Test monitoring software, which colleges are implementing to curb academic dishonesty during distance learning, is posing problems for students.
One college student went viral on TikTok after posting a video in which she said that a test proctoring program had flagged her behavior as suspicious because she was reading the question aloud, resulting in her professor assigning her a failing grade.
The TikTokker is not the only student who has run into issues with monitoring programs — students have reportedly had racialized experiences with facial recognition software and others have said filmed exams have taken a mental toll on them.
The video sparked a discussion among higher education professionals on Twitter.
Visit Insider's homepage for more stories. A distraught college student went viral after posting a TikTok video recounting her negative experience with test proctoring software. <p class="copyright"><a href="https://www.tiktok.com/@_.daynuh._/video/6876130779311754501?utm_source=tt_4&source=h5_t" target="_blank">@_.daynuh._/TikTok</a></p>
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As college students adapt to the new realities of distance learning amid the coronavirus pandemic, some students say they're struggling to navigate the demands of exam proctoring and "anti-cheating" software. Programs that record students during exams have been widely implemented as educators attempt to curb academic dishonesty — but the test monitoring software has seemingly had unintended consequences from some students.
One economics major is going viral on TikTok after expressing her frustration with a remote test-taking situation. In an emotional video posted last week, the college student said that ProctorU, the exam proctoring program used by her university, had flagged some of her behavior during an exam as suspicious. As a result, she claimed, her professor had given her a zero on the assessment.
"So, just to let you know how online school and college is going, I just took an exam that I studied really, really hard for, and I got a B on it. And it's a pretty difficult exam, so a B is pretty good," TikTok user @_.daynuh._, who goes by Dana Jo the app, said through tears. "And my professor is giving me a zero, because the Review+ said I was talking when I was just, like, re-reading the question so I could better understand it."
The video racked up 3 million views in less than a week and viewers flooded the comments section of the video with support for the distraught college student and condemnation of the professor.
"That is so ableist of them," one TikTok user wrote. "I am so so sorry that you had to deal with this."
Popular YouTuber and comedian Alonzo Lerone commented on the video writing, "What's your professor's name? I just wanna talk."
Dana Jo isn't the only student struggling with the limitations of proctoring programs
Some students say they've been having issues with proctoring software simply because of the color of their skin.
Twitter user @uhreeb said that ExamSoft, a monitoring tool used during the Bar Exam, directed him to "sit directly in front of a lighting source" after he experienced facial recognition difficulties. He said he was already in a well-lit room.
—Alivardi Khan (@uhreeb) September 11, 2020
Law student Kiana Caton told Venture Beat that she plans to shine a light directly in her face as she takes the California bar exam remotely in October. Caton, who is Black, adopted the measure at the suggestion of other dark-skinned students, the outlet explained, in order to ensure that her skin tone did not raise red flags to ExamSoft.
Facial recognition technology, generally, has recently come under fire for its history of misidentifying people of color. A 2019 study conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) found that in a "one-to-one matching" database search, facial recognition algorithms falsely identified African-American and Asian faces between 10 and 100 times more often than they falsely identified Caucasian faces.
Some university students are demanding that their administrations get rid of proctoring technologies entirely due to economic concerns
In September, The Lousiana State University student government pushed for the ban of ProctorU, citing economic and mental health limitations, according to The Daily Reveille, the campus' student-run newspaper.
LSU student body president Stone Cox said that the fees, which could come out to $300, were prohibitive for students.
"That [money] can be a very difficult thing for them to find, especially during COVID-19, the economic recession, and now two hurricanes that have gone through and ravished our state," Cox told the publication, adding that the pressure of recorded and monitored exams was also taking a toll on students' mental wellbeing.
A spokesperson for LSU said that professors could elect to use the software, though it is not mandated by the university — and professors are encouraged to take the cost, which would amount to a $15 fee per exam at most, into consideration.
"The sense I have right now is that there are a lot of students that have no classes using ProctorU, and a good number of our faculty have worked very hard to explore alternative assessment mechanisms," the spokesperson said in an email to Insider.
The viral TikTok eventually made its way to Twitter, sparking a larger discussion about exam-monitoring tools and best teaching practices amid the pandemic
Kevin Gannon is a history professor and director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa, which is dedicated to "advanc[ing] teaching excellence, improv[ing] the use of instructional technologies, and enhanc[ing] student learning." He told Insider he felt "horrified" and "sad" after watching Dana Jo's video, and he felt compelled to address his fellow educators online.
"Faculty: if you are using ProctorU or other 'anti-cheating tools like it, you are actively harming some of your students," he wrote in a tweet. "Not 'maybe,' not 'you might.' You are doing harm. Full stop."
Gannon says he worries about the "enormous problems" associated with monitoring tools, including alleged racial discrimination, challenges for students with learning differences, and privacy concerns.
Activity that is frequently flagged as suspicious, he noted, is actually common test-taking behavior among students who have learning disabilities or ADHD — like fidgeting, getting up from one's seat, or talking to oneself.
Some of the requirements during proctored remote exams using software such as Examity, which ask users to scan an entire room or point the camera down at one's lap, he argues, are "creepy."
"If you read the fine print, it brings up concerns about how this data is used," he said.
Citing the work of academic James Lang, Gannon says that educators worrying about academic dishonesty can curb cheating by designing better assessments — specifically, assessments that don't place unduly high stakes on one assignment and pressure students into pursuing dishonest solutions.
"We need to look at our assessments and our assignment and our course design and ask, 'What are we asking our students to do? Why are we asking them to do it in a particular way? And are those the only options that we have?'" he said. "In other words, does a high-stakes, multiple-choice test with a 60-minute time limit using proctoring software really measure what students are learning? Or is it measuring how well they perform under stress or how well they can regurgitate particular facts?"
Amanda Springs, a senior assistant professor at SUNY Maritime College, also weighed in on the video, telling Insider she had a "visceral reaction" to seeing a student in such distress. One response to the viral video, which called the software "ridiculous" and questioned why students needed stringent closed-book exams, prompted her to share her thoughts on better teaching practices.
"If anything, we should be testing them on their research skills: do you know where to find the information you need? Do you know how to sort credible sources from garbage? Do you know how to evaluate the materials?" she tweeted in response.
"The best way to avoid academic dishonesty is to formulate a relationship with your students that makes it difficult for them to cheat. So it's in terms of the assignments that you create and in terms of the relationship that you build," she told Insider. "I'm focusing on assignments that I think are productive for students in the world that we're living in, so assignments that focus on information literacy rather than memorization."
The now-TikTok famous college student continued to update viewers about her academic situation
In a second video, Dana Jo said that she contacted ProctorU and received the footage of her exam session. She then reviewed the flagged sections of the video with her university's dean, who she says agreed that her conduct throughout the test had been honest. This, however, did not resolve the situation
The dean, she explained, said she might still need to re-take the exam.
In another follow-up video, Dana said that after the testing situation, her professor immediately placed an infraction on her academic record — a move that would jeopardize her academic scholarships, which she uses to cover living expenses and pay tuition. Dana Jo could not be reached for comment, and Insider was unable to independently verify these claims.
According to Dana's final video, the situation turned around when she finally spoke with her professor, who explained that she had been particularly stringent after catching four students attempting to take an exam together.
After reviewing the situation, Dana said, her professor apologized, reinstated her original grade, and removed the academic infraction from her record.
While the situation was frustrating, she said, she was relieved to report that her scholarships would not be impacted and she would be able to pay rent.
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