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Digital Proctoring - Alternatives to Proctoring Software

This text provides advice for educators on alternatives to using proctoring software for preventing student cheating. Strategies are shared to change the purpose of exams from summative evaluation to formative growth, assigning frequent low-stakes quizzes instead of a few high-stakes exams, and altering the mechanics of the exam to reduce the ease by which students can cheat. In addition, providing students with automatic feedback via tools such as Canvas and discussing frequently missed questions as a class could also foster better learning outcomes.


Proctoring platforms catch many forms of student cheating, and their use has been shown to decrease the number of students who attempt to cheat. However, students find ways to game the most locked-down exam, and even the best proctoring services will not catch all forms of academic dishonesty. Furthermore, these tools take time to set up, additional time to assess, and increases the anxiety many students experience while taking your exams.

You can avoid the pitfalls of using proctoring services, while still decreasing the amount of student cheating, by forgoing proctoring software altogether and instead altering your exam design. Here, we are not suggesting that proctored exams are never a suitable option for online testing, only that there exist other available options to foster student accountability and content mastery. 

First Steps

Below are first steps you can apply to your course to mitigate cheating.

Alter the purpose of your exam from summative evaluation to formative growth

If possible, change the focus of your exams: avoid high-stakes, high-stress ordeals you give once or twice a semester. Instead, consider assigning exams that are formative in focus and provide students metacognitive information they can use for future learning. Formative exams offer students a robust conception of their progress, frequently include multiple opportunities for improvement (makeup points), and challenge students to modify their study behavior.

When students think of exams less as a tool to assign their grade and instead a tool for personal mastery of course content, they are less likely to feel a need to cheat.

Additional Readings

Assign frequent low-stakes quizzes instead of a small number of high-stakes exams.

Assign regular low-stakes exams. Low-stakes exams encourage high levels of accountability for course content, while providing students multiple opportunities to assess their mastery of course material without the anxiety of costly penalties (i.e., a low grade). This itself reduces a student’s perceived “need” to cheat. Furthermore, the increased exposure to course content (they will be taking numerous exams, not just one or two) will help them learn that content better. 

Consider the following to improve student learning while maintaining high levels of accountability.

  • Pair low-stakes exams with automatic feedback via Canvas. This way students are graded for mastery of content, but can see immediately following the exam what they got wrong and (ideally) why it was wrong. If the points here are nominal, there is less of a temptation to forward the answers to friends.

  • Provide feedback to the course as a whole. For example: after each exam, discuss in-class the most frequently missed quiz questions. 

Additional Reading

Alter the mechanics of your exam to reduce the ease by which students can cheat. 

Simple design steps taken when creating your exams can make it more difficult for students to cheat, even without the use of proctoring services. These steps are even more effective when combined with the two suggestions above.

For Additional Guidance

Instructors are encouraged to contact the CETL Support Commons for further discussion and exploration.

Keywordsproctoring platforms, academic dishonesty, exam design, student cheating, formative growth, low-stakes exams, high-stakes exams, automatic feedback, Canvas, question bank, CETL Support Commons.   Doc ID130084
OwnerDavid D.GroupCETL
Created2023-08-01 15:46:20Updated2023-08-01 16:01:29
SitesUW-Milwaukee Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning
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