilated via webcam (Mwamwenda & Monyooe, 2000). Cheating on examinations has become an attractive research topic around the world (Rocha, da Silva, Nascimento, de Siqueira, & Otta, 2007). In the current study, most participants agreed that webcam invigilation is somewhat effective in preventing cheating, but they thought that one in two students is still likely to cheat on a webcam-invigilated online examination.
This trend is also noticed when approximately half of the participants indicated thinking that webcam invigilation is less effective than on-site invigilation in preventing cheating on online examinations. If one in two study participants think that cheating can occur, it may mean that one in two students may attempt or has already attempted to cheat on a webcam-invigilated online examination. In this study, the possibility of cheating was also highlighted by the responses of study participants:
- They could make some kind of cheat sheets and post them somewhere…[they are] not visible to the [webcam] or have someone in the room with them.
- Since a webcam can’t see everything, if one wants to, one can be inventive and place material in places that can’t be seen by webcam.
- It would be easier to cheat with webcam. There are so many places to place notes that cannot be seen by the webcam (front of shirt, keyboard tray, thighs of pants).… Personally I was more comfortable with an invigilator.
The above responses undoubtedly point to increased cheating possibilities during webcam-invigilated examinations, compared with onsite invigilators. Although students consider cheating to be a wrongful act, they are known to engage in the behavior (Anderman, Greisinger, & Westerfield, 1998). Although many strategies could be implemented to promote a climate of academic integrity (Scanlan, 2006), the act of cheating in nursing education must be taken seriously by faculty as it affects the student’s future nursing practice (Bradshaw & Lowenstein, 1990; Hoyer, Booth, Spelman, & Richardson, 1991). It is crucial for nursing faculty to promote academic integrity through role modeling, developing and implementing policies, and allowing students to develop their moral character (Gaberson, 1997).
Webcam invigilation of online examinations is a new research topic. The results of this study attempt to not only contribute to the scarce literature available on this research topic, but also provide valuable information to educational institutions seeking an alternative examination method for the student population enrolled in their distance learning programs. Although this study focuses on the comfort of students and possibilities of cheating, other perspectives of webcam invigilation could also be explored in future research. These areas of research may include a more thorough assessment of the webcam invigilation process; its role in preventing students from cheating; its effectiveness compared with an actual human invigilator; and its possible role in future invigilation. A larger number of participants will also add to the reliability of future study results. Faculty must also look into alternative ways of assessment that are more suitable to online testing and may minimize the risk of cheating.
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Do you feel comfortable writing an online examination?
Do you feel you are provided with enough instructions to write an online examination?
Does it make you uncomfortable to be continuously monitored by a webcam while you write an online examination?
When do you feel most uncomfortable about being webcam invigilated?
How would you rate your comfort level with this type of invigilation process?
How likely is someone to cheat on a webcam-invigiliated (at-home) online examination versus a university-based (onsite) online examination?
How effective is webcam invigilation in preventing cheating on online examinations?
Do you think at-home (webcam-invigilated) online examinations can prevent students from cheating just as much as university-based (onsite-invigilated) online examinations?
Students’ Comfort and Perceptions of Cheating on Webcam-Invigilated Online Examinations
|Comfort and Cheating||Total (N= 33)|
|Student comfort with webcam invigilation|
|Cheating on webcam-invigilated examination|
| Likely to cheat||7|
| Neither likely nor unlikely||8|
| Unlikely to cheat||18|
|Prevention of cheating with webcam invigilation|
| Prevents cheating||19|
| Does not prevent cheating||14|