Manitoba

University of Manitoba uses anti-cheating software to monitor remote exams

An ethicist and the U of M students union are raising concerns about artificial intelligence and webcam monitoring that use facial detection, motion and keyboard activity to catch cheaters.

Ethicist raises concerns about program's ability to lock students’ computers and monitor webcams

The University of Manitoba has been using software that relies on artificial intelligence and webcam monitoring to catch cheaters during exams. (The Canadian Press)

The University of Manitoba is using anti-cheating software that records students' webcams during some remote exams to ensure academic integrity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But an ethicist and the students union are raising concerns about the program's artificial intelligence and webcam monitoring abilities, which use facial detection, motion and keyboard activity to catch cheaters. 

The program the U of M has been piloting during summer courses is called Respondus and has already been used at other schools in Canada. The school is now making the software available during the fall term for optional use by instructors at the U of M.

"What is a little bit troublesome is there's a lack of clarity on where these things are being stored and who can access [them] outside of the institution itself," said Jelynn Dela Cruz, president of the University of Manitoba Students' Union.

The union has heard concerns about the software from students in recent days, she said, and is now in talks with university administration about the program, which locks down a student's screen, uses advanced algorithms for facial detection, motion, and data from the computer to identify patterns and anomalies associated with cheating. 

WATCH | Anti-cheating software to monitor remote exams:

The University of Manitoba is using anti-cheating software that records students' webcams during some remote exams to ensure academic integrity during the COVID-19 pandemic. 2:08

Dela Cruz said not every professor is using the software. Instead, some are choosing to use another program during exams that have all students in a class visible on webcam. 

"Students have come to us voicing concerns about their classmates watching them during the exam, especially if they have accessibility needs that they're not necessarily comfortable sharing with the rest of the class."

The University of Manitoba has told faculty the program went through a rigorous evaluation before being approved.

"This software has undergone all the required considerations for privacy and security," U of M spokesperson Chris Rutkowski told CBC.

He said Respondus files are kept under secure means in the company's cloud, are not stored locally and are removed after the university's appeal period.

He added that since students are watched by their peers in classes, it "is also anticipated that students would prefer to focus on writing their exams and not be watching their classmates."

But U of M associate professor Neil McArthur, who is an ethicist, said he won't be using the software this fall.

"To have software that not only locks a student's computer but monitors their eye movements and their physical movements I think is a clear violation of privacy," he said.

Jelynn Dela Cruz, president of the University of Manitoba Students’ Union, said in recent days students have come forward with concerns about their webcams being remotely monitored during exams. (CBC)

McArthur said even if the U of M asks for students' consent before using the program, it's problematic in his view. 

"The consent is complicated because what they're consenting to is in a sense coerced in that they need to compete for this in order to get to pass the course and write the exam."

He said instead of using the anti-cheating software, he will give students take-home exams they have 24 hours to complete.

"I try to give exam questions that are specifically tailored to the class material, so that you know, if they want to spend that 24 hours cramming desperately and reading all the class material if they haven't done that up till now, that's fine, because what they're doing basically is doing the course, which is what I want them to do." 

The University of Regina said it is using anti-cheating software as a pilot with this summer's final exams.

The University of Winnipeg said a few departments are currently using live proctoring on Zoom while students are writing tests. it is investigating invigilation software and plans to run a pilot with it in a few courses this fall.

"Our faculty members are looking both at invigilation methods and a test construction that will inhibit opportunities to cheat, as well as alternative types of evaluation that don't involve a set test or exam," said U of W spokesperson Kevin Rosen.

Red River College said it is not using anti-cheating software and instead is taking a proactive approach toward academic integrity. 

Neil McArthur says he won't be using the software in his remote classroom this fall. (Warren Kay/CBC)

"Our approach includes increased education and access to supports for students, anchored by an online learning module and class sessions to outline the risks and consequences to cheating," said college spokesperson Conor Lloyd in an email.

"By increasing the ways in which we evaluate students, we are able to provide more comprehensive assessments and take the weight off of a single exam. Our ultimate goal with this approach is to discourage cheating online and ensuring our students can access resources and supports early on to help them with their programs this fall."

Respondus COO Jodi Feeney said its programs are designed with student privacy as a basic requirement.

Before the pandemic, the company had business relationships with the majority of Canadian universities, she said.

The company also said that just because students get a proctoring flag when they move away from their computers, it doesn't necessarily mean they'll get bad grades. 

"For example, if the student goes to the door because someone is knocking on it, a flag is likely to appear in the proctoring results. However, when the instructor sees what happened in that segment of the video, the flag is likely to be ignored," company CEO David Smetters said in a statement.

About the Author

​Austin Grabish landed his first byline when he was just 18. He joined CBC in 2016 after freelancing for several outlets. ​​In 2018, he was part of a team of CBC journalists who won the Ron Laidlaw Award for the corporation's extensive digital coverage on asylum seekers crossing into Canada. In 2019, he was on the ground in northern Manitoba covering the manhunt for B.C. fugitives Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeod, which attracted international attention. Email: austin.grabish@cbc.ca

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