As More Students Sit Online Exams Under Lockdown Conditions, Remote Proctoring Services Carry Out Intrusive Surveillance

from the you're-doing-it-wrong dept

The coronavirus pandemic and its associated lockdown in most countries has forced major changes in the way people live, work and study. Online learning is now routine for many, and is largely unproblematic, not least because it has been used for many years. However, online testing is more tricky, since there is a concern by many teachers that students might use their isolated situation to cheat during exams. One person's problem is another person's opportunity, and there are a number of proctoring services that claim to stop or at least minimize cheating during online tests. One thing they have in common is that they tend to be intrusive, and show little respect for the privacy of the people they monitor.

As an article in The Verge explains, some employ humans to watch over students using Zoom video calls. That's reasonably close to a traditional setup, where a teacher or proctor watches students in an exam hall. But there are also webcam-based automated approaches, as explored by Vox:

For instance, Examity also uses AI to verify students' identities, analyze their keystrokes, and, of course, ensure they're not cheating. Proctorio uses artificial intelligence to conduct gaze detection, which tracks whether a student is looking away from their screens.

It's not just in the US that these extreme surveillance methods are being adopted. In France, the University of Rennes 1 is using a system called Managexam, which adds a few extra features: the ability to detect "inappropriate" Internet searches by the student, the use of a second screen, or the presence of another person in the room (original in French). The Vox articles notes that even when these systems are deployed, students still try to cheat using new tricks, and the anti-cheating services try to stop them doing so:

it's easy to find online tips and tricks for duping remote proctoring services. Some suggest hiding notes underneath the view of the camera or setting up a secret laptop. It's also easy for these remote proctoring services to find out about these cheating methods, so they're constantly coming up with countermeasures. On its website, Proctorio even has a job listing for a "professional cheater" to test its system. The contract position pays between $10,000 and $20,000 a year.

As the arms race between students and proctoring services escalates, it's surely time to ask whether the problem isn't people cheating, but the use of old-style, analog testing formats in a world that has been forced by the coronavirus pandemic to move to a completely digital approach. Rather than spending so much time, effort and money on trying to stop students from cheating, maybe we need to come up with new ways of measuring what they have learnt and understood -- ones that are not immune to cheating, but where cheating has no meaning. Obvious options include "open book" exams, where students can use whatever resources they like, or even abolishing formal exams completely, and opting for continuous assessment. Since the lockdown has forced educational establishments to re-invent teaching, isn't it time they re-invented exams too?

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter, Diaspora, or Mastodon.

Filed Under: cheating, covid-19, education, surveillance, testing


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    R.H. (profile), 7 May 2020 @ 10:39pm

    Not Just Kids

    Before anyone decides to say that this only affects children I'll point out that FINRA is testing methods to perform remote exams and some states are trying the same thing out for insurance licensing exams. Their systems are just as invasive as the ones mentioned here and for those exams, everyone is already an adult.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Prof, 8 May 2020 @ 6:06am

    Not That Easy

    Mr. Moody,

    I can understand your distaste for intrusive monitoring. I actually feel the same way. But many of your comments on testing and teaching are way off base, and sound like it comes from ill-informed opinions.

    Maybe I'm wrong. I'd love to hear about any teaching you have done, and how that has given you new insights into how to conduct testing. I'm not being sarcastic here. I really would love to hear it. You see, I AM a university professor and I'm really struggling with the our new paradigm. Any good advice would be welcome.

    None of us really like writing and grading tests. We would appreciate new methods of assessment. But we need things that actually work. This website is fond of pointing out that content moderation doesn't work "at scale." Do you really think continuous assessment would as well? Given the number of students a typical professor has?

    Do you really think open book tests are an "obvious option" when their are whole business out there that will do the online course for a student, tests, homework, powerpoints of presentations, even coaching to get around any attempts to ask the questions on their work? Please take a moment to look for yourself at the massive cheating operations going on, and then tell me how I can make sure my students are actually doing their work.

    Telling us to just come up with "something else" is the same kind of magical thinking that this site has always criticized in the the debate over encryption. Educate yourself on the issues we face and then give us some good, practical ideas we can actually use. You'll have a receptive, and appreciative, audience.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 May 2020 @ 7:05am

      Re: Not That Easy

      Out of curiosity, what courses do you teach?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Prof, 8 May 2020 @ 7:11am

        Re: Re: Not That Easy

        I teach Physics, Astronomy, and a low-level Chemistry course, along with the associated labs. Mostly large sections of introductory courses. I don't really see a problem with the upper-level classes. It's mostly in the service or general science classes.

        I've actually had students tell me to my face that they could better in these courses, but since it's not in their major they only intend to work hard enough to get a C.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 8 May 2020 @ 9:00am

          Re: Re: Re: Not That Easy

          Honestly this sounds like more of a system problem then. Why are students forced to attend classes for a subject unrelated to their area of study? And your own experience shows that the focused classes don't share this issue.

          Perhaps it would be a better use of university resources to investigate why students (who are paying absurd tuition for college) are wanting to cheat, I expect they might find a way to increase the quality of their curriculum.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 8 May 2020 @ 10:07am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Not That Easy

            "Why are students forced to attend classes for a subject unrelated to their area of study?"

            Because there is a desire for the general public to have a well rounded knowledge base, under grads typically have to take general studies courses for this purpose.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 13 May 2020 @ 5:31pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Not That Easy

              Because there is a desire for the general public to have a well rounded knowledge base

              Isn't that what high school is for?

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 9 May 2020 @ 7:27am

          Re: Re: Re: Not That Easy

          If able, perhaps you could find a professor in your collage that teaches a tangentially related subject (i.e. a Math professor for your Physics course) and a professor that teaches some sort of Engineering or Design course.

          The idea is that the three of you make a list of variables for the student's side of the test (i.e. location, device form). Then you brainstorm ways to minimize those variables using pre-test directions.

          That's where the Engineering/Design professor come in. Brainstorming is a common focus for those classes, as one problem could have multiple solutions. So hopefully they would help greatly with the process.

          From there the three of you see how many holes you can poke in the resulting ideas, as the three of you would have some level of overlapping insight, but would likely still have differing perspectives.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2020 @ 12:14pm

          Re: Re: Re: Not That Easy

          Whoa, man, that's rough.
          It sounds like most of your job is to cast pearls before swine. It's terrible to try to share something you love with someone who doesn't care about it a bit. I hope that you get to the point where you are mostly teaching classes for science majors.
          I will agree with another commentor who blames it on the idea of general education. I totally understand the benefit of a broad base of knowledge, but that means that you're stuck teaching Humanities majors about Agrovado's number.
          Hang in there, man. Focus on the kids who care, not the ones that don't. You can do this.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 May 2020 @ 7:16am

      Re: Not That Easy

      Please take a moment to look for yourself at the massive cheating operations going on, and then tell me how I can make sure my students are actually doing their work.

      A few minutes conversation with a student, with you asking questions based on their submission, should enable you to answer that question.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Prof, 8 May 2020 @ 7:23am

        Re: Re: Not That Easy

        Do you really believe that I can coordinate 200 Zoom (or whatever) sessions for every assignment? And that it would really take only a few minutes even if I could?

        And by the way, students have found a way to cheat with this one too. Some were caught (I don't know how) having someone else in the room listening in and feeding them answers.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 8 May 2020 @ 9:39am

          Re: Re: Re: Not That Easy

          The theoretical point of the tests is demonstrate that the student can apply knowledge gained from the class. It's been aptly demonstrated that trying to prevent them from looking up facts during the test is a fool's errand and an arms race. Whether or not we can come up with a reliable alternative doesn't stop this from being true.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 May 2020 @ 8:18am

      Re: Not That Easy

      "Do you really think open book tests are an "obvious option""

      Had a prof that said There are no closed book jobs so this is an open book class. Sure the tests were more thorough but there was less to memorize.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2020 @ 12:00pm

        Re: Re: Not That Easy

        Similar story: My prof gave open book exams, but he warned us that if we looked up everything on the test, there was no way we would finish in time.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 May 2020 @ 8:49am

      Re: Not That Easy

      Do you really think open book tests are an "obvious option" when their are whole business out there that will do the online course for a student, tests, homework, powerpoints of presentations, even coaching to get around any attempts to ask the questions on their work?

      Your complaint is made irrelevant with your own statement:

      None of us really like writing and grading tests. We would appreciate new methods of assessment. But we need things that actually work.

      Please take a moment to look for yourself at the massive cheating operations going on, and then tell me how I can make sure my students are actually doing their work.

      Telling us to just come up with "something else" is the same kind of magical thinking that this site has always criticized in the the debate over encryption. Educate yourself on the issues we face and then give us some good, practical ideas we can actually use. You'll have a receptive, and appreciative, audience.

      You are just as avoidant of work as the students you're complaining about. Demanding that IT, who by your own admission, has no ability to teach or grade a student, magically come up with a solution for you to use.

      The Internet has changed the way people get and retain information. Most people with an internet-connected device don't memorize things anymore. They just look the information up when they need to use it and forget it again the second it's no longer useful. Further, due to the lack of hard AI to grade responses, most automated tests and assignments are simplified to a point that no actual demonstration of intelligence is required to pass it. In cases where the test is entirely made up of multiple choice answers, it's even possible to ace the the test / assignment through pure random chance. A fact that only serves to hasten the adoption of the use-it-and-forget-it model of "learning."

      This website is fond of pointing out that content moderation doesn't work "at scale." Do you really think continuous assessment would as well?

      Continuous assessment is a teaching method, Content moderation is a censorship method. Two very opposite goals, but the means of implementing either via a computer is the same: They both require a computer to be able to derive meaning from human language. Of which no computer system is capable of doing reliably. If they were capable, chances are you wouldn't be teaching. As by modern society's standards, the computers would do the thinking for you, and or those without a computer would be so economically disadvantaged that mere survival would be a far bigger concern.

      As for open book tests, that's just an acceptance of the new reality. People don't remember things, they just look it up when needed. It doesn't matter if it's a student doing homework, a company taking a test for payment, or in the future a computer doing the thinking for humanity. They all use-it-and-forget-it to their own short-term benefit. It is a noble effort to encourage self-reliance, one that deserves praise at every opportunity, but to think that someone won't just look something up to save the effort of remembering something on their own is severely underestimating humanity's laziness. If you want to stop them from doing that anyway, perhaps you need to better instill in them a sense that the effort they are avoiding now should be made anyway.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 May 2020 @ 9:53am

      Re: Not That Easy

      This website is fond of pointing out that content moderation doesn't work "at scale." Do you really think continuous assessment would as well?

      A teacher does not have the same scales problem as social media, unless they are putting their lectures on the Internet and expect to grade all viewers. Also, a teacher really ought to be doing continuous assessment of their formal students, even if informally, so that they know which students should be pointed towards extra tuition or axillary classes.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 May 2020 @ 9:17pm

      Re: Not That Easy

      The problem is mainly the result of deskilling tutors and expanding tutorials from one-on-one or small groups to classes not much smaller than secondary school. Continuous assessment is quite straightforward in the former case (and it becomes very obvious when there is a major level of cheating) but when you've got hundreds of students per academic and most tutors are junior postgrads or even senior undergrads with no teaching experience, you're asking for trouble.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 May 2020 @ 6:08am

    Let me just point out something.

    A lot of exams have a section that requires a long written answer at the end. If that's still the case with these remote sessions...
    A lot of students could possibly be falsely penalized if they are the kind of person that needs to look at their keyboard when they type.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    junaid (profile), 9 May 2020 @ 1:00pm

    nice and informative article
    <a href="http://www.wjtechno.com/features-and-price-of-samsung-galaxy-s20/">Samsung Galaxy S20</a>

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.