Emma Ross is the Latter-day Saints student association leader at Mesa Community College, in Arizona.
As pandemic-related health restrictions wind down, some professors have maintained the trend of providing online course options, which greatly benefits nontraditional students who need additional flexibility. Unfortunately, a side effect of the growth in online classes is colleges relying on online services like proctoring companies, some of which have a notorious record of being unreliable, discriminatory, and more recently, privacy-violating.
This issue came to a head when a federal court recently sided in favor of a Cleveland State University student who sued the university for requiring him to submit to an Honorlock room scan before his exam, finding the scan violated his Fourth Amendment right to privacy.
This case brought to light several key issues. There is little consistency in how professors proctor online exams, and students may not expect or be ready for a full room scan ahead of tests, creating the potential that private information might be exposed. But this leads to another issue — a clear breakdown in trust between students and professors because some students may feel arbitrarily and inconsistently required to perform such security measures.
Cases like this undoubtedly erode trust between students, faculty and universities. They could also lead students to opt out of completing a degree altogether. Unfortunately, many universities have increased the use of proctoring companies without taking into account that these companies continue to push the narrative that cheating is widespread — despite the unreliable and invasive nature of their own programs — all so they can continue to rake in windfall profits.
Many professors and colleges have fallen for their effective sales pitches and use artificial intelligence flags as if they are undeniable evidence of cheating — instead of reviewing the facts and exercising caution before accusing students. What’s more, extensive research has shown time and again these proctoring services disproportionately affect students with disabilities and students of color, reporting them for factors out of their control.
Whether it be flagging excessive movement for students with Tourette syndrome who have motor tics or flagging darker skin complexion for students of color because it’s difficult for the AI to track, proctoring software continues to demonstrate inaccuracies that inflate cases of cheating.
In this same vein, universities have expanded their crackdown on cheating to encompass other online learning tools and restrict collaboration. Sites like Quizlet, Chegg and Brainly have been unfairly demonized for providing access to practice questions posted by users, despite providing vital services, like 24/7 virtual tutoring, study help, flashcards and essay proofreading. Ironically, the ability to use technology to access information is a key component of most career fields.
Colleges also categorize unauthorized collaboration, whether in person or on apps like WhatsApp, as a form of cheating. But much like the rules for proctored exams, many students contest these policies are not adequately communicated and ultimately exaggerate reports of widespread cheating.
All the while, the relationship between students and faculty is further eroded, making it more difficult for students to learn and succeed. Over half of students want professors to help introduce them to people and opportunities within their field of study, and nearly 50% want faculty to help them land an internship or listen to them regarding personal issues. These critical relationships become much harder to develop after students feel like their professors don’t trust them, or they can’t trust their professors.
Professors must accept that technology will continue to render years-old multiple-choice exams less and less effective. Instead of spending time and money to combat every form of cheating the internet could facilitate, faculty should find new, more effective ways to test students’ comprehension of certain concepts.
Academics already criticize current exams as testing memory instead of mastery. By shifting exams to test critical thinking and proficiency of skills needed to secure a job, professors would see far less cheating, and students would take away a more practical education.
Additionally, as schools continue to revise and update their academic integrity processes, they must ensure that these policies are fair and clearly communicated.
Implementing these solutions would help higher education accurately test the knowledge students are retaining and their ability to apply it to various situations before graduation. Universities must turn their backs on proctoring companies' pursuit of profit and begin to repair the relationship between students and professors that has long been the centerpiece of higher education.