Student identity authentication for distance education programs is an important factor in the successful implementation of an e-learning program. This check is necessary to ensure an institution is giving credit to the student who completed the work and protects the reputation of the institution. It is also important in efforts to safeguard Title IV funding and reducing institutional liability in federal financial aid fraud cases. Between 2009 and 2012, federal financial aid fraud grew 82 percent, with more than 85,000 people potentially participating in fraud rings, accounting for $874 million during this disbursement period. A February 2014 Education Department Inspector General audit found that federal rules regarding identity verification in distance education programs “do not sufficiently mitigate the risks of fraud, abuse, and noncompliance.” The audit highlights the need for new standards and regulation regarding financial aid disbursement in distance education programs.
The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (HEOA) requires institutions receiving Title IV funding to verify the identities of distance education students enrolled at an institution using at least one of three methods: (1) a secure login and password (for example, through a Learning Management System); (2) proctored examinations; (3) other technologies and practices which are effective in verifying student identification.
The distinction between identity verification and authentication is an important factor to consider. Identity verification confirms that the same person has continually shown up to take an exam or logged in. Identity authentication, however, helps prove that the correct person enrolled in the course is the one completing the work or who should be receiving federal financial aid.
As state budgets continue to be slashed, many institutions simply opt for secure student login and password credentials through their Learning Management System (LMS). While this meets federal regulations, basic LMS credentials are not an effective combatant or deterrent against financial aid fraud or academic integrity violations. A wide array of effective and trusted authentication methods are available, however, these still do not document that the student who is authenticated is actually the one who is taking the exam or enrolled in the course. To ensure a secure examination environment in online education while adhering to federal regulation, a combination of live proctoring and one or more identity verification tools should be implemented.
Identity verification tools have become an important factor when complying with federal regulations. There is a broad range of tools that can be used to authenticate the identity of distance learning students. This practice does not seek to promote or advocate any method’s superiority, but rather to explain the effectiveness of such tools in tandem with live proctoring.
Challenge-based questions are an effective authentication method that rely on various public record databases. The questions often relate to residential history and other characteristics that only the enrolled student would know. Random questions are generated from a sample bank of over 120 personally-identifiable elements. This is the same method implemented by the banking and healthcare industries.
A major bio-metric analysis tool is keystroke analysis. Typical keystroke analysis measures characteristics such as length of time to type a particular word or phrase and the length of time a key is pressed, among the many features of a person’s typing behavior.
Acxiom, one of the largest providers of personally-identifiable, challenge-based questions is a method utilized by the banking and healthcare industries to verify identities of their customers.
According to KeyTrac, a major keystroke analysis company, on average, only two people in 10,000 have very similar typing behavior.
ProctorU relies on these and other methods of student authentication during the invigilation process. While these methods authenticate students, it is live proctoring that ensures that the authenticated student is indeed the same person who completes the exam.
A visual confirmation by a trained proctor observes the student alongside their government-issued photo ID. A proctor is also there in real time to monitor the biometric login or records-based challenge question scores. Lastly, the student is observed logging into their LMS with supplied credentials.
These measures ensure that not only is the institution in full compliance under the HEOA, but also that the academic integrity of the exam is held to the highest standards. The process also helps to deter financial aid fraud and reduce institutional liability. This process has been trusted for over 500,000 exams and is the primary tool for combating academic integrity violations of over 500 institutions around the world.
Access: By relying on bio-metric analysis or records-based challenge questions, test-takers from around the world can be accurately and securely authenticated for online examinations. Live proctoring requires minimal hardware or software and many test-takers already have the necessary equipment if they are enrolled in an online course. These basic requirements have allowed exams to be taken by service members while deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Faculty Satisfaction: The most effective proctoring service should adhere to federal regulations regarding student authentication, as well as providing a secure environment that upholds the academic integrity of the student, faculty and institution. Live proctoring and authentication replicates the face-to-face monitoring of a classroom during an online examination. ProctorU’s process is trusted by over 500 institutions around the world because administrators can communicate directly with the proctoring session database and view session notes in real time regarding authentication and any session irregularities.
Learning Effectiveness: An online exam with live proctoring and trusted authentication tools is a more effective method for measuring student learning. These tools help combat academic dishonesty and uphold the integrity of the exam, student, faculty and institution.
Scale: Since the authentication process is dependent upon student interaction with an automated system, there are nearly no limits to scalability. Biometric analysis is extendable to any number of users around the world.
Student Satisfaction: The authentication process is a simple process and requires little time to complete. Many students are comfortable with the process because similar identity verification tools are used in a growing number of industries including the credit and banking industry, and retail and healthcare sectors.
Students need a well-functioning computer, high-speed Internet and a webcam to be proctored and authenticated. Faculty members only need access to the Internet and ProctorU with a basic, well-functioning computer.
The only cost associated with ProctorU is the usage fee per proctored exam based on length. The cost of authentication is included in this fee. Depending on the institution’s requests or needs, this cost is sometimes covered by the institution and other times by the student. However, this is a nominal fee that is equal to or less than the cost of finding a physical proctor at a testing center.
Below are the titles, links and brief descriptions of articles that describe the effectiveness of student authentication tools and live proctoring services.
Experiences verifying the identity of distance learning students:
The for-proﬁt education sector and community colleges are experiencing signiﬁcant online education enrollment growth to meet consumer demand for education in a slumping economy. Along with growth comes quality concerns related to two areas: Academic integrity and criminals targeting online education programs for student aid fraud.
Identity verification through dynamic keystroke analysis:
Typing rhythms are the rawest form of data stemming from the interaction between users and computers. When properly sampled and analyzed, they may become a useful tool to ascertain personal identity. Unlike other biometric features, typing dynamics have an important characteristic: They still exist and are available even after an access control phase has been passed. As a consequence, keystroke analysis can be used as a viable tool for user authentication throughout the work session.
The reliability of user authentication through keystroke dynamics:
People can be authenticated by something they know; like a password; something they have; like a credit card; or by some part of their anatomy; such as a ﬁnger print. When typing on a keyboard a user can be authenticated through what they type, but also through how they type through keystroke dynamics.
Behind the Webcam's Watchful Eye, Online Proctoring Takes Hold:
The article presents information about online test proctoring. The author looks at several online proctoring companies that work with universities, such as ProctorU. The article also discusses the emergence of open online courses and the use of proctoring with webcams.