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Is Online Proctored Testing in Your Certification Future?

Kryterion, Inc. offers turnkey certification program development and delivery services. Its offerings include online proctored testing. Could this be the wave of the certification future? Maybe, just maybe, it could!

I learned about Kryterion, a Phoenix, AZ-based certification test development and delivery company, last year. I've written about this company and its offerings in two other posts to my IT Career JumpStart blog over at TechTarget.com, but I want to write here about some very interesting new technology the company has developed, and ruminate on why and how it might change the future shape of certification testing as we know it today. (For the record, here are links to those other blogs: "Check Out Kryterion Online Secure Testing," and "Kryterion Uses Webcam to Address Exam Security".)

In addition to developing statistically defensible cert exams using the latest in interactive testing techniques and simulations, replete with psychometrics, careful item design and review, and extensive testing, Kryterion is starting to venture into secure online delivery of certification exams. In plain English this means you sign up and pay for the exam, it gets delivered to your PC over the Internet, and you take the test in the comfort and privacy of your own usual workspace.

I can imagine that many readers are saying two things to themselves: First, "How do they DO that?" and second, "How can they stop test-takers from cheating?" It turns out there's a fair amount of technology involved in making what Kryterion calls Online Proctored Testing (which they abbreviate as OLP instead of OPT) workable and defensible.

Test-takers must install special software on their PCs that runs while they take an OLP exam. They must also install a special Webcam (called the Kryterion Flexible Neck Webcam, $45) so that live human proctors and special graphics recognition software can keep an eye (or some computing power) on what test-takers are doing.

The software platform is called Sentinel Secure, and it creates what Kryterion describes as "...a secure, locked-down testing environment on the test taker's personal computer to ensure the integrity and security of the testing session." A little further digging reveals that this means turning off access to the rest of the PC and other browsing sessions while the test-taker is running the software. It's probably a combination of sandboxing and lockdown technology that permits users to interact only with the open testing window while and until the software relinquishes control over the user's machine.

The procotoring piece comes from the Webcam which permits a human and/or a machine observer to look for suspicious or disallowed behaviors (using the phone, turning away from the camera, running a second PC or other smart device, and so forth) while the exam is underway. This lets the online proctor detect and object to certain test-taking activities, and the exam contract specifically allows Kryterion to stop the test and invalidate its results if they see something they don't like.

Is this system safe and secure enough to attract serious cert sponsor support? The jury may still be out on that, but both Google and Emulex are offering certification exams through the Kryterion platform, and requiring test-takers to purchase (or otherwise obtain) a Kryterion webcam to take their exams. I think that if the system proves credible and reliable, we could be in for a sea change in certification exam delivery. It will be very, very interesting to watch and learn from developments in this area, and to see which other cert program sponsors sign on for this offering. Reading between the lines on the Kryterion web page for "Online Proctoring" I believe that numerous higher-ed businesses and institutions are already using this technology to support their professional and degree programs for distance learning. Can cert providers be terribly far behind? I think not...