ISU Students Push Back On Virtual Testing Proctor, Citing Privacy And Discrimination Concerns | WGLT

ISU Students Push Back On Virtual Testing Proctor, Citing Privacy And Discrimination Concerns

Oct 16, 2020

Some students at Illinois State University are raising concerns over virtual testing software recently purchased by the university.

Proctortrack promises to continually verify the identity of online test-takers, using AI-powered software to flag possible cheating. The program records what students are doing on their computers during exams and screens students' faces for signs of misconduct--like looking at their phones during  the exam, talking to someone about the answers or having someone else take the test for them.

More than 7,000 students, professors and parents have signed a petition to thwart Proctortrack’s use. They argue it’s an invasion of their personal privacy and is inherently discriminatory in how it monitors student behavior.

On Friday, Nate Rardin, a computer science major, told ISU trustees the program collects a lot of information on students: names, government ID, phone numbers, email addresses, screen captures, 360-degree room scans, and AI data profiles on facial image and voice.

“As you can see, this is quite a lot of information to be held hostage just so we can take a math quiz,” he said.

Rardin said while the company promises to keep that information private and not use it for malicious purposes, there’s no assurance that will be the case. Just this week, Proctortrack shut down operation due to a possible security breach.

Physics major Julia Retter added that Proctortrack’s means of assessing “suspicious” behavior could inadvertently discriminate against neurodivergent students who have conditions like ADHD, dyslexia, autism or even OCD--behaviors they can’t control.

“It marks ‘unorthodox’ AI movements, physical movements, and even your voice as a testing violation,” Retter said. “So that means I could be flagged for doing something as simple as cracking my knuckles, looking at my ceiling to focus or squeezing a stress ball while I work.”

Professors have to verify what Proctortrack flags as cheating behavior for it to impact a student’s grade. But Rardin and Retter said when some classes have a roster with hundreds of students, it’s unrealistic to expect professors to check every incident.

When it comes to security concerns, Retter said, it’s not just the student taking the test who's at risk.

“This not only applies to our personal privacy, but the privacy of those around us and those we share living spaces with,” she said. “If I do a 360-degree room scan and I share a room with my roommate, not only does it see all of my possessions and everything that I do, it sees all of her possessions and everything that she's doing, as well.”

Rardin said students also are upset that they weren’t given more of a heads-up about the security risks. The university purchased the software in August, but didn’t announce its implementation until October. Rardin said that left students with very little time to withdraw from a class if they weren’t comfortable complying with the software.

“We acknowledge that the university is making known which course selections will be using Proctortrack so that we can avoid it in the spring, and I speak for all of us when I say we will," said Rardin. "But given course schedules, this isn't always possible to avoid, which forces students to decide between compromising their college career or compromising their personal security and their right to privacy.” 

University officials said online proctoring software is just one way to guarantee academic integrity. President Larry Dietz said widespread use on campus is not required, nor expected.

“There are a few faculty members and a few courses where their accreditation requires a tool like Proctortrack, and there are a few other faculty--not a large number-- who would like to use it and have indicated an interest in that, and that’s why the thing was purchased in the first place,” said Dietz.

In an Oct. 8 campus update email, Associate Vice President for Technology Solutions and Chief Information Officer Charles Edamala said the decision to go with Proctortrack was made after three months of conversations with faculty and students. Edamala said it was determined to be the least intrusive option.

“While proctoring software has been used at ISU for many years, this is the first time that it has been standardized and made more easily available to those instructors who need to use it,” Edamala said in the email.

Officials also noted that most students will not be affected, and the software does not allow professors to monitor students in real time.

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