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Is Online Test-Monitoring Here to Stay?

that may bear a previous name. Students with dark skin described the software’s failure to discern their faces. Low-income students have been flagged for unsteady Wi-Fi, or for taking tests in rooms shared with family members. Transgender students have been outed by Proctorio’s “ID Verification” procedure, which requires that they pose for a photograph with an I.D. Other anecdotes call attention to the biases that are built into proctoring programs.

In video calls with live proctors from ProctorU, test-takers have been forced to remove bonnets and other non-religious hair coverings—a policy that has prompted online pushback from Black women in particular—and students accessing Wi-Fi in public libraries have been ordered to take off protective masks. At the end of the exam, the professor receives a report on each student’s over-all “suspicion score,” along with a list of moments, marked for an instructor to review, when the software judged that cheating might have occurred.

Proctorio, which operates as a browser plug-in, can detect whether your gaze is pointed at the camera; it tracks how often you look away from the screen, how much you type, and how often you move the mouse. It compares your rate of activity to a class average that the software calculates as the exam unfolds, flagging you if you deviate too much from the norm. Meanwhile, Proctorio is also monitoring the room around you for unauthorized faces or forbidden materials. Sebastian Vos, the C.E.O.

of ExamSoft, denied that his company’s product performed poorly with dark-skinned people. “A lot of times, there are issues that get publicly printed that are not actually issues,” he said. Jarrod Morgan, the chief strategy officer of ProctorU, told me that his company was in need of “relational” rather than technical changes. “What we will own is that we have not done a good enough job explaining what it is we do,” he said. Several institutions, including Harvard, Stanford, McGill, and the University of California, Berkeley, have either banned proctoring technology or strongly discouraged its use.

(Harvard urged faculty to move toward open-book exams during the pandemic; if professors felt the need to monitor students, the university suggested observing them in Zoom breakout rooms.) Since last summer, several prominent universities that had signed contracts with Proctorio, including the University of Washington and Baylor University, have announced decisions either to cancel or not to renew those contracts. “They have committed to paying for these services for a long time, and, once you’ve made a decision like that, you rationalize using the software.” (Several universities previously listed as customers on Proctorio’s Web site told me that they planned to reassess their use of proctoring software, but none had made determinations to end their contracts.

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