Concerns about student privacy, accessibility and technological glitches have prompted the University of Manitoba Students’ Union to call on administrators to regulate how anti-cheating software is used on the virtual campus.
"Web proctoring absolutely has a role to play in preserving academic integrity — we’ve just got to get it right," said Kristin Smith, vice-president advocacy at the students union, in a news release Wednesday.
With a majority of assessments taking place online, instructors at the University of Manitoba have started using Respondus Monitor to flag misconduct.
The software uses a student’s webcam and video analytics to prevent cheating. It works alongside Respondus’ LockDown Browser, a program that can prevent students from printing, copying, accessing other applications or URLs, or closing a quiz until it is submitted.
Students are required to install the proctoring programs on their personal devices.
Since being introduced to the school community during a summer pilot, the students union has heard concerns about the software. Among the issues are professors’ knowledge of it, personal privacy, accessibility for students with disabilities, functionality, impact on performance, and the risk of false positives.
Last week, the student union’s board of directors voted unanimously to oppose U of M’s implementation of Respondus Monitor.
Student leaders have submitted five recommendations, which include requiring professors to: receive training before using the software; offer students practice tests with the software; and conduct environmental scans before exams. Also on the list, ensuring the contract between U of M and Respondus explicitly prohibits the sharing of student videos to third parties and providing clarity about how videos could be used under privacy legislation.
Smith told the Free Press that to date, the university has only updated its contract with Respondus.
"What we’d like to see is for the university to develop some sort of wider-reaching policy to govern the use of proctoring software so that no student will be faced with different treatment from another student to their disadvantage," Smith said. (For example, if a student doesn’t partake in an environment scan to film their surroundings and are later suspected of cheating, Smith said they may have trouble proving themself.)
Smith said she’s been told U of M’s argument is the school wants to protect academic freedom in how instructors teach and assess courses. The university did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Michael Shaw, president of the University of Manitoba Faculty Association, declined to comment, saying the subject is a matter for the university’s senate.
The biology professor said he personally feels there are "less intrusive" ways to proctor exams. "Cameras into students’ homes, I think, are an egregious violation of privacy," Shaw said. "We need to put (students) in positions to be successful."
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.