COLUMN: Proctorio can prevent cheating at the expense of student privacy

While professors are now more concerned about students cheating on online exams, some have turned to software like Proctorio to monitor their behaviors. Students are concerned that this software violates their privacy.

Jamie Holcomb is a sophomore journalism major at MU. She is an opinion columnist who writes about campus life and social justice for The Maneater.

In the age of online learning, technology that allows professors to connect with students and monitor their work from afar has become increasingly useful. Software like Zoom and Proctorio have been around for years, but professors are using them more frequently with most MU students in online classes. Proctorio allows professors to have control over how students take exams.

Proctorio is a software required by some MU professors for taking online assessments. It acts as a virtual proctor and tracks certain behaviors of the test taker such as eye movements and verbal communication. With the use of these softwares, students are worried about their privacy being invaded.

Professors can choose which actions to monitor, and students are made aware of this before starting the exam. Proctorio can access the computer’s camera and microphone for the duration of the exam, and some professors require a room scan before the test starts.

Proctorio and other similar software give professors an intimate look into a student’s home life and test-taking behaviors by having access to their camera. This can disproportionately affect low-income students and those with learning disabilities.

For students who don’t have access to a private room with no distractions to take an exam, they may risk losing points or dealing with increased scrutiny from professors. Dealing with mental health disorders or learning disabilities should also not be reason for increased suspicion, and students shouldn’t be required to explain this to their professors.

During a spring semester online class, MU sophomore Lauren Buker used Proctorio for the first time to take an exam for her Introduction to Exercise and Fitness class. Much like other college students, Buker experienced more pressure than normal during her exam.

“It stressed me out more knowing that someone was literally watching my movements during the test,” Buker said.

Her professor opted to use all of Proctorio’s tracking capabilities. Before the exam started, her professor required a room scan, which Lauren said was “very weird and uncomfortable”.

“It just felt very uncomfortable showing everything — basically my life — on display,” Buker said.

Proctorio CEO Mike Olsen posted a student’s chat logs on Reddit, heightening students’ concerns about their privacy. Olsen hoped to disprove what the student posted about the software. This student claimed that support staff had failed to resolve a technical issue and stopped responding. The chat logs showed that the student was being misleading, and that the issue was remedied.

Olsen apologized and took down the post, but it still raised concerns over who has access to Proctorio’s data and how it’s stored. The company previously stated that staff couldn’t access this kind of data. However, in Proctorio’s privacy policy, they note that only some employees have access to student data if it’s essential for their job.

By using the software, professors have much more control over students’ test-taking behavior than they would in a regular classroom setting. While students are still monitored when taking in-person exams, there is less surveillance. Online school has made it easier for students to look answers up during the exam and share them with other students, but it doesn’t mean that professors should be allowed to scrutinize their every action.

Other software like LockDown Browser allow professors to ensure students stay on the exam screen the whole time, but it doesn’t do this at the expense of their privacy. In this new learning environment, students should have the same right to privacy as they always do. Professors also should not have more power over students than they would in a regular classroom by forcing them to change their behavior to mitigate suspicion.

Online school has presented a number of challenges to students, and worrying about their behavior during an exam can lead to increased stress. Professors should look to other software for test taking that ensures students are not cheating instead of compromising student’s privacy by forcing them to use Proctorio.

The Maneater is encouraging readers to donate to the Organization for Black Struggle, a St. Louis activist group working to address issues facing the Black working-class.

Edited by Sofi Zeman |

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