Is Online Test-Monitoring Here to Stay?One student tweeted, “professor just emailed me asking why i had the highest flag from proctorio. “Now proctorio has a video of me crying,” the student wrote. Anti-online-proctoring Twitter accounts popped up, such as @Procteario and @ProcterrorU. A letter of protest addressed to the CUNY administration has nearly thirty thousand signatures. Excuse me ma’am, I was having a full on breakdown mid test and kept pulling tissues.” Another protested, “i was doing so well till i got an instagram notification on my laptop and i tried to x it out AND I GOT FUCKING KICKED OUT.” A third described getting an urgent text from a parent in the middle of an exam and calling back—”on speaker phone so my prof would know I wasn’t cheating”—to find out that a family member had died.
The surge in online-proctoring services has launched a wave of complaints. On December 3rd, six U.S. senators sent letters to Proctorio, ProctorU, and ExamSoft, requesting information about “the steps that your company has taken to protect the civil rights of students,” and proof that their programs securely guard the data they collect, “such as images of [a student’s] home, photos of their identification, and personal information regarding their disabilities.” (Proctorio wrote a long letter in response, defending its practices.) On December 9th, the nonprofit Electronic Privacy Information Center submitted a complaint to the attorney general of D.C.
against five proctoring companies, arguing that they illegally collect students’ personal data. More recently, several students in Illinois have sued their institutions for using the software, alleging that it violates their rights under a state law that protects the privacy of residents’ biometric data. Other anecdotes call attention to the biases that are built into proctoring programs. In video calls with live proctors from ProctorU, test-takers have been forced to remove bonnets and other non-religious hair coverings—a policy that has prompted online pushback from Black women in particular—and students accessing Wi-Fi in public libraries have been ordered to take off protective masks.
Low-income students have been flagged for unsteady Wi-Fi, or for taking tests in rooms shared with family members. Transgender students have been outed by Proctorio’s “ID Verification” procedure, which requires that they pose for a photograph with an I.D. that may bear a previous name. Students with dark skin described the software’s failure to discern their faces. Jarrod Morgan, the chief strategy officer of ProctorU, told me that his company was in need of “relational” rather than technical changes.
“What we will own is that we have not done a good enough job explaining what it is we do,” he said. of ExamSoft, denied that his company’s product performed poorly with dark-skinned people. “A lot of times, there are issues that get publicly printed that are not actually issues,” he said. Sebastian Vos, the C.E.O. But some universities “have signed multi-year contracts that opened the door to proctoring in a way that they won’t just be able to pull themselves out of,” Jesse Stommel, a researcher who studies education technology and the editor of the journal Hybrid Pedagogy, said.
(Harvard urged faculty to move toward open-book exams during the pandemic; if professors felt the need to monitor students, the university suggested observing them in Zoom breakout rooms.