(This letter is adapted and expanded from the work of the Contra Costa College Distance Education Committee, which was licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This letter is also licensed CC-BY-NC-SA by Nic Helms.)
While we the undersigned faculty and staff members at Plymouth State University often advocate for educational technologies to support student success, we find online proctoring software, in general, to be highly problematic. For the reasons outlined below, we strongly encourage the consideration of authentic assessments and other possible alternatives instead of online proctoring software to measure students’ acquisition of learning objectives and outcomes.
In this post we outline our concerns related to equity and inclusion, privacy, and liability. Student surveillance technologies like online proctoring software are inimical to PSU’s central values of people and place, as well as our commitment to equity, diversity, inclusion, social justice, antiracism, and our emphasis on culturally relevant and culturally responsive teaching practices. And PSU’s students are speaking out against such proctoring software, as you can read in Asia Merrill’s “The Good Student’s Argument Against Proctoring Software,” published this winter in The Clock.
We strongly encourage the consideration of authentic assessments and other possible alternatives instead of online proctoring software to measure students’ acquisition of learning objectives and outcomes. Although online proctoring may deter cheating, it does so at a cost to students who already struggle with traditional exams. Evidence suggests that students with higher levels of test anxiety perform worse on exams and that this effect is exacerbated when they take exams that make use of online proctoring software. There are other ways to deter cheating in an online setting that do not require invasive technology that harms some of our more vulnerable students.
PSU’s financial resources can be better spent on reliable technological infrastructure. For example, PSU currently needs to invest in more reliable on-campus Wifi; proctoring software would compete with the funding for such infrastructure, costing PSU thousands of dollars annually for access. The lack of basic technological infrastructure should be the first concern for any academic technology considerations moving forward. In the current financial climate, we should be careful to spend our money only on resources that provide unquestionable benefits to our campus community and not on questionable and invasive technology.
Equity Concerns with Online Proctoring Software like Respondus
This technology, based on artificial intelligence and biometrics, has been found to be:
- Racist: Facial detection and recognition technology is calibrated for white skin as the norm. It has a consistent inability to identify Black, Brown, and Asian people, placing BIPOC students at a disproportionate disadvantage (“A US government study confirms most face recognition systems are racist” by Karen Hao, “Amazon face-detection technology shows gender and racial bias, researchers say”, and “Study finds gender and skin-type bias in commercial artificial-intelligence systems”). In addition, students from certain cultural backgrounds are not permitted to be on camera, which makes them unable to take a test with proctoring software.
- Genderist/Transphobic: Transgender or non-binary students may not be identifiable using facial detection and recognition technology if they are in the gender transitioning process (“Facial Recognition Software Has a Problem” by Lisa Marshall).
- Ableist: Students with disabilities, such as ADHD, rapid eye movement, or neuromuscular disabilities are at a disadvantage when the software is flagging head, body, and eye movements as suspicious behaviors. As Shea Swauger writes, “most proctoring software’s default settings label any bodies or behaviors that don’t conform to the able-bodied, neurotypical ideal as a threat to academic integrity” (“Our Bodies Encoded: Algorithmic Test Proctoring in Higher Education” by Shea Swauger).
Potential emotional, mental, and educational consequences:
- Is stressful and anxiety-provoking: Students express difficulty focusing on the content of the exam while being recorded because they are so concerned about keeping their bodies and eyes still and not appearing to be cheating. It can alter students’ performance if they’re feeling anxious or frustrated and if it’s not recognizing their face (“Cheating-detection companies made millions during the pandemic. Now students are fighting back”). Additionally, the student voice is represented in the article “Students Are Pushing Back Against Proctoring Surveillance Apps” by Jason Kelley.
- Invades student’s privacy and may violate their civil rights: Respondus and others face a complaint about privacy filed by EPIC with the DC Attorney General. The State Bar of California may soon be sued for its discriminatory use of facial recognition technology in online bar exams. A student’s perspective is presented in the article “How It Feels When Software Watches You Take Tests” by Anushka Patil and Jonah Engel Bromwich.
- Places students living with others (parents, for example) at a disadvantage to finding uninterrupted blocks of time and a private room to take online proctored exams. If anyone approaches them during an exam, the proctoring software could flag this as “suspicious” behavior if no one else is allowed to be in the same room. Shea Swauger writes about the severe constraints such software places upon students.
- Views students as guilty and promotes a culture of suspicion and surveillance. It uses artificial intelligence to flag students’ “suspicious” behaviors. Normalizing the experience of being monitored by proctoring software could trigger deep-seated trauma in students related to policing and surveillance. This is a particular concern for BIPOC students, as Victoria University’s student newspaper discusses.
- Lacks adequate security: Student data can be shared with third parties. Data breaches in online proctoring software demonstrate a lack of security, such as with ProctorU.
Proctoring software produces technological barriers:
- Bandwidth and reliable internet access issues: Video surveillance via web cameras requires high-bandwidth and reliable internet access that low-income, housing insecure, rural, and homeless students do not always have access to. For a student perspective on these issues, see PSU students Zachary Eastman and Noah Fiske’s work on a “Plymouth Cares One-Stop-Shop.”
- Technological difficulties: Proctoring software adds an additional technological burden to students who are already struggling in this area. The HelpDesk reports that they often work with students who are seeking help with proctoring software-related technical issues.
Plymouth State University Signatories
Liz Ahl, English
Martha Burtis, Open Learning & Teaching Collaborative
Matthew Cheney, Interdisciplinary Studies
Hannah Davidson, Campus Accessibility Services
Robin DeRosa, Open Learning & Teaching Collaborative
Rebecca Grant, English
Nicholas Helms, English
Katie Herzig, Psychology
Cathie LeBlanc, Communication and Media Studies
Brigid O’Donnell, Biological Sciences
Lindsay Page, Campus Accessibility Services
Meg Petersen, English
Mary Beth Ray, Communication and Media Studies
Kristin Stelmok, English
Laura Tilghman, Anthropology
Metasebia Woldemariam, Communication and Media Studies
Katie Wolsiefer, Psychology
If you work at PSU and would like to add your signature to this statement, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
For further information
Against Online Proctoring, a bibliography.
Abrams, Lawrence. “ProctorU Confirms Data Breach after Database Leaked Online.” BleepingComputer, 9 Aug. 2020, www.bleepingcomputer.com/news/security/proctoru-confirms-data-breach-after-database-leaked-online.
Asher-Schapiro, Avi. “Online Exams Raise Concerns of Racial Bias in Facial Recognition.” The Christian Science Monitor, 17 Nov. 2020, www.csmonitor.com/Technology/2020/1117/Online-exams-raise-concerns-of-racial-bias-in-facial-recognition.
CBS News. “Amazon Face-Detection Technology Shows Gender, Racial Bias, Say Researchers.” CBS News, 26 Jan. 2019, www.cbsnews.com/news/amazon-face-detection-technology-shows-gender-racial-bias-researchers-say.
Cheney, M. (2020, December 04). IDS student wins Social Venture Innovation Challenge. Retrieved February 25, 2021, from https://colab.plymouthcreate.net/ids/ids-student-wins-social-venture-innovation-challenge/
Chin, Monica. “Privacy Group Files Complaint against Five Online Test-Proctoring Services.” The Verge, 9 Dec. 2020, www.theverge.com/2020/12/9/22166023/epic-proctorio-examity-privacy-online-testing-school-lawsuit-proctoring.
Crystal, Jen. “Universities Need to Condemn the Use of Problematic Online Proctor Services.” The Justice, 15 Sept. 2020, www.thejustice.org/article/2020/09/universities-need-to-condemn-the-use-of-problematic-online-proctor-services.
Hao, Karen. “A US Government Study Confirms Most Face Recognition Systems Are Racist.” MIT Technology Review, 2 Apr. 2020, www.technologyreview.com/2019/12/20/79/ai-face-recognition-racist-us-government-nist-study.
Hardesty, Larry. “Study Finds Gender and Skin-Type Bias in Commercial Artificial-Intelligence Systems.” MIT News | Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 12 Feb. 2018, https://news.mit.edu/2018/study-finds-gender-skin-type-bias-artificial-intelligence-systems-0212
Harwell, Drew. “Cheating-Detection Companies Made Millions during the Pandemic. Now Students Are Fighting Back.” Washington Post, 12 Nov. 2020, www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/11/12/test-monitoring-student-revolt/.
Hill, Kashmir. “Wrongfully Accused by an Algorithm.” The New York Times, 3 Aug. 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/06/24/technology/facial-recognition-arrest.html.
Kelley, Jason. “Students Are Pushing Back Against Proctoring Surveillance Apps.” Electronic Frontier Foundation, 25 Sept. 2020, www.eff.org/deeplinks/2020/09/students-are-pushing-back-against-proctoring-surveillance-apps.
Lam, Adam. “BIPOC Students Face Disadvantages with Exam Monitoring Software at the University of Toronto.” The Strand, 2 Feb. 2021, https://thestrand.ca/bipoc-students-face-disadvantages-with-exam-monitoring-software-at-the-university-of-toronto/
Marshall, Lisa. “Facial Recognition Software Has a Gender Problem.” CU Boulder Today, 12 Nov. 2019, www.colorado.edu/today/2019/10/08/facial-recognition-software-has-gender-problem.
Merrill, Asia. “The Good Student’s Argument Against Proctoring Software.” PSU’s The Clock. https://www.plymouth.edu/theclock/the-good-students-argument-against-proctoring-software/ Mar 2021.
Meter, Francine. “Online Proctoring – Impact on Student Equity.” Online Network of Educators, 11 Sept. 2020, https://onlinenetworkofeducators.org/2020/06/01/online-proctoring-impact-on-student-equity./
Oliver, Lindsay, and Jacob Hoffman-Andrews. “Student Privacy and the Fight to Keep Spying Out of Schools: Year In.” Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2 Feb. 2021, www.eff.org/deeplinks/2020/12/student-privacy-and-fight-keep-spying-out-schools-year-review-2020.
Patil, Anushka, and Jonah Engel Bromwich. “How It Feels When Software Watches You Take Tests.” The New York Times, 30 Sept. 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/09/29/style/testing-schools-proctorio.html.
“Remote Testing Monitored by AI Is Failing the Students Forced to Undergo It.” NBC News, 7 Nov. 2020, www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/remote-testing-monitored-ai-failing-students-forced-undergo-it-ncna1246769.
“Respondus LockDown: Is This the Answer to Prevent Students Cheating on Exams?” Getting Smart, www.gettingsmart.com/2020/07/respondus-lockdown-is-this-the-answer-to-prevent-students-cheating-on-exams .
Skolnik, Sam. “Civil Rights Group Threatens Suit Over Bar Exam Facial Scans.” BloombergLaw.Com, 10 Feb. 2021, https://news.bloomberglaw.com/business-and-practice/civil-rights-group-threatens-suit-over-bar-exam-facial-scans.
Swauger, Shea. “Our bodies encoded: Algorithmic test proctoring in higher education.” In J. Stommel, C. Friend, & S.M. Morris (Eds.), Critical Digital Pedagogy. Hybrid Pedagogy, inc. 2020. https://cdpcollection.pressbooks.com/chapter/our-bodies-encoded-algorithmic-test-proctoring-in-higher-education/
Woldeab, D. & Brothen, T. (2019). 21st century assessment: Online proctoring, test anxiety, and student performance. International Journal of E- Learning & Distance Education, 34(1). http://www.ijede.ca/index.php/jde/article/view/1106
Young, Jeffrey. “Pushback Is Growing Against Automated Proctoring Services. But So Is Their Use.” EdSurge, 13 Nov. 2020, www.edsurge.com/news/2020-11-13-pushback-is-growing-against-automated-proctoring-services-but-so-is-their-use.