The boom in online education has created a job that didn’t exist a few years ago: remote test proctor. More than 100 of them work for ProctorU, a fast-growing startup founded in 2009. Sitting at computers in ProctorU’s offices in Hoover, Alabama, or Livermore, California, the proctors use webcams and screen-sharing software to observe students anywhere as they take a test or complete an online assignment. As the students do the work on their computers, the proctors watch to make sure they don’t cheat.
It’s a simple idea that could prove critical for the expansion of online education. Over the last year, several top universities, including Harvard, Stanford, and MIT, have begun offering free college courses to all comers (see “The Crisis in Higher Education”). After attracting hundreds of thousands of students, these “massive open online courses,” or MOOCs, are now wrestling with how to determine which students are actually completing the coursework and passing exams.