Is Online Test-Monitoring Here to Stay?
Like many test-takers of color, Yemi-Ese, who is Black, has spent the past three semesters using software that reliably struggles to locate his face. “I have a light beaming into my eyes for the entire exam,” he said. Adding sources of light seems to help, but it comes with consequences. When we first spoke, last November, he told me that, in seven exams he’d taken using Proctorio, he had never once been let into a test on his first attempt.
Despite these preparations, “I know that I’m going to have to try a couple times before the camera recognizes me,” he said. “That’s hard when you’re actively trying not to look away, which could make it look like you’re cheating.” Now, whenever he sits down to take an exam using Proctorio, he turns on every light in his bedroom, and positions a ring light behind his computer so that it shines directly into his eyes. One student tweeted, “professor just emailed me asking why i had the highest flag from proctorio.
“Now proctorio has a video of me crying,” the student wrote. A letter of protest addressed to the CUNY administration has nearly thirty thousand signatures. 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.
The surge in online-proctoring services has launched a wave of complaints. Anti-online-proctoring Twitter accounts popped up, such as @Procteario and @ProcterrorU. “A lot of times, there are issues that get publicly printed that are not actually issues,” he said. of ExamSoft, denied that his company’s product performed poorly with dark-skinned people. Jarrod Morgan, the chief strategy officer of ProctorU, told me that his company was in need of “relational” rather than technical changes.
“What we will own is that we have not done a good enough job explaining what it is we do,” he said. Sebastian Vos, the C.E.O. (Proctorio says that its software does not expel users from exams for noise.) By the time his professor let him back into the test, he had lost a half hour and his heart was racing. He feared that, if he showed physical signs of anxiety, Proctorio was “going to send the video to the professor and say that suspicious activity is going on.” The software, he said, “is just not accurate.
“I feel like I can’t take a test in my natural state anymore, because they’re watching for all these movements, and what I think is natural they’re going to flag,” he told me. So I don’t know if it’s seeing things that aren’t there because of the pigment of my skin.” Last spring, during a Zoom meeting with a professor, Yemi-Ese learned that the software had flagged him for moving too much.