Following a CHEM 1AA3 midterm, students have expressed privacy and security-related concerns use of Respondus Lockdown Browser

C/O Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Due to restrictions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, many universities have had to adapt to online learning for the 2020-2021 school year. As a result, professors have faced unique challenges with respect to teaching and assessing students virtually. 

One such challenge is ensuring academic integrity, which can be difficult in an online context because professors cannot monitor the test-taking process as easily. In response to this difficulty, many universities have relied on proctoring software to prevent cheating. At McMaster University, the most commonly used proctoring software is Respondus Lockdown Browser

Though potentially valuable from an academic integrity standpoint, many people have raised privacy and security-related concerns about requiring students to download proctoring software. McMaster students appear to share these concerns, as many have voiced them on Reddit over the past few months.

Concerns about proctoring software have recently received a lot of attention from students, following the CHEM 1AA3 midterm on Feb. 6, 2021. The Silhouette discussed the CHEM 1AA3 midterm and the potential problems surrounding proctoring software with a student, who has been granted anonymity to ensure that they do not receive academic backlash for coming forward.

Concerns about proctoring software have recently received a lot of attention from students, following the CHEM 1AA3 midterm on Feb. 6, 2021.

This student reported that their laptop shut down directly after the CHEM 1AA3 midterm. They also said that they have been in contact with numerous other students who faced technical difficulties during and following the midterm, including computer lags, computer shutdowns, emails about compromised passwords and multiple contact attempts from unknown numbers.

The student added that, of the students who experienced technical difficulties of some kind, 16 have reached out to the chemistry department. 

The student said that as the chemistry department was unable to solve the problem at all, their only response was telling students to report it to Avenue Support or to the Respondus company.

“It should have been [the chemistry department] taking responsibility,” the student added.

“It should have been [the chemistry department] taking responsibility,” the student added.

Jay Robb, manager of communications for the faculty of science, stated that the chemistry department took student concerns seriously.

“[The chemistry department] encouraged the students to reach out on technical issues and get answers around that,” Robb said.

According to Robb, the chemistry department plans to continue using Respondus Lockdown Browser and to give students an additional 30 minutes on exams, to account for any technical difficulties that might arise. Robb explained the chemistry department’s reasons for using proctoring software.

“We need to maintain the academic integrity and protect the value of every student’s credit,” Robb said.

CHEM 1AA3 students are not the only ones to have raised concerns about McMaster’s use of proctoring software over the past month. On Feb. 22, 2021, the Student Representative Assembly put out a statement in support of students’ concerns about McMaster’s use of Respondus Lockdown Browser.

In their statement, the Student Representative Assembly called on McMaster to respond to student concerns about privacy and security and to provide all students with alternative methods of assessment if they do not consent to the use of Respondus Lockdown Browser.

Christy Au-Yeung, a co-leader of the SRA’s science caucus, explained that it was a challenge to find information regarding the protection of student privacy on Respondus.

“The onus is on the university to do a better job of informing students [about Respondus] and giving them the option to protect their privacy,” said Simranjeet Singh, co-leader of the SRA’s science caucus.

According to Au-Yeung, the experiences that students had with the CHEM 1AA3 midterm were an integral factor in the SRA’s decision to release a statement.

“There were issues in that test, some caused by Respondus and some not, which caused the unfortunate scenario and motivated us to act,” Singh said.

“There were issues in that test, some caused by Respondus and some not, which caused the unfortunate scenario and motivated us to act.”

Simranjeet Singh

Singh noted that some unrelated technological issues faced by individual students may have been grouped together with concerns more directly related to Respondus.

However, he added, the additional pressure of Respondus on students’ internet may have been a factor, even for students who experienced difficulties unrelated to Respondus.

Au-Yeung and Singh both emphasized that the SRA wants student perspectives to be heard.

“Obviously [McMaster] can’t change what’s in the past, but moving forward [we hope that] students continue to be consulted,” Au-Yeung said.

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