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Friday, June 18, 2021

In the age of online learning, do proctored exams undermine students’ privacy?

Students say proctored exams make them feel uncomfortable and more stressed

As the world scrambled to acclimate to life at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools and colleges turned to an online learning format: Zoom learning. 

A major adjustment for students also has been online proctored exams, where students are watched by an individual from the other side of a camera as they take a test—and it’s oftentimes a person they have never met or whose identity is unknown.

Exam proctoring sites such as Examity, ProctorU and Proctario have risen considerably in use in the last year. These exam methods use real-life proctorers (over Zoom), software that detects and flags suspicious behavior (like Proctorio) or a mixture of both. Zoom proctoring, Examity and ProctorU are all services that have been used by UC Davis.

Proctoring sites such as Examity require the use of a webcam, audio, photo ID, full name, email, a snapshot of one’s test taking area and even a biometric template of students’ keystrokes.  

Other proctoring services use a mixture of a students’ webcam and access to their whole computer screen and browser to monitor them while testing. Some even go as far as using biometrics, which is like artificial intelligence, and uses eye tracking to determine “suspicious” actions to catch for cheating.

Eleanor Bemis, a fourth-year design and communication double major, said that proctored exams add extra stress to an already distracting test taking environment. 

“With online exams it’s just difficult in general,” Bemis said. “With an in-person exam… [there are] no other external factors you’re really worried about. In a proctored exam, there are external factors you have to worry about. You have to be aware of noise during a pandemic, if something goes wrong with the internet. You have to worry about more than just testing taking.”

Another worry for students is if they will somehow accidentally be flagged for cheating. 

“I find myself constantly worrying about if the proctor is trying to find something that’ll disqualify my test results,” said Hamad Arif, a third-year political science and economics double major.

Tahla Bahnasy, a second-year cognitive science major, agreed.

“It always adds the extra pressure of being flagged or the professor emailing you for something that is out of your control in your current living situation or for something that isn’t cheating,” Bahnasy said.

Students’ privacy comes into concern because they don’t really have a choice in the decision of taking a proctored exam, as it is often up to the discretion of professors. 

“I have never felt comfortable taking proctored exams but after a full year of online school, I am used to opening up a software or logging onto a Zoom call to complete an exam,” Bahnasy said.

These proctoring sites generally have students reveal their living arrangements, give access to their computers and browsers and have their camera on while someone watches them. In addition, many of these proctoring sites have students record themselves while taking the exam, and there is a lack of transparency regarding what happens to the recordings once the student hits submit. Bahnasy expressed concern with the proctoring sites for that reason.

 “[I’ve] taken both proctored exams via online programs and via Zoom, and if I had to pick between the two, I prefer Zoom proctored exams,” Bahnasy said. “It doesn’t feel right to have a software with full access to everything you are seeing, hearing and doing on your laptop and have a record of those recordings.”

Bemis said that for her, proctored exams are more a question of comfort than of privacy. 

“It feels uncomfortable to show the camera around,” Bemis said. “It’s not a safety issue for me. It’s a little off putting, but I understand why they do it.” 

Arif shared Bemis’ sentiment as he doesn’t “think my privacy is a concern, but I do feel uncomfortable when proctors have control of my computer.”

Another potential issue with proctoring services is that they require a student to have an almost ideal testing environment. Others cannot be in the room while the exam is taken, and it must be quiet and without disturbances. Emulating this environment is potentially difficult as many students live either at home with family members who may not want to be shown on camera or with other college student roommates in small apartments where it is difficult to control these outside factors. The reality is that not everyone has equal access to a quiet, disruption-free environment. 

In an effort to combat cheating and academic dishonesty by schools, students’ privacy—and their ability to focus solely on their test—seems to have become an afterthought for some classes. At the end of the day, most students are doing the best they can to continue adjusting to this strange academic environment, where many factors are outside of their control. 

With the pandemic still raging on, which has been accompanied by uncertainty and anxiety, having to worry about privacy is now another major concern tacked on for some students.

Written by: Muhammad Tariq — arts@theaggie.org

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