FBI Cybersecurity Recommendations for Higher Education Institutions

FBI cybersecurity recommendations to protect higher education institutions

The FBI Cyber Division released a notification in May 2022 that they discovered stolen login credentials from higher education institutions readily available on public forums and for sale on the dark web.

The notification also warned that the exposure of the stolen login credentials could put universities and colleges at risk of more cyber attacks in the future.

What is the dark web?

The dark web consists of hidden sites that use specialized browsers to keep internet activity anonymous, making illegal activities hard to track.

Here are some notable higher education cyber attacks in recent years, according to the FBI’s notification document:

How do cybercriminals get access to these credentials?

Cybercriminals primarily get initial access to utilizing social engineering (most commonly phishing).

What is phishing?

Phishing refers to fraudulent communications that pretend to be sent from a trusted source. The goal of phishing is to trick the receiver into revealing personal information in order to gain access to information such as credit card numbers and login credentials.

Consider this phishing situation and the impact it could have on the students, faculty, and institution

Initially a cybercriminal gets access to a student’s email login credentials. They can now begin reconnaissance and build their attack.

Now that they have access to previous email conversations, they could use those topics in the phishing email they’ll send to the professor and other students. In the email, they can mention the relevant topics and include a malicious hyperlink.

In this situation, the receiver may be more likely to click the malicious link because it’s from a familiar person and their guard is down.

FBI cybersecurity recommendations for higher education institutions
The notification document provided an extensive list of cybersecurity recommendations universities and colleges that we’ve consolidated and summarized:
Assessing the security of your technology partners
In addition to the FBI recommendations to protect against cyber threats, colleges and universities should also assess the security of their technology partners. This includes all online learning technologies and all additional course software, such as:

Remember, vendor security is your security.

Here’s a high-level list of what to look for and questions to ask when vetting technology partners:

Online proctoring isn’t just a way to deter employees cheating on exams. It’s an integral part of establishing a strong culture of academic integrity at your organization. Our solution and proctors help create a supportive testing environment that levels the playing field and allows test-takers to focus on showing their knowledge.

Data security

Proactive defense

Incident response plan

Company practices and employee security training

Vendor Security Cheat Sheet

For a comprehensive look at vendor security, download our Vendor Security Cheat Sheet. It provides a detailed look at questions to ask technology vendors, software and technologies needed, and important definitions to know.

How to Create a Culture of Academic Integrity

Punishing students for cheating vs encouraging academic integrity

How do cybercriminals get access to these credentials?

But academic dishonesty isn’t always black and white.

There are complexities and nuances that require a shift in the way we think about academic dishonesty.

With this shift, incidents of alleged cheating can be a learning opportunity, and you may even see a decrease in the amount of dishonesty in your courses.

This article will:

What is academic dishonesty?

Academic dishonesty means actions and behaviors, whether intended or not, that provide unfair advantages in an educational environment. It applies to everyone involved in teaching and learning, not just students. While academic dishonesty is a broad term, it can include things like:

In contrast, academic integrity is a code of ethics for students and others involved in the teaching and learning process to follow in their courses, exams, and overall behavior. Students should complete their own assignments, take their own exams, and earn their own grades.

Why do students cheat?

Students may cheat for any number of reasons, such as pressure from rising expectations, competitiveness, or even just opportunity.

But one thing that has significantly influenced students cheating is technology.

Technology provides quick and easy access to resources that help them gain an unfair advantage and curtail the learning process. Whether it’s finding leaked test content on the internet, asking Siri or Alexa for help during a test, and even having AI write essays for them, technology creates more opportunities to cheat.

Punishing students for cheating vs encouraging integrity

A common response to academic dishonesty is punishment.

But punishment is reactive, not proactive.

Students are only punished after cheating occurs. While it’s true that punishment can be seen as a deterrent, instructors should focus on improving academic integrity instead of punishing bad behavior.

Have groups of students work through scenario-based case studies

Create case studies with realistic academic dishonesty scenarios and have students work through them in groups.

By participating in these case studies as a group, students can have honest conversations about decision making and what they would do in very real situations with varying stressors and conditions. Practicing applied decision-making helps set the framework for upholding academic integrity in and out of the classroom.

By opening the door to dialogue about academic dishonesty and what constitutes cheating, you can create an environment where students are clear about course standards and what is and isn’t acceptable.

Communicate and develop a genuine connection with your students

The ability to communicate effectively and connect with your students can have a significant impact on your classroom.

But connecting with students takes more than learning their first names. You should make a real effort to learn about your students. Ask about their interests, goals, and hobbies – you may even have some things in common.

And tell them about yourself, apply emotional intelligence, be inclusive, encourage open communication, and be consistent.

In other words: make yourself human.

Rather than simply telling students, “Don’t cheat – or else,” have an open dialogue with them and infuse the importance of academic integrity in your communication efforts. This authentic effort to connect can go a long way to help support your efforts to improve academic integrity.

What’s all this have to do with Honorlock?

Honorlock takes a human-centered approach in everything we do.

Our approach to online proctoring is different because we strive to encourage positive decision making in a supportive environment rather than catching students cheating.

Honorlock test proctors are trained by a certified counselor and undergo rigorous training and shadowing – all to ensure they’re able to observe, intervene, and redirect student behavior in the testing environment. We even conducted a student survey with a university customer that showed our approach to online proctoring reduced student test anxiety.

Our proctors assume that students want to demonstrate knowledge, not cheat. Honorlock aligns with the goals of higher education to create a fair test environment and culture based on integrity.

Sign up for more resources to improve teaching and learning

Are You Connecting With Students in Your Online Classes?

Connecting with students in an online class has a huge impact on creating an inclusive learning environment.

Here are 6 ways you can improve your connection with students in your online course:

  1. Using inclusive language

  2. Applying emotional intelligence

  3. Making yourself human

  4. Encouraging open communication

  5. Being consistent

  6. Using practical surveys to gather feedback and information

Using inclusive language

Consider how you use inclusive language in all communications of the online course. Whether it’s during a live discussion, making test questions, and even syllabus language – be inclusive at all times.

  • Don’t use stereotypes and don’t make assumptions. 
  • Focus on their strengths and abilities instead of aspects that are perceivable negatives.
  • Be sensitive to their backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences.
  • Stay up to date on acceptable inclusive terminology and avoid using slang.
    • While some people use slang with innocent intentions, they may not realize that the root meaning of the expression is offensive to others. You’ve probably heard the two slang expressions below, but they’re rooted in racism and mockery of marginalized groups:
  • “Peanut gallery”  
  • “Long time no see” 
  • Avoid generalizing
  • Don’t use: “You guys should complete the exam by Thursday.”
  •  Use: “Everyone should complete the exam by Thursday.”

Applying emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is essential for faculty to use in online classes because it can help improve communication, build interpersonal relationships, and manage conflict. And while many believe that it’s something you just have or don’t have, emotional intelligence can be learned and developed over time.

Here are 6 ways you can improve your connection with students in your online course:

  1. Be aware of your emotions and how you respond

  2. Embrace healthy conflict

  3. Use clear communication and active listening

  4. Put yourself in their shoes

  5. Practice it and accept that you’ll make mistakes

Making yourself human

Knowing your audience

Truly connecting with students in an online class involves understanding who they are.

(In the last section of this article, we provide a list of sample questions you can ask your students in an introduction survey)

Using their preferred name

Learning a student’s preferred name isn’t just a generic icebreaker at the start of the course; it’s an opportunity to start building a genuine connection and trust.

At the start of the online course, ask students to send you their preferred name and how to pronounce it along with their pronoun. There are several ways to collect this such as general open discussions during class, low-stakes quiz questions, surveys, chat, and forums in the LMS.

Learning their background

Show your students that you’re interested in learning about them and what makes them who they are.

Ask questions about their background, experiences, hobbies, perspectives, interests, and learning styles. This can even help students find commonalities with one another – and even yourself.

Telling them about yourself

It’s important for you to know your students and they should know about you. By telling them about yourself, you can further establish credibility and build trust, and better create an inclusive learning environment.

When you’re telling them about yourself, be genuine and don’t overthink it. Tell them about you and keep it simple. Talk about your interests, hobbies, background, education, and even an impactful or funny story that makes you who you are.

“I’ve been involved in the Special Olympics for the majority of my life and I always want the athletes to know why I’m in this and what it means to me. Having a family member with special needs was my initial driver because I saw the impact that a program like this makes on their life. Sharing a bit about myself helps the athletes and parents understand my perspective and how I can relate to them.” – Patrick DeLapp, VA Special Olympics Board Member and Coach

Understanding student expectations

Just like you have expectations for your students in your online course, they have the same for you. Be sure to spend time asking questions and understanding their expectations of the course. It’s also important that you actually apply efforts to meet their expectations.

Encouraging open communication

Regardless of their communication style, you want them to feel comfortable and they need to know that they’ll be heard if they decide to interact

Your students need to know that they have a voice in your online classroom and that they belong. It’s your job to create an inclusive online learning environment that encourages open communication from your students. 

Students need to feel comfortable and know that they’re being heard when answering questions, engaging in class discussions, asking for help, and providing feedback. 

However, participating in a class discussion or asking questions comes naturally for some students but it can be uncomfortable and intimidating for others. So, expect some students to not participate. 

“Some love to interact during our online meetings and practices but others prefer to just listen. Regardless of their communication style, you want them to feel comfortable and they need to know that they’ll be heard if they decide to interact,” DeLapp explained.

Whether it’s a student asking a question or emailing for help – treat each interaction with sensitivity and thoughtfulness to show your students that you care and you’re there to support them.

Being consistent

Your students need to know that they have a voice in your online classroom and that they belong. It’s your job to create an inclusive online learning environment that encourages open communication from your students. 

Students need to feel comfortable and know that they’re being heard when answering questions, engaging in class discussions, asking for help, and providing feedback. 

However, participating in a class discussion or asking questions comes naturally for some students but it can be uncomfortable and intimidating for others. So, expect some students to not participate. 

Incorporating gamification

From creating accessible course content and using inclusive language to virtual office hours and gathering feedback  – be consistent. While your online courses may change, it’s important that you consistently provide students with what they need to feel included and supported in your class.

Gathering feedback and information

Use surveys or quizzes to gather student feedback and to learn about your students.  

You can provide things like an introduction survey at the beginning of the online class and anonymous surveys to monitor student progress and gather feedback on areas you improve.

Example introduction survey questions:

  • What’s your name? (Course roster name)
    • What name do you prefer I call you? (If it’s different from course roster name)
  • What are your pronouns? 
  • What are three activities, hobbies, or interests that you enjoy?
  • What’s one interesting fact about you?
  • How do you prefer communicating?
      • Multiple choice: Phone, email, video calls, text message, other (fill in).
  • How do you learn best?
      • Multiple choice: Live lectures, recorded lectures, group work, individual work, written assignments, other (fill in)
  • What are you looking forward to learning in this class?
  • What virtual office hours would work best for your schedule?
    • Multiple choice: Morning (9 – 12), Afternoon (12 – 3), Evening (4-7)

Example feedback survey questions:

  • What are three things you’ve learned in the class so far?
  • What is helping you learn in this class?
  • What can I do to improve your learning experience?

After you’ve gathered student responses, look at the bigger picture of their feedback:

  • Are there any common themes? 
  • What can you improve on immediately? 
  • Are there any follow-up questions to their responses?

The strategies provided in this article aren’t necessarily complex, but they’re effective and they can help you better connect with your students and improve their online learning experience.

Submit your email below to download our 5-part DEI eBook

The eBook covers everything you need to know about establishing and using diversity, equity, and inclusion in your online classes.

Part 1: Addressing the need for DEI in online education

Part 2: Strategies to develop diverse, equitable, and inclusive online courses

Part 3: How to create accessible online courses (with real examples)

Part 4: Tips to improve your connection with students in an online learning environment

Part 5: How to use educational technology to create a fair testing environment

DEI for Online Courses

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are fundamental elements of online courses and education because it impacts every aspect of the learning experience for each student. From the way you communicate with your students to the way you develop course content and test their knowledge, it impacts every piece of the educational experience.

This article will show you how to:

Before we show you how to apply diversity, equity, and inclusion to your online courses, consider these questions:

How are you establishing DEI in your course?

  • Have you created a diversity, equity, and inclusion statement? 
  • Do your students understand how DEI impacts and improves their educational experience?

What’s needed to take your online course?

  • How much does it cost to purchase the required software and hardware? What if students can’t afford it?

Are you using diverse course content?

  • Are you using references from a diverse range of people, groups, and perspectives?
  • Does the course content adapt to all learning styles?

Is the online course accessible?

  • Does your online course content meet web accessibility compliance standards?
  • Is it structured to allow assistive technology to understand the content?

These questions are just the beginning of designing a diverse, equitable, and inclusive online course.

Applying diversity, equity, and inclusion to online courses

Inclusive course design includes many strategies – some simple, some complex – to foster a learning environment that provides each student with a sense of belonging and an equal opportunity to achieve their educational goals.

Plan and create diverse and inclusive course content

Course design that acknowledges diversity and inclusion recognizes that all students learn differently and they need flexible ways to show what they know. It’s a well-thought-out approach to teaching that’s creative, adaptable, and engaging. 

This approach to planning and creating course content acknowledges how students learn but also their capacity to learn, disabilities, conditions, preferences, and available resources.

Consider this scenario:

You’re teaching an online course with 20 students and several have one or more of the following conditions:

  • Blind
  • Colorblind
  • Deaf
  • Unable to use a mouse or type on the keyboard

How can you accommodate these students so that they have a fair and inclusive learning experience?

Allow assistive technologies

Some students in your course may need to use assistive technology to engage and interact with your online class content. The assistive technologies should be compatible with all other technologies used in the online classroom such as the LMS, online proctoring, video conferencing, and any other multimedia.


For a student with a visual impairment, a screen reader can be used. A screen reader conveys text and images displayed on the screen into speech or touch (Braille). 

For a student that cannot type or use a mouse, an assistive keyboard and adaptive mouse can be used. These assistive technologies are designed and modified to help students who may have motor function impairments.

Use multimedia to provide alternatives

For students who are deaf, blind, or colorblind, for example, multimedia course content such as audio, video, and images, can help them engage with course content. However, keep accessibility standards in mind. All multimedia used in your online class has to meet web accessibility standards and best practices which cover things like:
  • Captioning, subtitles, and transcriptions
  • Alternative-text and descriptions
  • Appropriate color contrast
  • Font sizes and types
  • Organization and structure

Use emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is important for everyone, but particularly for educators and students. 

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence means being aware of your emotions and being able to regulate them while handling and building relationships with empathy, self-awareness, and good judgment.

Can emotional intelligence be taught?

Many people believe that emotional intelligence is something that you have or don’t have, but like most skills, it takes practice.

“We often think that emotional intelligence is something you have or you don’t have, but the good news is that isn’t necessarily true. It’s a skill that we can develop.”

– Bethany J. Adams, MA, SHRM-SCP, Villanova University Instructor and Associate Director of the Graduate Programs in Human Resource Development

Provide different ways to participate

Make sure that students have different options to participate and engage with your class content and with other students. Whether it’s technology-related, communication methods, or group work, make sure students understand what options are available.

What if students can’t meet the technology requirements?

While most students have a laptop or computer, some don’t have the resources or the ability to purchase them. 

Consider this scenario: your student has a computer but the webcam is broken and they can’t afford to buy one. How can they engage and interact with your class?

 If their webcam is broken, you need to provide them with other options, such as speaking or using the chat during a live lecture.

“Whether it’s being on camera, speaking, using the chat, or just listening in, you want them to have every opportunity to interact in different ways when they’re ready,”

Patrick DeLapp, VA Special Olympics Board Member and Coach

Allow accommodations

Accommodations are a lifeline for many students whether they need to use assistive devices to read, need more time to complete a proctored exam, or have a condition that requires bathroom breaks every ten minutes.

Consider this example of two students taking an online proctored exam on their laptop:

Student 1: their laptop’s webcam broke and they can’t afford to buy a new one.

Student 2: has a condition that requires bathroom breaks every ten minutes.

How can you provide accommodations for these students?

For student 1, you can give the remote proctor instructions to bypass the student not using a webcam and face detection can be turned off. This way, the student can complete the proctored exam without the webcam but other test monitoring features, such as cell phone detection and voice detection, remain in place to protect the exam. For student 2, you can provide the remote proctor with specific accommodations for the student to allow bathroom breaks every ten minutes or as needed.

Provide practice tests

Practice tests and other low-stakes exams are beneficial for a variety of reasons such as reducing student test anxiety and getting feedback.

A student survey indicated that one of the main causes of test anxiety was concerns about technology working correctly. If you provide regular practice tests, your students can better understand how the online test platform works and they can prepare accordingly.

Low stakes testing also includes non-graded “tests” which ask for feedback in different forms. Whether it’s a poll question about how they prefer to learn or a written response to reflect on a course topic, it’s a great way for instructors to learn about their students.

Use anonymous grading

Use anonymous grading, sometimes referred to as blind grading, to remove any potential grading bias. With anonymous grading, a student submits their assignment with no name or identification number. You can accomplish this using most modern LMSs by turning on anonymous grading at the course level. This feature hides  student names during grading and then distributes their scores back to them automatically. Anonymous grading can help build trust with students because they know that it’s fair and equitable.

Provide students with a list of helpful resources

Gather a list of helpful resources that students can use such as tutoring services, writing centers, online libraries, study groups, technical support, and any accessibility offices and contacts. You can provide helpful guides and FAQs about any technology requirements used in your online courses, such as how to use the LMS, setting up the room before an online proctored exam, and minimum system requirements.

Make a connection with your students

Get to know your students and make a connection with them. In doing so, you can help build trust and improve communication.

How do you build this connection? Be human and don’t overthink it.

Tell them about yourself, your hobbies and interests, or just a funny story from your past that makes you who you are.

Be authentic, relatable, and most of all – human.

Creating a diversity, equity, and inclusion statement for online courses

Create a statement that describes your commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion for your online courses and in life.

What is a diversity, equity, and inclusion statement?

It’s a concise statement that clearly tells your story and explains your commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion along with the impact it makes in your online classes. 

How to create a diversity, equity, and inclusion statement

Be clear and concise

Don’t worry about word count – the most important thing is to tell a meaningful story about your mission and purpose.

Describe the impact and importance of DEI

Students have to understand the importance of DEI and the impact it makes on their education. Explain how it creates a fair learning environment and provides different perspectives and opportunities to expand their knowledge.

Discuss your experience and commitment

Speak to your experience with diversity, equity, and inclusion. Regardless of your race, ethnicity, gender, age, or condition, describe your understanding and ongoing commitment to creating an inclusive and diverse educational experience for all students.

Set clear expectations for student behavior

Students need to know what behavior is expected of them and how they play a role in maintaining an inclusive learning environment.

Academic diversity, equity, and inclusion and statement sample

​​I am committed to creating a classroom community that values and respects diversity, equity, and inclusion. I am committed to this effort because these differences inspire compassion, encourage creativity, support students, and create a community of academic rigor that drives success. 

We will all respect each other regardless of any differences such as race, color, age, socioeconomic status, condition, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, and any other way a person identifies. 

We are all part of this ongoing effort to create a diverse, fair, and inclusive learning environment that welcomes all individuals, encourages open, tolerant, and respectful communication, and supports students throughout their educational journey. 

Establishing diversity and inclusion from the beginning

Start from scratch

Forget your assumptions, acknowledge biases (whether intended or not), and realize that you probably have a lot to learn. 

This self-awareness helps create an inclusive and diverse educational experience for all of your students because it considers all variables – from background and experiences to creating a learning environment that’s inclusive and fair for all students in your online course. 

Embrace mistakes

You’ll make mistakes but try to look at them as an opportunity to learn and adapt.  

Stay up-to-date

Every course will have different variables that will frequently change. What you created last semester may need to be tweaked and it could even be out of compliance based on previous standards. Stay up-to-date and ahead of changes.

Understand different learning styles

Understanding different learning styles doesn’t mean just acknowledging that some students prefer listening to audio while others prefer reading studies on their laptops. It’s an approach to teaching and learning that considers all variables such as web accessibility, available technology and resources, and different types of content.

When you understand and acknowledge different learning styles, you can plan how to create diverse content and that provides students with different ways to demonstrate their knowledge.

Use diverse sources for course content

When you’re developing your online course, include information from different sources to give students different perspectives, backgrounds, and values. 

Use at least two sources from different backgrounds. This can be selecting sources that are from different genders, races, ethnicities, religions, and even countries. 

Diverse sources also include information from different publications, which helps give different perspectives and contexts. Look for case studies, magazines, books, research studies, news, and interviews to help provide a diverse look at the information.

Use inclusive language

Inclusive language helps create belonging in your online course. Be aware of the language and terms you use and be sensitive to different beliefs, backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences of your students.

Inclusive language is always changing, so make sure you stay up to date with the appropriate terms to use.

Educators can make a difference

Creating online courses that are truly diverse, equitable, and inclusive is an ongoing and complex effort, but the actionable steps outlined in this blog ensure that you’re on the right track. Educators play an invaluable role in creating a learning environment that welcomes all students, levels the playing field, drives communication and connection, and creates a better educational experience.

Submit your email below to download our 5-part DEI eBook

 The eBook covers everything you need to know about establishing and using diversity, equity, and inclusion in your online classes.

Part 1: Addressing the need for DEI in online education

Part 2: Strategies to develop diverse, equitable, and inclusive online courses

Part 3: How to create accessible online courses (with real examples)

Part 4: Tips to improve your connection with students in an online learning environment

Part 5: How to use educational technology to create a fair testing environment

Higher Education Student Test Anxiety Survey

Test anxiety is common for students, especially in an online testing environment where online proctoring is used. But what if online exam proctoring can actually help reduce test anxiety? 

To understand how our approach to online proctoring can impact student test anxiety, we conducted a survey with the University of North Alabama (UNA) to learn:

  • What causes test anxiety?
  • Can test anxiety be reduced with online proctoring?
  • Ways instructors can help reduce student assessment anxiety

Test anxiety summary

Test anxiety summary

Test anxiety is any reaction that causes stress and anxiety for students. These reactions can be psychological, physical, and emotional.

What are test anxiety symptoms?

Test anxiety can be different for each person. It can mean panic attacks and severe anxiety for some or it can be sweaty palms and nausea for others. Regardless of the symptoms, it can negatively impact testing performance.

About the student test anxiety survey

Who was surveyed?

During a three-month period in 2020, UNA students across a variety of disciplines were surveyed before and after assessments to understand their baseline anxiety regarding proctored assessments.

These students were participating in mid-term and final exams from the summer and fall semesters for two different classes.

Survey findings

Quick student test anxiety survey stats:

  • 64% agreed that “taking an online test makes me nervous”
  • 6% decrease in overall test anxiety between their first and second exams
  • 15% decrease in anxiety associated with the statement, “Thoughts about the proctor interfered with my concentration.”
  • 100% of students who interacted with an Honorlock remote proctor responded “Yes” to the interview question “Did the proctor make you less anxious?”

Online testing causes stress

64% of students, even when they’re well-prepared, agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “taking an online test makes me nervous.”

What causes test anxiety associated with online proctoring?

    • Technology concerns (worried their device won’t work or they’ll have internet issues)
    • Students don’t understand what can be flagged by the AI or live proctor.
      • Some students assumed that insignificant behavior could get flagged, such as: reading a test question out loud or looking up for a moment to think
      • Students don’t know how interactions with a remote proctor will play out

Online proctoring done correctly can help reduce test anxiety

Interacting with remote proctors can reduce test anxiety

The students were surveyed before and after assessments and we found that students who interacted with remote proctors during their exam had a marked decrease in anxiety for future exams. In fact, all of the students experienced a reduction in anxiety after they experienced a chat with a proctor.

Just being able to interact with a live test proctor helped students feel more confident. The conversations allowed them to identify different triggers for live support and experience a positive, supportive interaction. 

Students usually think that test proctors are only there to catch cheating. In reality, Honorlock proctors are a resource for students during the proctored exam.

“The proctor popping in was different than I expected – in a positive way. I imagined them being more strict. I felt that the proctor was helpful and a lot less intimidating than I thought.”

 – Student quote in a post-exam interview

More experience with proctored exams helps reduce anxiety

Students experienced:

  • 6% less overall test anxiety between their first and second exams
  • 15% less anxiety associated with the statement, “Thoughts about the proctor interfered with my concentration.”
  • 100% of students who interacted with a remote proctor responded “Yes” to the interview question “Did the proctor make you less anxious?”

Proctor training is important

During our study, we looked at whether or not better proctor training could result in an improved experience for students. 

We started by looking at existing research on physical signs of stress during tests including*:

  1. Lip licking 
  2. Excessive throat clearing 
  3. Propping the head up 
  4. Touching or rubbing the face 

Our test proctors were trained to spot these behaviors and proactively interact with students using a reassuring set of talking points.

Here’s a look at the talking points for test proctor interactions with students

Student test anxiety talk track with test proctor

Training proctors to better support students during times of anxiety

Our approach to online proctoring aims to improve the testing experience for students. Staying true to our word, our full-time remote proctoring team was trained by a nationally certified counselor and educator on support during moments of assessment frustration and anxiety to assist students and help them feel supported in their test-taking environment.

How instructors can help reduce student test anxiety

Use practice exams to help students get comfortable with proctored exams

By creating familiarity with online proctored exams, instructors can proactively help reduce student anxiety. 

Be sure to create multiple opportunities to complete practice exams, check technology requirements, and interact with a remote proctor at the beginning of the assessment.

“My professor set up a practice test the week before the first real test. The practice test listed out all of her expectations and requirements. On my first real exam, I was fully prepared for the online proctoring experience since I knew what to expect.” 

– Student quote in a post-exam interview

Provide important information about how proctored exams work

Give your students upfront information about how proctored exams work so that they know what to expect beforehand. 

Be sure to include information about:

  • What online proctoring is, how it works, and why it’s used
  • What can trigger a “flag” and what to expect during an interaction with a test proctor
  • Test rules to help avoid any confusion
  • Minimum system requirements (a device with functioning webcam and microphone, internet connection, etc.)
  • The role of a remote proctor
  • Available support options and how to access it
  • Accessibility options and accommodations

A Better Approach to Online Proctoring

Honorlock approaches online proctoring in such a way that what’s good for the institution is also good for the learner.

Our purpose isn’t just to prevent students from cheating – we aim to create a testing experience that supports academic integrity in a non-invasive and fair test environment.

Honorlock strives to build confidence and trust with students that will strengthen their relationships with your faculty and institution.

Creating Accessible Online Classes (with examples)

There’s a lot to consider when creating online classes that are accessible for every student regardless of any disability.

  • Does your color contrast between text and background colors meet accessibility compliance standards?
  • Is the online course content legally compliant with accessibility standards such as ADA, Section 508, and WCAG?
  • Do images have appropriate text descriptions in the right format?
  • Is the course content accessible by screen readers?
  • Are your videos captioned? 
  • Are the learning technologies accessible?
  • Are you creating meaningful links?

These are just a few examples of questions to consider when developing your online course content. Use these tips as a guide to creating a well-designed online course that’s accessible for all students and meets common accessibility compliance standards such as ADA, Section 508, and WCAG.

Why is accessibility important in online learning?

Simply put: accessibility in the classroom makes online learning inclusive and usable for all students, regardless of their disability or condition.

Evolving technology drives change in accessible online learning

When online classes started, they were typically asynchronous (learning at your own pace) with course content that was largely text-based with no frills. Text-based content is accessible for most students.

As technology in online learning evolved and improved, online class content changed as well. Online classes have become more interactive with instructors using online learning tools such as online proctoring, testing platforms, and live video lectures; instructors are also integrating more multimedia, such as images and videos, and links to other content. 

Accessible online learning isn’t static

Higher education institutions need to continuously monitor the accessibility of their online learning modalities, practices, and technologies. If you haven’t previously developed your course content with accessibility in mind, start today. If you haven’t tested the accessibility of your online course materials – start today. All students deserve an equal and inclusive educational experience whether it’s online or in-person. 

What makes an online class accessible?

Follow WCAG’s POUR Principles of web accessibility (Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, Robust).

Perceivable Accessibility: Ensures that all students can identify and interact with online class elements by the senses.

Operable Accessibility: Students should have the ability to interact with the online course content through navigation, controls, buttons, and other interactive course elements.

Understandable Accessibility: Online course content shouldn’t just be operable, users need the ability to fully comprehend and understand the information. Understandable information should be consistent and appropriate in format and design across all methods of delivery (text, audio, video, etc.).

Robust Accessibility: Online class content must be robust enough to be used across different technologies. Robust course content should be accurately interpreted and interacted with across the LMS and other learning technologies such as remote proctoring and virtual learning elements, multimedia, and other web formats.

Accessibility Checklist and Tips for Online Classes

Accessible Online Course Design

Accessible online course content is easy to read, structured, and organized.

Color Contrast

Color choice is very important for all students to be able to interpret and use the content on the web. Contrast ratios ensure that all text color is easily visible against the background color for all users. 

To give an example of the importance of color contrast, font size, and various standards, the color contrast below uses a navy blue font against a gray background.

The overall contrast ratio of 4.74:1 passes WCAG AA but at certain sizes fails WCAG AAA. Font size and different standards may impact whether the contrast passes or fails. 

Accessibility color contrast ratio
Accessibility color contrast example for normal text

The Normal Text example above passes WCAG AA but fails WCAG AAA. This is because WCAG AA’s contrast ratio is 4.5:1 for normal text but WCAG AAA is 7:1.

Example of large text accessibility size and color contrast

The Large Text example above passes both WCAG AA and WCAG AAA. This is because WCAG AA’s contrast ratio is 3:1 for large text and WCAG AAA is 4.5:1.  

You can test font color contrast with this tool.

WCAG contrast ratios

WCAG 2.0 level AA contrast ratio requirements: 

  • 4.5:1 for normal text 
  • 3:1 for large text 

WCAG 2.1 contrast ratio requirements:  

  • 3:1 for any graphics and user interface elements 

WCAG Level AAA contrast ratio requirements: 

  • 7:1 for normal text 
  • 4.5:1 for large text

Font type and size

Use accessible fonts and sizes

Accessible Fonts 

  • Use Sans Serif fonts such as Arial and Helvetica
    • Sans Serif fonts do not use serifs, which are the small lines at the ends of the letter.
  • Avoid using Serif fonts such as Times New Roman and Garamond
    • Serif fonts use small lines or elements at the ends of the letter, which can be more difficult to read for some.
Sans Serif versus Serif example with the difference in style
  • Accessible Font Sizes According to WCAG
    • Minimum font size 12-14px.
    • Large font size is 18px and above.
    • Note: Some fonts are inherently larger than others even though they have the same px. Be sure that your font type and size are appropriate for accessibility.
    • Example: The fonts below show that while the font px is the same and both are Sans Serif, the overall size of the characters is different. The top line is Arial font and the line below it is Calibri.

Structure and Organization

  • Use headings, not just bolded font
      • Headings provide structure and hierarchy.
      • Headings should clearly define the intent of the subsequent elements within.
    • Don’t use headings out of order
      • Do: H1, H2, H3
      • Don’t: H1, H3, H2
  • Create actual lists, not just hyphens 
    • Make sure lists are numbered (ordered) or bulleted (unordered) because it helps assistive technologies, such as screen readers, understand the items on the list.
  • Use a consistent course layout
    • Providing a well-structured and consistent online course layout helps students navigate and understand course content.
    • Consistency also makes course content predictable – meaning students won’t miss course elements as they may in an unstructured, inconsistent format.
    • The “Do” layout example below uses headers, provides spacing between elements to avoid clutter and confusion, and provides context of what the course elements are.


Module 1: Online Learning

Module 1 Readings

  1. Study Tips (Word Doc)
  2. Testing Tips (PDF)

Module 1 Assignments

  1. Share your study tips (Forum Response)
  2. Share your testing tips (Word Doc Written Response)


Module 1

  1. Study tips
  2. Testing tips
    • Share study tips
    • Testing tips document

Descriptive Hyperlink Text

  • Use descriptive link text that provides students with the context and purpose of the link.
  • Keep in mind that color alone isn’t enough to establish a link.

Do: Article 1 for Assignment 4, Module 6

Don’t: Click here

Accessible Multimedia in Online Classes

Multimedia in online classes, such as video and images, can provide an additional way for instructors to create a more engaging and interactive learning experience for students. However, if a student can’t see a video or hear what’s being communicated, they’re at a significant disadvantage. 

It’s crucial to remember that all video, audio, images, and any other multimedia content with text alternatives should have text alternatives such as captioning, transcripts, and descriptions. Text alternatives allow students to perceive and understand the course elements and content. Multimedia elements should also be usable and robust for accessible online learning.

For example, students should be able to pause, rewind, and forward the online course video using keyboard controls. The video should also be robust enough to work with any computer, cell phone, and LMS.

Accessible Multimedia in Online Classes

Accessible Video Captions

Captioning videos you don’t own

  • If the video is already captioned, check for accuracy
    • Review the videos and captions for accuracy before using them in your course.
    • Captions created by AI can be difficult to follow because they may be inaccurate or lack punctuation and capitalization.
    • Some sites, such as YouTube, allow you to use filters to narrow your search by only showing captioned videos.
  • If the video isn’t captioned, do it yourself
    • Search for video captioning tools such as Subtitle Horse, 3Play Media, and DotSub.
    • How to caption videos you created or own
      • Create the video transcript.
      • Upload the video transcript to the video hosting site.
      • Most video hosting sites, such as Youtube and Vimeo, allow you to sync the transcript with the video.
      • After the transcript is added, make corrections and adjust the timing to align the captions with the video. 

Captions vs Subtitles: Similar but different

While captions and subtitles are similar and display text on the screen, they’re not quite the same. 

What are captions?

  • Captions provide additional context to the audio in the video.
  • Captions include non-speech elements (a dog barking or a car horn) and identifying speakers.
    • Video Captioning Tip: Don’t overwhelm people with too much detail.
      • Provide enough detail and context to help the student understand but avoid too much detail because it can be overwhelming and distracting because it clutters the screen with unnecessary information.

What are subtitles?

    • Subtitles provide what is said in the video.
      • Video Subtitling Tip: Be accurate and use punctuation and capitalization.

Audio Descriptions and Transcripts

Audio descriptions describe important visual aspects of the video for those who are unable to see. This helps people with visual impairments understand what’s happening in the video.

What is an audio transcript? Audio transcripts are a text version of the content that captures spoken audio and provides important descriptions of visuals. 

  • Audio Transcript Tip: Similar to video captions, audio transcripts should be concise and not overwhelm the listener with too much information. Focus on the key elements of the visuals.

Descriptions for images

Similar to providing descriptions for video and audio, image text descriptions should provide the context and purpose of the image in about 125 characters or less.

Image Alt-Text Example:

Bad Alt-Text: Person hiking

Good Alt-Text: Man hiking up a steep mountain covered in snow while carrying a backpack

What not to use in your class

  • Don’t use online course content that flashes or blinks.
    • Content that flashes or blinks may cause seizures.
    • If the element must flash or blink, no more than three flashes/blinks in one second, according to WCAG.
  • Any motion animation, such as blinking, scrolling, etc., should be able to be disabled or stopped by the student.

Accommodations and Accessibility for Online Tests

What are accommodations for online tests?

Accommodations in an online test can mean many things such as extending time limits and adjusting due dates. Additionally, it can mean accommodating diverse learning styles needed to include all students and ensuring that your technologies can provide accessible learning. 

Accessible Online Tests

Timed online tests
Adjust the time limit for your online exams. For example, if the online test time limit is 50 minutes, some students may require 75 minutes for their exam. 

Some students may need accommodations for breaks. Be sure to build these break times into the total time limit for your exam. For example, if a student requires an online exam time limit accommodation of 75-minutes plus three 5-minute breaks, the total test time limit should be 90 minutes for that particular student.

Accessible Questions and Responses
Provide various ways to provide online test instructions, questions, and responses, such as audio, video, and written. Students should be able to communicate their responses in different ways. For example, if your exam requires a spoken portion, you should provide accommodations to accept sign language or written responses for those who cannot speak.

Adjusted Assignment Due Dates
Similar to accommodations for online test time limits, make sure any assignments take each student’s needs into account. Some students may need an extra day or week to complete the assignment.

Accessible Technology for Online Learning

What is Accessible Technology?

Accessible technology is software, hardware, multimedia, etc. that are accessible for any user regardless of their disability. Online learning technology includes a variety of common tools and platforms such as a learning management system (LMS), remote proctoring software, and video conferencing. It’s important to make sure that each technology is accessible and integrates/enables other needed technologies such as screen readers, captioning, and accommodations.

Learning Management System

Be sure that the LMS you’re using is accessible for various assistive technologies such as screen readers and allows keyboard navigation. Your LMS should allow you to create a fully accessible online class, manage accommodations, and integrate with other accessible online learning technologies. Be sure to review the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT)

Remote Proctoring Software

The use of remote proctoring software has significantly increased since the pandemic moved many universities and colleges to online learning. With the quick shift, make sure that the remote proctoring software allows accommodations for your online exams, conforms to guidelines and compliance standards, and routinely reviews accessibility. 

Remote Proctoring Accessibility Accommodations
Using remote proctoring to provide accessible online tests is crucial for your students’ success and creates an equal test experience. 

The remote proctoring software should specify accommodations for specific students, such as: 

  • John Doe is allowed to use multiple monitors during the exam 
  • Jane Smith will have an interpreter in the room
  • John Doe does not have a Photo ID, please bypass ID verification 
  • Jane Smith is allowed three 5-minute breaks 

Accessible Video Conferencing

Video conferencing is a great way to connect and engage your students in an online learning environment. If you plan to use video conferencing in your online class, be sure that the tool allows subtitles and captions to describe what’s on-screen and enables keyboard navigation. Keyword navigation should include shortcuts to raise their hand, mute/unmute audio, screen share, and chat.

Key takeaways for creating accessible online classes

  • Organize and structure your course content.
  • Use appropriate font colors, types, and sizes.
  • Any non-text course elements (e.g. audio, video, images) should have a text alternative such as captions, transcripts, and descriptions.
  • Offer online class content in various ways (video, audio, text).
  • All software (e.g. LMS & remote proctoring) and hardware (e.g. keyboards & screens) used in your online class should be accessible.
  • Provide appropriate accommodations for student needs.

Finish the 3-Part Accessibility Series