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A New Role for Proctoring in the Era of Online Learning

Faculty Recruitment and Retention

A New Role for Proctoring in the Era of Online Learning

A New Role for Proctoring in the Era of Online Learning

In this new millennial era of high-speed computers, smart phones, tablets, and apps, knowledge transfer and teaching are increasingly being accomplished online. This modality is not only innovative, creative, and convenient, but it is also increasingly popular with students who either can’t or don’t want to be chained to the traditional classroom method of teaching and learning.

According to the Distance Education Enrollment Report 2017, conducted by the new Digital Learning Compass organization, more than one in four students (29.7 percent) now take at least one online or distance education course (a total of 6,022,105 students), and enrollment continues to climb.  Of course, along with increasing enrollment come increasing burdens and responsibilities for faculty and staff. While hiring new personnel to meet the increasing demand is the obvious solution to the problem, this isn’t always possible due to budget constraints, especially at small independent and private colleges.

So how do you make online learning a practical and effective method of teaching and dispensing knowledge to a large number of students without overloading existing faculty and staff? Keep reading.

Setting the scene

Take, for instance, a small liberal arts undergraduate college that intends to start an engineering program. While the college might have the faculty and manpower to teach the required sciences (math, physics, and chemistry), it may not have the manpower or expertise for its engineering courses. This is where online technology comes into play. To handle the situation, the liberal arts college could develop an online engineering curriculum along with minimal classroom instruction, or it could reach an agreement with an engineering college or university to provide online courses via distance learning. While this is all well and good, how would the liberal arts college maintain the integrity and quality of these courses and keep its students fully engaged in the learning process?

Proctoring re-defined

The most efficient way to do this is through proctoring but proctoring which goes beyond the standard definition of simply monitoring students during an examination. For lack of a better term, let’s call it “expanded proctoring.” What I am proposing is a proctoring program that greatly expands the role and responsibilities of the proctor, to include monitoring of all recorded lectures during online classroom sessions; answering students’ questions via online chat sessions (either during scheduled classroom sessions or during posted office hours outside of class); and acting as a go-between for students and the instructor (e.g., passing on to the instructor questions, requests, concerns, etc. that are better handled by the instructor). As would be expected, expanded proctoring involves different types of proctors, as explained in the following discussion.

Types of proctors

There are three types of proctors in my model: instructional, transitional, and administrative. Duties and responsibilities of these proctors are described below.

  • Instructional proctor. The instructional proctor is one who has the knowledge, experience, and expertise to wholly teach the distance learning course as presented in the course syllabus. In essence, this person could stand in for the instructor if needed. This proctor has either a degree in the engineering discipline being taught or has mastered the course content in preparation for his/her own degree. The instructional proctor actively participates in class discussions following recorded lectures, answers questions, and provides additional instruction if needed or requested. The instructional proctor also keeps office hours to answer additional questions or address other student issues or concerns. Questions, issues, or concerns that are better addressed by the instructor, or that are beyond the proctor’s scope of responsibility or authority, are passed on to the instructor to handle.
  • Transitional proctor. A transitional proctor is someone who has either taken the course or has proctored the course previously. This proctor has the ability to answer questions relative to the information being presented but is not a content expert. This proctor can often assist students immediately with their questions or concerns; or if the questions/concerns are beyond the proctor’s knowledge or scope of responsibility, the proctor will confer with the course instructor and get back to them.
  • Administrative proctor. An administrative proctor is a person who has neither taken the course being presented nor proctored it previously, has no knowledge of the course content, and is not involved in teaching the course. This proctor is simply available to monitor online attendance, student progress, examinations, and technology issues. If necessary, the administrative proctor will collect questions from students and pass them along to the instructor but will not attempt to answer the questions. He/she will also mediate any problems or difficulties that arise between students and the instructor. In some cases, the administrative proctor may be a faculty member, a staff member, or a teaching assistant from outside the subject area being taught.

Proctoring progression   

Generally speaking, proctoring progression during a course of study moves from 100 percent instructional proctoring at the start to 100 percent administrative proctoring at the end. The proctoring progression chart shown below depicts the student/proctor ratio during a five-year course of study for an engineering program at a liberal arts college and reflects the following scenarios:

  1. In the first year, all freshmen attend small in-person classes taught exclusively by faculty, with no distance learning involved. All proctoring is done by instructional proctors.
  2. In the second and third years, students transition to a mix of distance learning classes and in-person classes facilitated by instructors, with a 75 percent/25 percent mix of instructional and administrative proctors, respectively.
  3. In the third and fourth years, students are mostly enrolled in distance learning classes facilitated by a 25 percent/75 percent mix of instructional and administrative proctors, respectively, and progressing to 100 percent administrative proctors by the fifth year.

Chart Source: Chris O’Riordan-Adjah and Cara Buitron

Benefits of proctoring

  • Student discipline. The discipline of students engaged in distance learning is maintained and often improved through proctoring. The proctor is responsible for monitoring class attendance, ensuring that all students are online to view lectures or project on a screen and participate in class chat room discussions. The proctor also ensures that class assignments, reports, etc. are turned in on time, and helps students with questions or issues they may have. These regularly scheduled activities conducted under the watchful eye of the proctor provide conflict-free opportunities for students to stay engaged and focused as if they were in a physical classroom. And through the help and assistance provided by the proctor, the students keep current with the course’s progression, making it less likely that they will fall behind in their work, and hence their understanding of the course material.
  • Collaborative efforts. Many online students have expressed a desire for collaboration with other students to review and discuss lectures, ask questions, and solve problems together, rather than spend countless hours independently searching lecture content and course materials to increase their understanding of the concepts being presented. Proctors greatly assist with this process by bringing the students together online, helping them with the course content, guiding discussions, answering questions, and sharing ideas about the lectures.
  • Commitment. To be successful, any distance-learning program requires full, complete, and dedicated commitment by all involved: students, faculty, staff, and proctors. Proctors, however, through the expanded role described herein, demonstrate a special kind of commitment by “being there” for their students. When there is joint agreement and understanding between students and proctors regarding their shared commitment of time and effort to this process, the results can be rewarding and can lead to sustainable growth of a successful dual-degree, distance-learning program.


The expanded proctoring described in this article can benefit any type of undergraduate educational program, be it new or existing, and is particularly adaptable to online and distance-learning programs. Students benefit from expanded proctoring by having someone immediately on hand to assist them and answer questions, and to help them gain confidence in themselves and their ability to master the curriculum content. Expanded proctoring can also take a large burden off the shoulders of instructors, freeing them from many of the minor details of teaching large numbers of students and allowing them to focus more on fine-tuning lectures and course materials and planning for possible expansion of the curriculum. Colleges and universities looking to expand their education programs and serve an ever-increasing number of students will do well to give serious consideration to employing a proctored distance-learning approach. In addition to being economically feasible, it is the wave of the future that can’t—and shouldn’t be—ignored.

Reference: “New Study: Over Six Million Students Now Enrolled in Distance Education,” Online Learning Consortium, May 02, 2017, https://onlinelearningconsortium.org/news_item/new-study-six-million-students-now-enrolled-distance-education

Dr. Chris O’Riordan-Adjah is director of Engineering Programs and associate professor at Principia College. He is a professional engineer licensed in Michigan, Florida, Illinois and Missouri, and is an independent structural engineering contractor. Dr. O’Riordan-Adjah is a former lecturer at the University of Central Florida (UCF) with the Civil, Environmental and Construction Engineering department, and received his PhD and MA degrees in civil and quality engineering (Industrial Engineering) from UCF. His technical experience includes bridge design, retrofitting techniques, inspection, and load-rating analysis.


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