A Lockdown Abroad Disrupts Testing at Home

Mar 24, 2020

Among the many disruptions to educational services caused by the novel coronavirus is one that may be in demand now more than ever: remote proctoring.

Students who were expecting to take online tests proctored by Examity received a notice that the service had been temporarily suspended. Upon logging on, they saw a message which said in part:

“Due to staff safety concerns related to COVID-19, the Examity platform is temporarily down. Consequently, test-takers will not be able to access their proctoring appointments today.”

An official at Examity, based in Newton, Mass., confirmed that it had suspended its live proctoring services. On March 22, the company “elected to pause exam activity due to an unexpected closure of our support and proctoring centers related to the COVID-19 crisis,” Sarah Pauling, its senior director of marketing, said in an email.

The reason lies halfway around the world, in India, where the company has about 1,000 full-time employees who serve as the eyes and ears of Examity’s proctoring services. Before each testing session, these proctors verify the identity of the students, who show their ID cards in front of their webcams. Test-takers must also pan their webcam around the room so that proctors can see that there are no unauthorized resources present (such as notes, or another person).

Like a growing number of countries, the Indian government has locked down many areas in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. In most cities there, that meant closing all non-essential businesses and services—including Examity’s support and proctoring centers in Hyderabad, one of the country’s main tech hubs.

According to a notice posted by the University of Texas at Dallas:

Due to current situation caused by COVID-19, EXAMITY has been informed by local government in India that they need to close out offices and support centers. Effective immediately, 3/22/2020, all testing via EXAMITY in India has been halted at this time. The closures will be in place until at least 3/31/2020. EXAMITY will be communicating with students scheduled that they have unexpected downtime and will get back to them to reschedule their exam. EXAMITY team is actively working on contingency planning via automated services and other work arounds in the short term.

On its website, Examity claims it serves more than 500 higher-ed institutions. For some students, the disruption came as a surprise.

“I was not notified of the Examity outage at all,” said Syd Stephenson, a senior at the University of Oklahoma, in an email. “I had an exam scheduled for yesterday (March 22) and when I logged on to take my exam, the site said it was down due to the coronavirus pandemic. My professor was not even aware that they were shut down for the time being.”

For Victoria Clout, who teaches an introductory financial accounting course at University of New South Wales in Australia, the interruption will impact her plans to offer an online midterm exam later this week, on Friday. She said in an email that she has 20 students in the class who are in China and unable to return to Australia due to the country’s recent travel ban. She is currently devising a workaround for the midterm.

Another university, Western Governors University, has used Examity since 2014 and currently uses it to proctor as many as 2,000 tests every day, according to Debbie Fowler, its senior vice president of student success. She said the company notified WGU of the service disruption over the weekend, and university officials informed its staff and students via email and over Twitter about the suspension of proctored tests this week.

Testing at WGU should resume by the end of the week, according to Fowler, who added that the university will also introduce a “lighter version” of Examity’s services. Instead of having humans proctors watching in real time, test sessions will now be recorded via a computer’s webcam and uploaded onto Examity’s system, where they will be reviewed for any suspicious behaviors.

“We are moving live proctoring exams, where appropriate, to our automated solution for a short period of time,” said Examity’s Pauling in her note. She did not elaborate on when its live proctoring services will be restored.

As schools and universities transition to remote instruction, some financial analysts anticipate an uptick in demand for services deemed essential to academic operations. For tests that will now be taken at home, there is a perceived need to ensure that proper mechanisms are in place to deter cheating. “Crucial higher ed online proctoring solutions are going gangbusters,” Mary Jo Zandy, a managing director at investment bank Berkery Noyes, said to Forbes last week.

Founded in 2013, Examity has raised a total of $121 million in capital, of which $90 million came from a private equity investment in 2019. Its competitors have also attracted investors as well. Last week, another online proctoring company, Honorlock, secured $11.5 million in funding. In January, private equity group Eastside Partners invested $30 million to merge two providers into one.


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