Is Online Test-Monitoring Here to Stay?

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When college campuses shut down in March, 2020, remote-proctoring companies such as Proctorio, ProctorU, Examity, and ExamSoft benefitted immediately. (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. Fully algorithmic test-monitoring—which is less expensive, and available from companies including Proctorio, ExamSoft, and Respondus Monitor—has expanded even faster.

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. 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.

Transgender students have been outed by Proctorio’s "ID Verification" procedure, which requires that they pose for a photograph with an I.D. Students with dark skin described the software’s failure to discern their faces. Other anecdotes call attention to the biases that are built into proctoring programs. that may bear a previous name. Low-income students have been flagged for unsteady Wi-Fi, or for taking tests in rooms shared with family members. In video calls with live proctors from ProctorU, test-takers have been forced to remove bonnets and other non-religious hair coverings—a policy that has prompted online pushback from Black women in particular—and students accessing Wi-Fi in public libraries have been ordered to take off protective masks.

It compares your rate of activity to a class average that the software calculates as the exam unfolds, flagging you if you deviate too much from the norm. At the end of the exam, the professor receives a report on each student’s over-all "suspicion score," along with a list of moments, marked for an instructor to review, when the software judged that cheating might have occurred. Meanwhile, Proctorio is also monitoring the room around you for unauthorized faces or forbidden materials.

Proctorio, which operates as a browser plug-in, can detect whether your gaze is pointed at the camera; it tracks how often you look away from the screen, how much you type, and how often you move the mouse. "After I figured out nothing was going to change, I guess I got numb to it," he said. (The situation, in addition to its other challenges, deprived him of his usual light setup.) By the end of his senior year, Yemi-Ese was still struggling to get admitted to every Proctorio exam.

Yemi-Ese’s grades dropped precipitously early in the pandemic, a problem he attributed in large part to Proctorio. He took several tests while displaced from his home by the winter storm that devastated Texas in February, which forced him to crash with a series of friends.