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Is Online Test-Monitoring Here to Stay?“Being in sports for as long as I was, and getting yelled at by coaches, I don’t get stressed much,” he said. Yemi-Ese turned on more lights and tilted his camera to catch his face at its most illuminated angle; it took several tries before the software approved him to begin. The first time Yemi-Ese opened the application, positioning himself in front of his laptop for a photo, to confirm that his Webcam was working, Proctorio claimed that it could not detect a face in the image, and refused to let him into his exam.
A former Division 1 football player, majoring in kinesiology, Yemi-Ese had never suffered from anxiety during tests. He was initially unconcerned when he learned that several of his classes, including a course in life-span development and another in exercise physiology, would be administering exams using Proctorio, a software program that monitors test-takers for possible signs of cheating. When the coronavirus pandemic began, Femi Yemi-Ese, then a junior at the University of Texas at Austin, began attending class and taking exams remotely, from the apartment that he shared with roommates in the city.
Low-income students have been flagged for unsteady Wi-Fi, or for taking tests in rooms shared with family members. Students with dark skin described the software’s failure to discern their faces. 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.
Other anecdotes call attention to the biases that are built into proctoring programs. Transgender students have been outed by Proctorio’s “ID Verification” procedure, which requires that they pose for a photograph with an I.D. that may bear a previous name. Anti-online-proctoring Twitter accounts popped up, such as @Procteario and @ProcterrorU. A letter of protest addressed to the CUNY administration has nearly thirty thousand signatures.
One student tweeted, “professor just emailed me asking why i had the highest flag from proctorio. The surge in online-proctoring services has launched a wave of complaints. “Now proctorio has a video of me crying,” the student wrote. Excuse me ma’am, I was having a full on breakdown mid test and kept pulling tissues.” Another protested, “i was doing so well till i got an instagram notification on my laptop and i tried to x it out AND I GOT FUCKING KICKED OUT.” A third described getting an urgent text from a parent in the middle of an exam and calling back—”on speaker phone so my prof would know I wasn’t cheating”—to find out that a family member had died.
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.