Last Updated: 2022-04-20
MathSoc’s advocacy to ban proctoring software in the Math Faculty was a success. On April 20, 2022, Math Faculty Council passed the following motion:
Faculty Council prohibits the use of Proctoring Software for tests, quizzes, or examinations in any Undergraduate Course owned by the Faculty of Mathematics. This includes courses offered on campus, online, or in hybrid delivery mode. This prohibition will take effect at the start of the Spring 2022 term and will remain in effect until and unless it is repealed by Faculty Council. The Faculty will seek agreement with the Faculty of Engineering and the Provost to extend this prohibition to Software Engineering courses. This prohibition on Proctoring Software shall not apply in cases where an external accreditation body requires the use of Proctoring Software.
For clarity, “Proctoring Software” includes but is not limited to tools such as ProctorU, Proctorio, Proctortrack, Respondus LockDown Browser, and ExamSoft. “Proctoring Software” does not include general-purpose video-conferencing software such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams.
Undergraduate Affairs Committee may approve exceptions for the experimental use of new innovations in the area of proctoring software.
This article is to summarize the concerns the Mathematics Society (hereafter MathSoc) of the University of Waterloo (hereafter UW) has regarding the use of proctoring software for students. Examples of proctoring software include, but are not limited to; ProctorU, Proctortrack, Examity, and Proctorio. For those unfamiliar with these applications, students are required to install software on their computer, add extensions to their browser, and provide remote access to their machines – meaning the proctor has the ability to control the student’s computer fully. As well, some of these applications use machine learning to track student’s eye, head, and mouse movement to try and detect “suspicious activity”.
We do not use “proctoring software” to include employees of UW proctoring students over standard video-conferencing software such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc.
As part of the service provided by these applications, students must allow a stranger from a private company to have full access to their computer and data. Moreover, the entire interaction will be saved and stored on the company’s servers which, in some instances, includes every input the student makes on their machine. Students will have to show the proctor a full tour of the room in which they write the exam; which will often be their own private bedroom. It is quite reasonable to understand that many students are not comfortable with this.
On top of all the above, some students reported on the Spring 2020 CO 342 Piazza page that their ProctorU proctor did not accept their student card as a valid form of ID even when the instructor had been assured by the Centre for Extended Learning that student ID would be accepted. The Centre for Extended Learning later attributed this breach to a “communication/training issue on [ProctorU’s] part”.
After the exam is complete, the proctoring service will keep all of the recordings and records on their servers for some time – in ProctorU’s case, approximately 14 months. In the past, ProctorU has suffered security breaches and one of their databases was leaked online. This highlights the risk that students face when instructors ask them to share personal information with proctoring companies.
Effectiveness of Proctoring Software
It is worth acknowledging right away that proctoring software is not a perfect tool to preventing cheating. While there are ways to circumvent it, we will not include any details regarding this to avoid pointing students towards these cheating methods. However, these methods do exist, which means that if a student is set on cheating, then they can easily find a way as long as they have a decent tech background, as many students in the Faculty of Math do. MathSoc is concerned that the adoption of this software will give instructors a false sense of security while tech-savvy students get away with cheating.
In regards to actual data surrounding these methods, one study found that an online proctoring service for the California bar exam had a ninety percent false positive rate. This not only adds a huge burden on the course staff to sift through all the detected instances of cheating, but also will force many innocent students to have to prove their integrity. This is an additional strain to put on students who may have other exams to prepare for and affect their performance in other classes.
One thing that proctoring software is effective at doing is increasing student anxiety and stress. As mentioned in the introduction, in some instances proctoring software tracks every move a student makes. According to The Washington Post, some students argue “the testing systems have made them afraid to click too much or rest their eyes for fear they’ll be branded as cheats”. These concerns just compound the stress students already experience while writing exams and make it more difficult for students to perform well.
But the fact that they’re being watched so closely isn’t the only source of strain for students; many have reported technical glitches that have hindered their ability to write their exam or cost them valuable time in their test. In CO 342 in Spring 2020, students on Piazza reported being unable to access the midterm they were supposed to be writing, being disconnected while the time continued to count down, and the proctor’s inputs on their computers moving their mouse and nearly causing them to select wrong answers to true/false questions.
As ProctorU requires students to add extensions to their browsers and install software on their computers there are naturally concerns regarding compatibility with a student’s browser/operating system. For instance, ProctorU is not compatible with the Linux operating system; which is used by many Math and especially CS students.
Alleged Instances of Discrimination and Inappropriate Behaviour
It has been well documented that machine learning algorithms designed for facial recognition have biases against people of colour, especially women of colour. It should come as no surprise that this is the case in automated proctoring software as well. In an article from 2020, Areeb Khan recounts that he was unable to login to his exam “due to poor lighting we are unable to identify [his] face”. Beyond anecdotal examples, this peer reviewed article on proctoring software which also notes the impact this may have on students with neuromuscular disorders.
What’s also troubling are the allegations of inappropriate behaviour and sexual harassment against female students. For instance, Madi Mollico recalls that her anonymous proctor repeatedly referred to her as “sweetheart” during her examination. Obviously, any such comment can make a student feel uncomfortable and make it more difficult for them to focus during their exam. By putting third-party proctor in charge of examinations, universities lose their ability to easily enforce policies that ensure student safety while writing exams. While universities have the power to discipline their employees if they engage in such behaviour, they cannot exercise that same degree of power over third-party proctors who are not university employees.
We wholeheartedly agree that academic integrity is important. That is why MathSoc is committed to work with instructors, the Mathematics Faculty, and the University of Waterloo to promote academic integrity. However, there is a wrong way to promote academic integrity: violating our students’ rights with proctoring software. We all want our testing environments to be as inclusive and conducive to success as possible, but proctoring software poses a threat to this goal. We will not support any push towards solutions which violate the privacy of our students and we hope to collaborate in more positive ways to ensure that our students are studying with integrity.
MathSoc encourages all students who find themselves enrolled in a course using proctoring software to request an alternative from their instructor.