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Is Online Test-Monitoring Here to Stay?

One student tweeted, "professor just emailed me asking why i had the highest flag from proctorio. The surge in online-proctoring services has launched a wave of complaints. Anti-online-proctoring Twitter accounts popped up, such as @Procteario and @ProcterrorU. "Now proctorio has a video of me crying," the student wrote. 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.

A letter of protest addressed to the CUNY administration has nearly thirty thousand signatures. Proctorio’s list of clients grew more than five hundred per cent, from four hundred in 2019 to twenty-five hundred in 2021, according to the company, and its software administered an estimated twenty-one million exams in 2020, compared with four million in 2019. When college campuses shut down in March, 2020, remote-proctoring companies such as Proctorio, ProctorU, Examity, and ExamSoft benefitted immediately.

Fully algorithmic test-monitoring—which is less expensive, and available from companies including Proctorio, ExamSoft, and Respondus Monitor—has expanded even faster. (In a survey of college instructors conducted early in the pandemic, ninety-three per cent expressed concern that students would be more likely to cheat on online exams.) Some of these companies offer live proctoring underwritten by artificial intelligence.

These include ProctorU, which said, in December, that it had administered roughly four million exams in 2020 (up from 1.5 million in 2019), and Examity, which told Inside Higher Ed that its growth last spring exceeded pre-pandemic expectations by thirty-five per cent. Now, whenever he sits down to take an exam using Proctorio, he turns on every light in his bedroom, and positions a ring light behind his computer so that it shines directly into his eyes. Adding sources of light seems to help, but it comes with consequences.

Despite these preparations, "I know that I’m going to have to try a couple times before the camera recognizes me," he said. "That’s hard when you’re actively trying not to look away, which could make it look like you’re cheating." Like many test-takers of color, Yemi-Ese, who is Black, has spent the past three semesters using software that reliably struggles to locate his face. When we first spoke, last November, he told me that, in seven exams he’d taken using Proctorio, he had never once been let into a test on his first attempt.

"I have a light beaming into my eyes for the entire exam," he said. 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.