ContraVIRTUAL Finals

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View of campus from Lafarge Residence Hall. Photo taken by Nick Manzi

During the pandemic, students and professors have been met with the challenge of remote learning. For the past 3 semesters, the pandemic has challenged students in taking midterm and final exams remotely. As many professors adapt to these changes, they begin to worry about cooperative work and cheating on exams because of students being outside of the classroom. The use of Lockdown Browsers raises questions and concerns amongst students regarding technology, access, and ethics.

Loading screen to lockdown browser, Respondus. Photo Credit: Coley Hunter
Loading screen to the lockdown browser, Respondus. Photo Credit: Coley Hunter

Lockdown Browser – Respondus

Lockdown Browsers such as Respondus have been in use for past and current semesters in order to eliminate the possibilities of cheating. Respondus is a Lockdown Browser that locks down the testing environment within a learning management system and is now used at over 2000 higher educational institutions thus, making it the “gold standard” for securing online exams. Respondus also allows the use of monitor control. This allows the online proctoring application to gain access to students’ microphones and webcams while taking exams. This system uses artificial intelligence to flag students that appear to be using outside material during the exams.

Two students preparing for an on-line exam. Photo Credit: Anthony Pesce

Is This Proctoring Tool Appropriate?

The remote proctoring tool has created a buzz amongst students at Saint Joseph’s University. We asked students their thoughts and received feedback regarding whether they feel the tool goes against their privacy or not. We also asked their general opinion on the tool. Anthony Clemenza, class of 2023, stated “Last year when they first announced finals were going to be online during the initial lockdown I did not mind, but now it seems that teachers are purposefully making them harder since we are not in person.” Alex White, class of 2023, stated “The whole concept of a lockdown browser that has my camera and microphone access as well as a scan of my bedroom is just unsettling to me.” Mike Ruegger, class of 2023, took a different approach to the question when he stated “The worst part about online finals is that I can’t ask my teacher for a quick question or clarification.”

Ethical Considerations

Universities should consider whether students have the funds and correct technology to support these proctoring tools. Students that live off campus without the proper technology may find themselves stuck due to their limited ability to access proper technology to take these proctored exams. Another point to be considered is the inability of this software to validate identification of students based on race. This would deny students access to exams and would cause them to make difficult arrangements with professors. In the article, “Of Course Technology Perpetuates Racism…”, the author Charlton McIlwain discusses how modern day technology inhibits racism. McIlwain says that African-Americans have seen technology used to continuously to target them and that the only way to stop this problem is to look at it differently. The article discusses how we normally use technology to help solve problems, but when society labels the “problem” as people of color, technology becomes a tool for racism and normally causes more harm than good. Specific examples of this in our society include facial recognition technologies that target criminals based on their skin color, automated risk profiling systems that disproportionately identify people of Latio decent as illegal immigrants, and credit score algorithms that disproportionately identify black people as risks and prevent them from buying a house or car as well as makes it difficult to land a job. Respondus is falling into the same errors by not being able to identify and recognize African-American students attempting to take an exam. Instead of being used as an academic tool, it now seems like an unfair academic barrier.

Overall, Universities should respect a student’s privacy, but the fear of academic integrity and dishonesty plays a large role in remote learning.