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?

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


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  1. 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.


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