Online anti-cheating software at U of M raising red flags for some

By | August 18, 2020

WINNIPEG — Online anti-cheating software that records the movements of students during exams being used at the University of Manitoba is raising red flags for some.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced colleges and universities to look for more in-home and online learning platforms – which can pose a challenge for professors conducting exams.

The University of Manitoba (U of M) has completed a pilot study using software called Respondus Monitor, an e-proctoring service that locks down a student’s computer during exams and monitors their movement for the duration of the exam.

According to Respondus, the software records the students and will flag “suspicious behaviors” and “potential exam violations” to the professor to review.

“Respondus wants to collect as little personal information as possible. The data we collect is controlled by the university, not Respondus,” David Smetters, the CEO of Respondus, said in a written statement sent to CTV News.

“The university gives us permission as a processor to store and process the data for their use, but we don’t own it. Respondus doesn’t sell any form of proctoring data.”

Chris Rutkowski, a spokesperson for the U of M, said Respondus was fully vetted by the university’s access and privacy office and said all video recorded is stored in the cloud with secure administrative access only. They said the files are destroyed after the grade appeal period.

“It is anticipated that many instructors will choose to use the Respondus software, now that it is an option,” Rutkowski told CTV News in an emailed statement.

But not all at the university are on board with the e-proctoring software.

Neil McArthur, head of philosophy at the U of M, said he understands why the university is interested in the software, but said he feels that it could cross the line for students.

“I think having a software that is, not just monitoring students’ computer use, but their actual body movements and eye movements, I think that is something a lot of students would find personally invasive,” said McArthur, who has taught a class on ethics in technology.

“I think it is something that could create a lot of discomfort and anxiety. We know that students already have a lot of anxiety around writing exams, and I think that we ideally want to do things to minimize that anxiety.”

Jelynn Dela Cruz, the president of the U of M Students’ Union (UMSU), said the software has left some students feeling uneasy as well.

“We are hearing some concerns from students, in particular students with accessibility needs, who either aren’t comfortable being on camera in accompaniment with their classmates either due to various triggers, or their own disabilities that they would rather not share with the rest of the class,” Dela Cruz said, adding the union fully recognizes the need for academic integrity for online learning.

“Really at the end of the day, what we’d like to see is a full communication plan for students so that at least that little anxiety about their own security, about what their own discomforts are, can be soothed just a little bit.”

McArthur said he will not be using the software for his classes, and has heard from a number of his colleagues who will be finding other alternatives to the e-proctoring site.

“It is very hard to ensure that there isn’t cheating on exams when you are doing them all remotely,” he said.

“I think it is a real challenge. I think that we all as professors are thinking about it, and I think that there isn’t going to be one solution – it’s going to depend a lot on the class,” he said.

Rutkowski said there are many other approaches to academic integrity, including balancing the weight of a course grade over several assignments rather than a single exam. 

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