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26/05/2020 The Communication Science magazine

Digital Proctoring: A New Era in Student Surveillance

The shift to online education has changed the learning experience of students from all academic levels. As higher-education institutions insist on maintaining exam evaluations, this calls for digital proctoring. Although digital proctoring may not sound menacing, Karina delves into its implications and potential privacy breaches.


Many, if not all, students are familiar with proctoring. Also known as invigilation in which supervisors ensure that students aren’t attempting to cheat during their exams. With stay-at-home orders in place, most universities have scrambled to find alternatives to real-life proctoring. Online examinations require more monitoring, and more monitoring means harsher measures to ensure no fraud occurs during one’s exam. It’s a no-brainer that most would opt for digital proctoring, but is it worth the tradeoff for students’ privacy?

What Is Digital Proctoring?

To say the least, online proctoring has been in regular use before the outbreak started. Mostly by universities that allow distance learning as an integral part of its program. In theory, it’s not that different from proctoring an exam hall; however, in digital proctoring, one proctor is assigned for every student that is taking the test. Many of these proctors are outsourced from online proctoring companies such as Proctorio or ProctorU. Instructions on what to do often differ with each company; however, the basics are that you confirm that you’re not taking the test on behalf of someone else, show your ID (many will scan these), and start setting up the digital invigilation.

This is where it gets tricky. First, you’re supposed to show the proctor your workspace. This means you’re supposed to allow the proctor a view of your desk, to prove that there are no materials that can help you cheat during the exam. Afterward, you’re going to have to give the proctor access to your computer — this includes but isn’t limited to your computer’s password, your webcam, your browser activity, and your microphone. Going to the bathroom during the entirety of the exam isn’t possible, to ensure that you’re not committing fraud. Despite all that, there are even more measures that digital proctoring puts into place that truly toe the line of students’ privacy.

The proctor will track your eye movements, for example. Staring off-screen for too long could result in your getting flagged for suspicious activity. By gaining access to your computer screen, they can receive notifications when students attempt to cheat by opening a new tab or copy-pasting from study materials. Before the start of the exam, you’re also required to give up your keystroke biometrics for user authentication — any significant variance in speed and rhythm could again lead to a flag on your examination. The list goes on and on, with many of these disturbing students. 

Is It Worth The Risk?

Many of these measures are elements that an in-person examination would have; you generally have to use a university laptop, for example, and invigilators would be on the lookout for suspicious movement as well. However, the setting and the new intensity of at-home proctoring often make all the difference. According to The Verge’s article on Examity, many students feel uncomfortable taking exams with Examity, because they’re being watched at a place that feels more private than a classroom and at a closer distance with one-on-one proctoring being the default. 

The lack of other assessment options also doesn’t give any students much of a choice in agreeing to being invigilated online.

While some universities offer the option for students to defer their exam for an in-person alternative, most of them require students to comply with these measures to be able to take the exam. It also would require the student to have a workspace where they can be alone, as passing housemates or family members can be flagged as suspicious. Many students have returned to their families and may not be able to comply with these regulations, even if they want to. 

Furthermore, it doesn’t help that many of these companies have privacy policies that can lead to data breaches. Examity’s privacy policy notes that it will collect students’ identifiers such as one’s address, their parents’ names, their biometric record and that they may share the data with third party companies for further analysis. Even with GDPR rules in place, they still note that unless informed otherwise, students using the program agree to have their data transferred to the US, where it may be subjected to different privacy regulations. Unsurprisingly, you cannot hold Examity liable in case of a data breach as you have to accept the risk of data transmission while using their services. 

ProctorU’s privacy policy lists similar types of information that they regularly collect and disclose to third parties, with the addition of uniquely identifying features such as faceprints, iris and retina scans, and your fingerprints. The company has also said that it shares students’ browsing history and online activity to third parties for website analytics. To add on to that, students’ data are retained for “as long as necessary.” And while most students would simply breeze past the fine print in these agreements, no one can really deny how the collection and possible distribution of this data is disturbing and even invasive. 

The move to online classes has been necessary, and it’s important to appreciate how much universities and our educators have done to make these classes as accessible as possible. It’s also worth noting that there are certain sacrifices we have to make to be able to participate in today’s online classrooms and their respective forms of assessment. However, should we turn away from other methods such as take-home exams and question banks to preserve the feel of an actual examination and uphold academic integrity?

 

Cover: Green Chameleon/Unsplash

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