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Is Online Test-Monitoring Here to Stay?

Despite these preparations, “I know that I’m going to have to try a couple times before the camera recognizes me,” he said. “I have a light beaming into my eyes for the entire exam,” he said. “That’s hard when you’re actively trying not to look away, which could make it look like you’re cheating.” 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. 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.

Adding sources of light seems to help, but it comes with consequences. 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. 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.

“Being in sports for as long as I was, and getting yelled at by coaches, I don’t get stressed much,” he said. 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. 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.

A former Division 1 football player, majoring in kinesiology, Yemi-Ese had never suffered from anxiety during tests. 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. But some universities “have signed multi-year contracts that opened the door to proctoring in a way that they won’t just be able to pull themselves out of,” Jesse Stommel, a researcher who studies education technology and the editor of the journal Hybrid Pedagogy, said.

“They have committed to paying for these services for a long time, and, once you’ve made a decision like that, you rationalize using the software.” (Several universities previously listed as customers on Proctorio’s Web site told me that they planned to reassess their use of proctoring software, but none had made determinations to end their contracts.) Meanwhile, rising vaccination rates and schools’ plans to reopen in the fall might seem to obviate the need for proctoring software.

Several institutions, including Harvard, Stanford, McGill, and the University of California, Berkeley, have either banned proctoring technology or strongly discouraged its use. (Harvard urged faculty to move toward open-book exams during the pandemic; if professors felt the need to monitor students, the university suggested observing them in Zoom breakout rooms.

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