Cheating and Online Exam Proctoring

I’ve been doing a lot of reading and learning about online exam proctoring, to prepare to act as the “business lead” for an online exam proctoring project that ramps up this week, aiming to have a pilot in the summer and a tool available for use (as a last resort) in the fall.

It’s a complicated solution to a complicated problem. Not all courses are able to adjust assessment away from high stakes exams, and those don’t translate online in all contexts without some form of proctoring. Yes, it’s better to redesign a course to use more interesting forms of assessment. Yes, high stakes exams are problematic on their own. Yes, the concept of surveillance makes me twitch. And the idea of pushing that surveillance into our students' homes is the stuff of privacy nightmares.

Proctoring itself isn’t the problem - we have high stakes exams with in-person proctors or invigilators all the time. We fill gymnasia with rows of desks, with students being monitored by staff members who patrol for signs of cheating.

The problem is when it gets pushed into students' homes, on their own computers. And, for the most part, our students didn’t sign up for this kind of course - they signed up long ago for face-to-face courses, without being able to meaningfully consent to this kind of surveillance or to providing access to their own technologies (assuming those technologies are even available). And they have no real way to trust the surveillance technologies - they can’t see what is on the other end of the webcam, or know what happens to the video and other data. They have to take our word that we’ve worked with vendors to ensure their privacy (which we have), but asking people to just trust that it’s all ok is not enough.

Rebecca Heilweil, writing at Vox recode: Paranoia about cheating is making online education terrible for everyone:

Some students seem to hate these services, and social media is chock-full of their grievances, from criticisms of the software to objections that the tool is just plain annoying. And some, such as Raza, have turned to their campus newspapers to express their privacy objections. Earlier this year, students at Florida State University started an online petition to protest their school’s use of Honorlock, and over 5,500 have signed it so far. The University of California Berkeley has already banned online exam proctoring, with some students saying they may not have the high-speed internet connection or living situation to make remote exams happen effectively and equitably.

I mean. It’s pretty straightforward to think of ways that creative students could work around remote proctoring. The majority of students will continue to be honest, a smaller minority of students will continue to be dishonest. Technology doesn’t change that. But it might take away the temptation for casual cheating - we’ve heard from students who say they would feel pressured to cheat because they know some students will and they need to not be penalized for being honest. But that’s not a technology problem.

I’m hopeful that we will be able to avoid proctored online exams as much as possible - we finished Winter 2020 without it, and will be running Spring 2020 without it as well. If we can work with our instructors to shift them to other forms of assessment - projects, open-book exams, etc - then the temptation to rely on surveillance technologies will be reduced.


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