Is Online Test-Monitoring Here to Stay?
Adding sources of light seems to help, but it comes with consequences. 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. “That’s hard when you’re actively trying not to look away, which could make it look like you’re cheating.” Despite these preparations, “I know that I’m going to have to try a couple times before the camera recognizes me,” he said. 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.
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. “I have a light beaming into my eyes for the entire exam,” he said. It compares your rate of activity to a class average that the software calculates as the exam unfolds, flagging you if you deviate too much from the norm. At the end of the exam, the professor receives a report on each student’s over-all “suspicion score,” along with a list of moments, marked for an instructor to review, when the software judged that cheating might have occurred.
Meanwhile, Proctorio is also monitoring the room around you for unauthorized faces or forbidden materials. Proctorio, which operates as a browser plug-in, can detect whether your gaze is pointed at the camera; it tracks how often you look away from the screen, how much you type, and how often you move the mouse. Fully algorithmic test-monitoring—which is less expensive, and available from companies including Proctorio, ExamSoft, and Respondus Monitor—has expanded even faster.
(In a survey of college instructors conducted early in the pandemic, ninety-three per cent expressed concern that students would be more likely to cheat on online exams.) Some of these companies offer live proctoring underwritten by artificial intelligence. When college campuses shut down in March, 2020, remote-proctoring companies such as Proctorio, ProctorU, Examity, and ExamSoft benefitted immediately. These include ProctorU, which said, in December, that it had administered roughly four million exams in 2020 (up from 1.5 million in 2019), and Examity, which told Inside Higher Ed that its growth last spring exceeded pre-pandemic expectations by thirty-five per cent.
Proctorio’s list of clients grew more than five hundred per cent, from four hundred in 2019 to twenty-five hundred in 2021, according to the company, and its software administered an estimated twenty-one million exams in 2020, compared with four million in 2019. Yemi-Ese’s grades dropped precipitously early in the pandemic, a problem he attributed in large part to Proctorio. He took several tests while displaced from his home by the winter storm that devastated Texas in February, which forced him to crash with a series of friends.
(The situation, in addition to its other challenges, deprived him of his usual light setup.) By the end of his senior year, Yemi-Ese was still struggling to get admitted to every Proctorio exam.