Troubled anti-cheating software to be used in exams
Words by Ivan Jankovic
Controversial online invigilation software, ProctorU, will be used in eighteen courses this semester, SRC President Oscar Ong confirmed at the student union Board meeting on Wednesday of last week.
ProctorU describes itself as an exam supervision software that blends ‘human supervision, including a live proctored launch, continuous monitoring, [and] active proctor intervention to stop suspicious behaviour.’
The software uses a webcam to track the behaviour of students, including actions such as ‘looking off screen, accessing unpermitted materials, speaking aloud, or allowing other people in the room.’ It flags this behaviour with a human proctor, hired by the company, for ‘further inspection’.
These incident reports are given to academic staff who then determine whether a breach of academic integrity has occurred.
The Division of Academic and Student Engagement (DASE), which manages the implementation of UofA’s learning and teaching goals, considered using the software in semester 2 of 2020 for online exams. The proposal came under near unanimous condemnation by last year’s Student Representative Council, including Ong himself. This was mainly due to the possibility students’ data could be sold to third-parties.
Though ProctorU claims on its website that it does not ‘sell or otherwise monetize any data from test-takers’, the data retained by ProctorU can be acquired by another company in the event of a bankruptcy, merger, or acquisition.
Since then, Ong has defended ProctorU’s implementation, telling On Dit that invigilated exams are the only way to ‘fulfil assessment integrity and accreditation requirements’. Ong says this is based on data which showed the ‘amount of cheating due to non-invigilated online exams’ over the last year.
He strongly encouraged concerned students to read the University’s FAQs on exams, and to contact Student Care to address further welfare concerns.
Ong did not rule out that the DASE would consider the use of ProctorU beyond semester 1 if all COVID density requirements were lifted by SA Health. He said there may be updates in his next SRC President’s report. Currently, 3 people per 4sqm are allowed in indoor spaces.
‘I have worked with the university since last year to ensure the best outcome for our students. This has actually resulted in ProctorU not being used last semester due to my concerns not being addressed by the uni at that time.’
‘Serious issues’ around security breach
SRC Education Officer Felix Eldridge (Unite) told On Dit that ‘to the best of [his] knowledge’ he had not been consulted about ProctorU’s implementation by any ‘University official or student representative.’
Eldridge stated that, ‘While the University should of course consider all options open to it to reduce academic dishonesty, the use of the invasive ProctorU invigilation software, even for a trial period, is not in the interests of students.
‘Not only is the program invasive for students, but there are serious issues regarding the security of data collected by the program.’
Eldridge referenced an August 2020 incident in which the personal details of 440,000 ProctorU users worldwide were leaked by hackers in a security breach. This included usernames, passwords, legal names, and full residential addresses, according to University of Sydney student newspaper Honi Soit.
According to Ong, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) Jennie Shaw enquired about the data breach before soliciting ProctorU’s services. She was assured that ProctorU’s firmware had been bolstered and that it ‘shouldn’t happen again.’
The agreement between UofA and ProctorU gives the University ownership over all the data collected by the company, and ‘authentication data’ — i.e. student ID, driver’s licence, or passport details — is deleted after one week unless UofA requests that it be retained. Other data collected by the program, including names, emails, phone numbers, and audio-visual footage, will be retained for 12 months after which it is deleted.
Online proctoring here to stay?
The University’s FAQs are substantial enough that it appears the decision to use ProctorU was not taken lightly. The site reads that the ‘selection was undertaken through an extensively detailed tender process informed by questions and feedback from students and staff.’
It also notes that ProctorU has been used by over 1,000 higher education providers globally, including four other Group of Eight universities: USyd, UQ, Uni Melbourne, and the University of Western Australia.
Online proctoring received a surge in popularity during the wave of COVID-19 lockdowns last year. 24 Australian universities chose to employ some form of online proctoring for exams last year.
Market research indicates that between 2019 and 2027, the stock value of online proctoring services will have jumped from roughly $US 350 million to nearly $US 1.2 billion, mainly due to the generally higher cost of running exams in-person.