A Proctor’s Take on Getting Rid of Respondus

I’m not sure if writing this makes me a whistleblower? Maybe it’s more of a scathing opinion piece. But, as someone who has reviewed the Respondus footage of Laurier students taking exams, I strongly believe it’s time for the school to cease using digital proctoring software.

The events of the past year caused extreme changes for how students received their education, and I commend the school for adapting to the situation and finding new, innovative ways for students to learn outside of the classroom. However, it’s also time for the school to review what strategies aren’t working and to adjust. Specifically, using the Respondus Lockdown Browser is both invasive and ineffective.

I’ve been employed as both a proctor in-class and as a digital proctor to review the footage of students taking exams. As a digital proctor, you’re not catching people who are cheating so much as you’re catching people who cheat poorly. The truth is, and this is not a surprise for most members of the student population, that it is absolutely possible to angle your camera in a way where the proctor could not conclusively say that someone is cheating, although they may suspect other resources are being used. The role of a proctor is to make notes of suspicious behaviour and ultimately, it’s up to the professor about whether they move forward with allegations of academic misconduct.

Some students will cheat very poorly, where there is no doubt that they are consistently looking at another resource or their phone will even come into view of the camera. But these cases are few and far between. Most of the time, people are cheating well. Yes, their eyes move around a bit or their camera angle is odd, but shouldn’t the burden be higher for an accusation that could ruin a student’s ability to graduate or apply for future programs?

Furthermore, it erodes the relationship between professor and student when the professor doesn’t trust their students, especially if they can tell that the footage is suspicious but there’s nothing concrete to prove that the student was cheating. It also makes students fear the process of writing the test itself along with being stressed about the content of the test. I’m sure there are plenty of students who have been flagged for suspicious conduct, but they were writing the test fairly. It’s a toxic system that neither the students, the professors nor academic integrity benefits from.

Additionally, it’s invasive for professors and proctors to review footage of students in their homes, especially in such tense circumstances. There are students who appear to have panic attacks or breakdowns on camera while writing exams. Others have family members wandering into view and asking them to do chores. Some students are, frankly, far too comfortable in their ability to write an exam from home and will be writing in just their underwear. Writing the exam while physically alone can lull students into a false sense of privacy where they feel they can act how they would if they were truly alone.

Other organizations have found ways to successfully digitally proctor examinations, but it’s doubtful that the school has the resources to implement those policies. For example, every single lawyer who took their licensing examinations digitally in Ontario was assigned their own proctor who would watch them in real-time and could ask them to adjust the camera or show their surroundings again. This real-time assessment vastly improves the reliability of digitally proctoring, but it isn’t feasible in a university environment.

The solution is simple: it’s time for professors to change the way they assess students. It is absolutely possible to create open-book tests that assess a student’s knowledge, but often it does mean doing away with years of multiple-choice test banks. It’s equally possible to change a course so that none of the overall grade is based on examinations. Plenty of professors have, thankfully, made these changes. But a general policy where the school recommends using alternatives to proctored examinations when possible is no deterrent for educators who are stuck in their ways. If the school’s concern is upholding academic integrity, then the school needs to develop a system where it’s possible to fairly assess.