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Four weeks into the quarter, it is midterm season — but in a drastically different setting. In lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m preparing to take my first online midterm exam. This time around though, there is an added aspect to my usual exam stress.
Classes across campus, including my own, have turned to exam monitoring software such as Proctorio to minimize cheating during exams. Proctorio uses facial detection software to verify and monitor students through their webcam for “suspicious” activity, including eye movements and background activity or noise.
It combines this with keystroke monitoring and artificial intelligence that learns to recognize cheating behavior. The software then generates an automated report for educators with a “suspicion level” for each student, and video recordings are stored on Proctorio’s servers where it may be accessed by relevant UW staff.
Requiring students to install and use Proctorio exacerbates inaccessibility, invades students’ privacy, and ultimately furthers ableist discrimination.
Proctorio is an extension on the Google Chrome web browser; however, not all students necessarily have access to devices that can access Google Chrome. One student in my course posted that their laptop crashes whenever they use Google Chrome. Another student, based out of China, was recommended that they use a VPN to download the software. This is particularly concerning, because a UW student in China was targeted and placed in a reeducation camp when she used a VPN for her homework in 2017.
Past inaccessibility, Proctorio is also a gross invasion of privacy. As a hijabi, Muslim woman of color I am extremely uncomfortable with software that films, records, and then uses artificial intelligence to analyze my face and body. Further, both UW and Proctorio have provided little to no information about where my data is actually going to be stored, and what might be at risk in the event of a data breach.
Most importantly, software like Proctorio increases systematic discrimination in education. Facial recognition technology is calibrated for white skin as the norm. Specifically with Proctorio, students at Texas Tech who have black or brown skin have been asked to shine more light on themselves to verify their identities. More broadly, facial recognition technologies have shown a consistent inability to identify people with darker skin, or even tell the difference between Chinese people.
This type of software also increases ableist discrimination. Proctorio analyzes student movement in comparison to everyone else’s. If you’re the only student to look at a clock, and no other student does, you are automatically flagged as “suspicious.” For students with ADHD or other neuromuscular conditions the inability to sit still would be flagged.
Additionally, I can personally attest that the added layer of scrutiny causes me undue stress. I see myself focusing more of my attention on keeping still to not appear to be cheating, rather on the test itself. I can’t even begin to imagine the effect this scrutiny would have on students who struggle with anxiety.
I wasn’t notified that my class would be using Proctorio until just a few days ago. If I had known previously, I might have even dropped the course. Tools like Proctorio ultimately amplify accessibility issues, privacy concerns, as well as racial and ableist discrimination. All of this erodes my trust as a student in UW.
Technology isn’t inherently neutral or objective. It doesn’t cause cheating, and it won’t ultimately stop it. Since many exams including my own are open book, I strongly caution against the added layer of exam monitoring that Proctorio adds. In this already difficult, stressful time, the UW should not use anxiety provoking, ableist exam monitoring software.
I urge instructors at UW to instead prioritize compassion over suspicion, and to trust their students to demonstrate their learning with academic integrity.
UW undergraduate, Biochemistry & Comparative History of Ideas 2021