An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Last month, as students at Wilfrid Laurier University, in Ontario, Canada, began studying for their midterm exams, many of them had to memorize not just the content on their tests, but a complex set of instructions for how to take them. The school has a student body of nearly 18,500 undergraduates, and is one of many universities that have increasingly turned to exam proctoring software to catch supposed cheaters. It has a contract with Respondus, one of the many exam proctoring companies offering software designed to monitor students while they take tests by tracking head and eye movements, mouse clicks, and more. This type of surveillance has become the new norm for tens of thousands of students around the world, who — forced to study remotely as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, often while paying full tuition — are subjected to programs that a growing body of critics say are discriminatory and highly invasive. Like its competitors in the exam surveillance industry, Respondus uses a combination of facial detection, eye tracking, and algorithms that measure “anomalies” in metrics like head movement, mouse clicks, and scrolling rates to flag students exhibiting behavior that differs from the class norm. These programs also often require students to do 360-degree webcam scans of the rooms in which they’re testing to ensure they don’t have any illicit learning material in sight. Some of the requirements for Wilfrid Laurier students went even further. In exam instructions distributed to students, one WLU professor wrote that anyone who wished to use foam noise-cancelling ear plugs must “in plain view of your webcam place the ear plugs on your desk and use a hard object to hit each ear plug before putting it in your ear — if they are indeed just foam ear plugs they will not be harmed.” Other instructors required students to buy hand mirrors and hold them up to their webcams prior to beginning a test to ensure they hadn’t written anything on the webcam. Another professor told students, “DO NOT allow others in your home to use the internet while you are completing your test,” presumably because proctoring software can be a nightmare for students without reliable high-speed internet access. That same exam guide also said that students should not sit in front of pictures or posters that contain animal faces because the software might flag them as suspicious for having another person in the room — not a reassuring requirement, given that one of the chief criticisms of exam proctoring software is that they often fail to recognize students with darker skin tones. One of the main reasons why this is such an issue is because most universities have chosen not to set standards for how instructors should use proctoring software. “As a result, campuses that use the programs are increasingly seeing students voice their anger not just with the programs themselves, but with how individual professors use them,” reports Motherboard. Students also aren’t accepting the excuse universities and proctoring software companies often make: that professors decide how to use the tools, so they’re the ones responsible for the harms they cause.
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