Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act Thesis

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Higher Education

Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act

In higher education, one new privacy and security policy that is being talked about in 2009 is how to verify the identity of online students. The U.S. Department of Education, regional accreditors, colleges, universities and trade associations are resolving how to implement a new federal policy requiring steps to verify the identity of online students. There has always been a natural question in distance education of how do you know who's doing the work for the credit. It's not like retail banking or video rental with a shipping address. Education's value comes from the course work and interactions during classes, ultimately expressed in a degree granted for fulfilling the requirements of a program (Methods to Verify the Identity of Distance Learning Students, n.d.).

The Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act was passed in 2008 with a significant impact on distance education programs. Specifically, the Act stated that the U.S. Department of Education "shall not require an accreditor to have separate standards, procedures or policies for evaluation of distance education. Accreditors must, however, require institutions that offer distance education to establish that a student registered for a distance education course is the same student who completes and receives credit for it" (ACE Analysis of Higher Education Act Reauthorization, 2008).

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The proposed regulatory language that has been provided says colleges can verify a student's identity with techniques like a secure log-in and pass code; proctored examinations; and new or other technologies and practices that are effective in verifying student identification (Parry, 2009). The bottom line is that The Higher Education Act has been signed into law, so what does this mean for colleges and universities.

TOPIC: Thesis on Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act Assignment

The law contains several changes to accreditation requirements, and Accreditors are required to implement these changes immediately. Many of the Commission's current policies and practices are already in alignment with the new law. Unfortunately, the higher education community does not have much experience yet in providing quality assurance for such student authentification. The regional Accreditors will be working together to develop, where possible, a common approach to their own strategies and means for enforcing this requirement during evaluations of institutions. Those strategies and means will likely include an accreditor policy statement or guidelines for institutions (New Distance Education Requirements of the Higher Education Act of 2008 Require Immediate Implementation, 2008).

Academic deans, distance learning administrators and heads of distance education programs outlined key requirements to fit the needs of the diverse higher education market. Solutions needed to:

• Support, not prevent or disrupt, learning

• Be integrated in the learning process

• Be simple and flexible to deploy

• Be secure, non-invasive and not diminish privacy

• Be low-cost (Methods to Verify the Identity of Distance Learning Students, n.d.).

Basically this paragraph is actually about clamping down on cheating. It states that an institution that offers an online program must prove that an enrolled student is the same person who does the work. The language is prompting some colleges to try technologies that authenticate online test takers by reading their fingerprints, watching them via web cameras, or recording their keystrokes. Some colleges see advantages for students: the devices allow them to take tests anytime, anywhere. Many students now have to travel to distant locations so a proctor can watch them take exams on paper. Some college officials are distrustful of the technologies, noting that they are run by third-party vendors that may not safeguard a students' privacy. Included with the information that vendors collect are students' fingerprints, and possibly even images from inside their homes. Some institutions feel that this is taking a step into a student's private life' and they are not if they want to extend their presence that far. The officials also want flexibility in order to comply with the proposed law. They are worried that the government will force them to use a particular method that could be too expensive or that would emphasize exams over other assessments. They also complain that the provision implies that cheating is more of a problem among students online than among students in a classroom (Foster, 2009). Critics have contemplated that this law will threaten student privacy. They believe that this rule will lead to excessive surveillance including the use of thumbprint readers and webcams (Littlefield, 2008). The higher-education law signed by President Bush demands that colleges authenticate test takers in online courses through the use of sophisticated identification technology or with exam proctors. While some officials believe the law will help lend greater credibility to online learning, others say the new mandate is largely unnecessary (Carter, 2008).

There are three technologies that are being tested and used in order to help colleges follow this new federal law. Troy University, in Alabama, has been testing a device that features a mirrored sphere suspended above a small pedestal. It is called Securexam Remote Proctor. The device plugs into a standard port on a home computer. The pedestal has a groove for scanning fingerprints, a tiny microphone, and a camera. The sphere produces a 360-degree view around the test taker, which the camera records. Students are recorded during exams, and anything suspicious in the room is flagged. In order to use the system, a student must sit in front of a computer and places a finger on the pedestal. Securexam checks to see whether the digital fingerprint and the image of the student match those the student provided during registration. Once this is done the test opens online via a course-management system. The student is restricted from viewing anything else online. The drawback though is that the system is not cheap. Students must pay $150 for the device. Additionally, it works only with the Windows operating system and an Internet Explorer browser, creating a problem for students who have Macs, for instance (Foster, 2009).

World Campus, the online division of the Pennsylvania State University system, is testing another system called Webassessor. It uses proctors, web cameras, and software that recognizes students' typing styles, such as their speed and whether they pause between certain letters. Students have to purchase the cameras for $50 to $80. The cameras allow proctors to view a student's face, keyboard, and workspace. System provider, Kryterion Inc., employs proctors who remotely observe and listen to students. If the student's keystroke pattern does not match the one he or she provided at registration, or if the image of a student taking an exam does not match a digital photograph that the student provided at enrollment, then the student cannot start the exam. A proctor can also halt the exam if the student is acting suspiciously. Students must have a broadband connection in order to use this service (Foster, 2009).

Several other universities are forming partnerships with Acxiom Corporation. The company's system relies on test takers' answering detailed, personal questions. Acxiom gathers information from a variety of databases, including criminal files and property records, and then uses the data to ask student's questions, such as streets they lived on, house numbers, and previous employers. If students answer the questions correctly, they proceed to the exams (Foster, 2009).

The legislation promotes the use of the latest monitoring methods, which include web cameras and keystroke recording, in order to ensure that test takers are, indeed, the students who are enrolled in an online course. Some campus officials and experts in online learning say distance educators have always taken precautions during exams, and they say the law questions the validity of distance learning itself by implying that online students cheat, while failing to impose strict anti-cheating policies on students in a traditional classroom (Carter, 2008).

Some school officials have said that having this law imposed on the online school is redundant and insulting. They feel that there are lawmakers who do not believe that you can really learn in an online classroom environment. The law is seen as presuming that people cheat and that people aren't honest. It's always been a question raised by people who do not understand how online classes are taught (Carter, 2008).

Most accredited distance-education programs have always carefully monitored students' test taking. They mostly use proctors who watch students take exams and confirm their honesty with the college. Students have to recommend potential proctors. They cannot be family members, and schools often suggest librarians and local community leaders. University officials then confirm the proctor and mail the person an exam and directions on how to administer the test. Then, the student takes the exam at a specified location (Carter, 2008).

Troy University, along with other schools that specialize in online degree programs, were in talks with remote proctor vendors for several years before the College Opportunity and Affordability Act was passed. Distance education has always had to jump to higher standards than regular classroom setting have had to. Web cameras have proven to be very popular with students. In a recent survey, 88% of respondents said they preferred the remote proctor over a human one. They feel that… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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