Proctoring and Equity

Proctoring and Equity

During our move to remote learning during COVID, many instructors are struggling with how to assess students online while maintaining academic integrity. For many instructors, that has led to the use of online proctoring tools like Respondus Monitor or Examity. But these surveillance- or recording-based proctoring tools are fraught with equity and privacy issues, particularly during this pandemic when students may not have much control over their living and studying environments. This page outlines some of those concerns we hope instructors will consider when making decisions about whether and how to employ online proctoring tools. We recognize some of these challenges vary across the proctoring tools on the market, but the general concerns do span specific products.

In classrooms, students take an exam in the same environment with the same technologies. When students are dispersed, however, there may be vast differences in their learning environments and the technologies available to them. These differences are particularly important when students are faced with an online exam, which can bring its own stressors and high stakes. Some of the problems students may encounter when taking an exam remotely include:

  • No quiet room to take the test in
  • Family members or housemates who don’t respect the testing efforts, or otherwise cannot fully avoid the testing space
  • Lack of stable internet access and/or sufficient bandwidth/speed to support educational tasks
  • Computers, laptops, or tablets that are unreliable or old
  • Lack of access to other devices, such as a webcam or a printer
  • Being in a different time zone and therefore having to take the test at a less-than-optimal time
  • Stress from the knowledge they are being watched and/or recorded during a test

The stress caused by any of these challenges can inequitably impact some students in your class, putting them at an academic disadvantage compared to more privileged classmates.

 

Potential Privacy Issues

Students are taking online exams in a variety of settings, many of which are not conducive to their test performance—a dorm room, an apartment bedroom, a shared living space, a parent's or relative's home, or even a car near a wifi hotspot. Students across the country are noting what they see as an invasion of their privacy, that recordings or live proctors are looking into their personal spaces, and sometimes requiring them to alter those spaces for the sake of proctoring. While many instructors have the privilege of identying a virtually public space within our homes—a home office or converted spare bedroom, for example—many students have only a small space of their own and feel uncomfortable with those spaces being surveilled.

 

Potential Bias Issues

The use of proctoring software may also introduce several types of bias into the test-taking process. Granted, these tools are intended to flag videos for instructor review, not make cheating judgements on their own, but any bias a system adds to the testing process calls certain students to an instructor's attention unequally, and potentially adds stress to students under that scrutiny.

Potential Racial Bias

Facial recognition and detection software has been known to have problems recognizing and identifying non-white faces, leading to significant concerns about using these biased technologies for security and law enforcement purposes. In the case of proctoring software, facial detection algorithms, along with a camera's difficulty recognizing dark faces, can lead to problems with pre-test identify verification and increased flags of inappropriate behavior. That is, during the test, the software may no longer recognize the presence of a dark-skinned student and indicate they left the testing space. Some media have documented stories of students of color being asked to shine more light on their faces to allow facial detection software to work properly, which most certainly increases student anxiety and reduces feelings of belonging in the course and university.

Potential Physical Bias

Software may flag students for unacceptable movements, trying to identify behaviors that might be linked to cheating. In some cases, this can be stressful to any student who may be used to looking up while thinking, putting their head down in frustration, mumbling questions to themselves, or even being distracted by movement in the room or outside a window. To students with disabilities, the software's range of acceptable physical movements can be discriminatory. Likewise, some proctoring software uses keystroke pattern detection to identify normal and suspicious typing behavior, another bias against disabled students.

 

Solutions

To mitigate the problems surrounding the use of surveillance software:

  • Look for alternative ways to assess student learning that do not require surveillance, such as a project or an open-book exam.
  • Give students a chance to practice with the software before administering an actual exam, offering them a low-/no-stakes quiz sometime before the actual exam. This can alleviate students’ stress as well as to identify technology and logistical problems.
  • Be prepared to offer an alternative exam option.

 

Resources