Well, it depends on the question. It’s true that online verification takes away the delay, the frustration and the uncertainty of sending a request for verification by mail to a country where people don’t have a whole lot of confidence in their postal system, or by email to an address that may or may not be monitored, much less by someone who will bother to answer. Online verification provides instant answers about the documents you’re dealing with and the comfort of knowing that they are in fact authentic. BUT…
How much information does the online verification actually provide?
The most thorough, of course, confirm everything: the student’s name, date of birth, dates of enrollment, date of degree, name of degree, courses, credits/hours, grades, etc., or else they confirm that the exact piece of paper or digital document in front of you was the one issued by the responsible authority. But what if it only confirms that the student graduated and doesn’t mention the date or the name of the degree? What if it confirms the name and date of the degree but doesn’t give any indication of scores? What if it confirms all their scores but doesn’t say whether or not they graduated? If you need a GPA, but you think something is odd with the transcript, confirming the student’s graduation date doesn’t exactly answer your questions.
What if the online verification does not confirm the student’s documents?
Does this automatically mean that they’re fake? Not necessarily. It could be that the database is incomplete. It could be due to technical difficulties, either at their end or at your end. Maybe you need to try a different browser. Maybe you should try again tomorrow or have one of your colleagues try it on their computer. It could even be due to user error, either at their end (even government or university employees can make mistakes) or at your end (did you enter the entire 21-character string of numbers and letters correctly?) In the end, we can’t definitively declare the documents to be fake (even if we’re pretty sure that they are) until we’ve verified them the old-fashioned way - by contacting the issuing institution and getting answers directly from them.
What if the verification site itself is fake?
It has happened. Anyone can generate a QR code and have it take you anywhere they want (see our previous blog on this topic). What’s to stop them from writing a message confirming the authenticity of documents they just created themselves, then putting a QR code on those documents to take you to that message? Or maybe their documents include a URL for a verification site that strongly resembles a known, legitimate verification site, but it is not actually affiliated with the known, legitimate verifier. (See, for example, this news item.) We can’t just blindly follow every possible online verification resource that crosses our path. We need to search out answers regarding online sources with the same due diligence that we use for traditional documents.
And what happens when the online verification is successful?
We’ve confirmed that the verification resource is legitimate, the student’s documents check out just fine, and all the pertinent details of their education are verified. Is it time to sit back and put our feet up? Well, we’ve verified that the student truly does hold a Título de Tecnólogo from Ecuador, but what level of education is that, and how does it compare with our own country? We’ve verified Senior Secondary exam scores from India, but how do we get a GPA out of their marks? As credential evaluators, we’re just getting warmed up; the online verification only answered our first questions.
In many ways, online verification makes the task of credential evaluation easier. It can definitely save a lot of time and frustration (and sometimes money), both for us as evaluators and for the credential holders we serve. But we must remember that it is only a tool - a very useful tool, but one to be used alongside the numerous other tools available to us as credential evaluators. So online verification is the answer to some questions, but nowhere near all of them.
Karen Krug is a Research & Knowledge Management Evaluator and has been with ECE since 2010. She specializes in education from East Asia, Latin America, British Isles, and former Soviet countries.