“Algorithmic proctoring software has been around for several years, but its use exploded as the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to quickly transition to remote learning… Invasive test-taking software has become mandatory in many places, and some companies are retaliating against those who speak out.”T. Feathers and J. Rose, vicemagazine (9/2020)
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
EXCERPT: Students Are Rebelling Against Eye-Tracking Exam Surveillance Tools, By Todd Feathers/Janus Rose.
“As a privacy-minded computer science student preparing to start his first year at Miami University, Erik Johnson was concerned this fall when he learned that two of his professors would require him to use the digital proctoring software Proctorio for their classes. The software turns students’ computers into powerful invigilators—webcams monitor eye and head movements, microphones record noise in the room, and algorithms log how often a test taker moves their mouse, scrolls up and down on a page, and pushes keys. The software flags any behavior its algorithm deems suspicious for later viewing by the class instructor.In the end, Johnson never had to use Proctorio. Not long after he began airing his concerns on Twitter and posted a simple analysis of the software’s code on Pastebin, he discovered that his IP address was banned from accessing the company’s services.
He also received a direct message from Proctorio’s CEO, Mike Olsen, who demanded that he take the Pastebin posts down, according to a copy of the message Johnson shared with Motherboard. Johnson refused to do so, and is now waiting to see if Proctorio will follow up with more concrete legal action, as it has done to other critics in recent weeks.
His case is just one example of how college campuses are revolting against the use of digital proctoring software, and the aggressive tactics employed by proctoring companies in response to those efforts.
In recent weeks, students have started online petitions calling for universities across the world to abandon the tools, and faculty on some campuses, like the University of California Santa Barbara, have led similar campaigns, arguing that universities should explore new forms of assessment rather than subjecting students to surveillance…Proctoring companies cite studies estimating that between 50 and 70 percent of college students will attempt some form of cheating, and warn that cheating will be rampant if students are left unmonitored in their own homes….’Any plan that calls for schools to just ‘stop using’ proctoring will make cheating more common than it already is, escalating a severe threat to all higher education,’ Scott MacFarland, the CEO of ProctorU, another proctoring vendor, wrote in an email to Motherboard…Students’ and educators’ objections to exam proctoring software go beyond the privacy concerns around being watched and listened to in their bedrooms while they take a test.
As more evidence emerges about how the programs work, and fail to work, critics say the tools are bound to hurt low-income students, students with disabilities, students with children or other dependents, and other groups who already face barriers in higher education…’They aren’t taking into consideration people from underprivileged communities,’Alamri said. ‘This sort of online exam is really measuring a person’s generationalwealth and not their knowledge of the law.’
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ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post
NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 60 minutes.
Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Predictions: Using a Pre-reading Organizer
Directions: Examine the title of the post and of the actual article. Next examine the photos. Write a paragraph describing what you think this article will discuss. A pre-reading organizer may be helpful.
II. While Reading Activities
Directions: Try to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. You use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.
- The software turns students’ computers into powerful invigilators.
- Webcams monitor eye and head movements and algorithms log how often a test taker moves their mouse.
- The software flags any behavior its algorithm deems suspicious.
- Johnson discovered that his IP address was banned from accessing the company’s services.
- In recent weeks, students have started online petitions.
- Algorithmic proctoring software has been around for several years.
- Proctoring companies cite studies estimating that between 50 and 70 percent of college students will attempt some form of cheating.
- Some believe cheating on college exams is escalating.
- The system measures suspicion levels as students take exams.
- Other proctoring companies have also been litigious when faced with criticism.
Grammar Focus: Structure and Usage
Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical error. Identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.
- Students and educator object to exam proctoring software.
- Law students around the country are organizing to fight against the use of any kind of digital proctoring.
- Oregon, and Wisconsin have already scrapped their upcoming bar exams as a result of student pressure.
- Other states, including New York, are fumbling for solutions as deadlines for the exams quickly approach.
- In their petition, the students say the used of ExamSoft discriminates against people of color.
- The California bar exam would require test takers to verify their identity with facial recognition checks.
- They aren’t taking into consideration people from underprivileged communities.
- If a student looks away from the screen more than their peers they are flagged for an abnormality.
- in general, students and faculty are worried about the spread of proctoring tools on campuses.
Identify The Speakers
Directions: Read the following quotes from speakers in the article. Then identify the speakers.
- “If my professors weren’t flexible, I’d be completely unable to take exams.”
- “We’re supposed to be protecting our students.”
- “Any plan that calls for schools to just ‘stop using’ proctoring will make cheating more common than it already is, escalating a severe threat to all higher education.”
- “It just seems to me that this mock exam is reading the poor lighting as my skin color.”
- “These coders are defining, mathematically, the ideal student body: how often it does, or doesn’t do, these certain attributes, and anything outside of that ideal is treated with suspicion.”
- “Each academic department has almost complete agency to design their curriculum as far as I know, and each professor has the freedom to design their own exams and use whatever monitoring they see fit.”
- After this person began sharing Proctorio training videos and documents that explained the company’s abnormality methodology on Twitter, the videos were removed from YouTube, and Proctorio filed for a court injunction to prevent this person from sharing its training material.
III. Post Reading Activities
Directions: Have students use the WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.
Who or What is the article about?
Where does the action/event take place?
When does the action/event take place?
Why did the action/event occur?
How did the action/event occur?
Discussion Questions for Comprehension /Writing
Directions: Have students discuss the following questions/statements. Afterwards, students share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the topics mentioned.
- . Why was Erik Johnson against using the digital proctoring software Proctorio for their classes?
- On which media site did Johnson air his concerns?
- In general, how do the faculty feel about using forcing students to endure surveillance during exams?
- Algorithmic proctoring software has been around for several years, so what caused this sudden explosive need to use it now?
- According to the proctoring companies, what percentage of college students will attempt to cheat?
- What is the concern about allowing students take exams in their homes? Do you agree with this statement? Why are why not?
- According to Scott MacFarland, “Any plan that calls for schools to just ‘stop using’ proctoring will make cheating more common than it already is, escalating a severe threat to all higher education.” Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Please provide a reason for your answer.
- According to the article, some programs hurt certain groups of people. Who are these groups and how are they hurt by Surveillance Tools during exams?
- Have you ever had to take an exam that used digital proctoring? If yes, what was it like? If no, would you be comfortable taking an exam with digital proctoring?
Free Writing Exercise
Directions: Allow students 5 minutes to write down three new ideas they’ve learned about the topic from the reading. They can write about something they did not understand. In addition, have students write something that they would have liked to see in the article.