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With Proctortrack’s recent security breach, Mac should consider using alternative testing methods that don’t involve proctoring software

By: Juan Molina Calderon, Contributor

From the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the proctoring industry has boomed due to the need to regulate online exams and other tests in order to prevent plagiarism. Proctorio, for example, has had an increase in business by 900 per cent. Due to the increase in usage, many people have raised questions of whether proctoring services such as Examity, Honorlock and Proctortrack should even be used in the first place.

Firstly, I believe there is a problem with trying to deliver tests and exams online. The main issue comes from trying to replicate in-person teaching and test-taking in an online format. A very captivating lecture in person might keep most of the class engaged and attentive, but when it is moved online, many students mention the trouble they have focusing, including myself.

Additionally, we study and learn in the same setting day-after-day, which creates a very monotonous routine and as a result, can make it hard to concentrate. This new COVID routine is very different from walking around campus to get to your next class or having a coffee with some of your friends.

Studies show that face-to-face social contact releases many neurotransmitters which help us regulate our response to things such as stress and anxiety. Now, these interactions are purely virtual and as a result, we miss out on all these benefits. 

The environment in which students learn continues to adapt to the pandemic and so should the pedagogy and assessment methods. Instead of putting resources into creating a new form of teaching and assessing students’ knowledge, a lot of it has been put into resources such as proctoring software. 

I believe that there are far more efficient ways to have students demonstrate their knowledge without the use of tests. For example, students could create online portfolios with all the work, assignments, notes and homework they have done throughout the semester which should be complemented with projects that apply the knowledge the students should grasp. As a student in the faculty of engineering, I have yet to see a real change in the way students are evaluated since the format for my classes and tests seems to look the same now as it did before the lockdown began in Ontario.

The environment in which students learn continues to adapt to the pandemic and so should the pedagogy and assessment methods. Instead of putting resources into creating a new form of teaching and assessing students’ knowledge, a lot of it has been put into resources such as proctoring software. 

McMaster University, in this case, has given professors the ability to use these types of software including Examity which has what I believe to be an abusive policy. Examity, like other proctoring software, has the capacity to collect massive amounts of data since they have unrestricted access to your computer and its files. 

Examity’s privacy policy states that the information they may collect the following: “[a] driver’s license number or state-issued identification card number, financial account number, credit card number or debit card number with or without any required security code, that would permit access to an individual’s financial account.” 

If this is not worrying, I do not know what is. The extent of the information collected is unwarranted and poses a large security risk for students.

Additionally, they state that they cannot guarantee the security of their platform and that providing data to Examity is done at our own risk. Therefore, if there is ever a security breach, Examity is not held liable because we agreed to download this program. 

Examity’s privacy policy states that the information they may collect the following: “[a] driver’s license number or state-issued identification card number, financial account number, credit card number or debit card number with or without any required security code, that would permit access to an individual’s financial account.” 

Furthermore, they state that they may share your personal data with “trusted” third parties or affiliates that help Examity provide their service. Essentially, Examity is given free rein to share our data with a third party, which increases the risk for a potential data breach. 

Clearly, this is not only invasive but a breach of ethics. This is because the data collected and stored by proctoring software is valued by third-parties who use this type of data to profile people online. Services such as Proctortrack can hold this data for up to 180 days which is unnecessary since the data should ideally be deleted after the student submits the test if no suspicious activity occurred. 

Additionally, it raises concerns regarding inequality since universities cannot assume every student has a stable internet connection and that they are able to work on an exam at home without any disruptions. Therefore, the environment is not the same for everyone as it would be in a testing room.

This level of access shares a lot of parallels with spyware and malware. Even though these types of software are not meant for that purpose, they can definitely be exploited at the expense of our privacy.

One recent example is the security breach at Proctortrack which resulted in the temporary shutdown of its services. Although an independent audit by cybersecurity company Network Intelligence stated that no customer data was breached, this situation illustrates how companies like Proctortrack and Examity can never guarantee the data will be 100 per cent secure. 

In conclusion, when using these programs, not only are we being watched and recorded in our homes by people who are not directly affiliated with the university, but a lot of our personal data is being collected. The need to prevent cheating does not outweigh privacy and security. This doesn’t even mention the anxiety and stress proctoring causes for many students. Even then, technology is not the solution for preventing cheating, as there will always be people who find ways around it.

Image courtesy of C/O Silhouette Photo Archives

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