What is a lockdown browser. Some may be very familiar with these types of browsers while others may never have heard of them. I don’t think the term is used widely, I know a company called Respondus has a product called LockDown browser. So what is it?
Basically, it is a specialized web browser (like Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Edge, etc.) that only allows access to a specific test site. No other tabs can be opened, no other windows or programs can be opened, it basically locks the device down until the person managing the test or device allow it function normally.
These are quite common for certain assessments such as College Boards Advanced Placement and other formal assessments and other formalized tests that are usually offered across the country or the world. These tests usually cost money and they often times have their very own app or website that locks down the student’s browser.
There are also companies that offer these to schools for all their assessments.
So why am I writing about this? Well with Covid and distance (or hybrid) learning there are some talks about how to give assessments to students while they are at home and how to ensure that they don’t cheat.
Well, lockdown browsers are not the answer. While these lockdown browsers are pretty robust and they can be difficult to get around, all a student needs to do is pull out their smartphone, another computer, or tablet to look up the answers. Heck, they can even text their friends with answers. The lockdown browser is just a bump in the road.
This service has a live person who video conferences into a student taking their exam. They proctor and observe the student taking an exam. For an idea check out this video (you don’t need to watch it all) to get an idea on how it works.
This site is definitely more geared for higher education and I find it a bit creepy too though I cannot doubt its effectiveness. That aside it is pretty pricey. I couldn’t find specific pricing details from their site and I do imagine the cost is baed on how many total students you sign up. From what I could find the pricing models works like this:
- A flat rate for the first hour (I saw prices from $15 – 17.50 from other schools) per student per assessment
- A cost for additional hours (I saw prices from $5.50 – $7.00 from other schools) per student per assessment
Again, those costs are per student per assessment. So let’s say you have 100 students and the English teacher uses this service and has 4 assessments that are all finished within that first hour. That will run your school (just for English) $6000 USD for that year.
All in the name of getting rid of academic dishonesty.
What can you do?
Am I suggesting that a teacher just lives with academic dishonesty and shrug? No, I think the answer lies with the assessment itself. Create assessments with less knowledge based questions. For example don’t ask a question like “When and where did the Battle at Gettysburg take place?” That is a questoin a student can Google and have the answer in less than a minute.
Instead, ask more open ended questions such as “Who were the most important Union generals during the Battle of Gettysburg and what specific impact did they have on the battle?” That’s a more complex question and certainly a Google search will give some answers but students would need to digest that info in order to produce an answer. My point being, it couldn’t be answered in less than sixty seconds.
Another layer to add on top of better questions is to add an online assessment service like Edulastic (check out my review here). Here you can create assessments and actually watch students progress through the test in real time. You can also schedule the test for specific students at specific times and add a time limit to the test so students aren’t working on it for hours (or days) while they look up answers on their phone or with their friends.
Project/Essay based assessments
Another option is to do essay or at least short answered questions that ask students to demonstrate their knowledge more than just facts. Have them explain processes, events or allow them to draw their own conclusions and have them support it with evidence. These take longer to grade but you do get more authentic answers this way.
Project based learning is also another option. Having students create something that demonstrate their learning can be a nice departure from standard assessments. This can be tricky though. Make sure students have access to all the resources they need to complete the tasks and of course troubleshooting via email can also pose challenging as it is much easier to see what they are talking about. Maybe meet with them on Zoom, Teams or Google Meet. But it is very hard for a student to cheat on a project that requires them to produce something authentic.
The bottom line is this: Teachers cannot be in the homes of their students and therefore cannot properly monitor a traditional assessment. If you use a lot of these find some other options. If not you can be sure some (if not most) of your students will cheat on those tests.
Keep in mind, the assessment is a way for students to demonstrate their mastery or knowledge working towards mastery of a subject. It is not meant to be a punishment for them or yourself.