Ottawa

Carleton students raise privacy concerns about anti-cheating software

Some Carleton University students are expressing concern about software being used to guard against cheating on online exams.

Proctor programs access web cams during timed online exams

Carleton University says it has been using the software, which was developed at the school, to monitor online exams for years. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Some Carleton University students are expressing concern about software being used to guard against cheating during online exams.

The university says most instructors have adapted their courses to avoid timed exams during the COVID-19 pandemic, but a small number still require them.

For those, students are required to download one of two proctor programs that access their web cameras. The programs then monitor the student at random intervals during the exam to make sure they're not cheating. 

"The university is trying to recreate a reality that just isn't attainable," said Matt Gagne, president of the Carleton Academic Student Government, which acts as an intermediary between students, faculty and school administrators.

Carleton says the two programs, called CoMaS and Big Blue Button, were developed at the university and have been used on campus for years. In a statement, the university said the programs "are not intrusive AI-powered software or external service providers."

That means the programs don't allow remote access to the computers on which they're installed, so they can't spy on files, browsing history or other applications.

But Gagne said students still have privacy concerns.

"It's also having to put in a camera into every student's home, when students are coming from a lot of different backgrounds where they might not be comfortable with that," he said.

For example, what if a roommate accidentally walks in on a student who's taking an exam, Gagne asked.

"If a prof sees that and deems it as suspicious behaviour, they could fail a student because of that," he said.

Gagne is asking the university to come up with a different way to monitor timed exams, especially when students are already under added stress due to the pandemic.

"We should be looking for more compassion from the university on this, not less," he said.

Many faculty members agree.

"This is a difficult time for students and for instructors," said Angelo Mingarelli, president of the Carleton University Academic Staff Association. He's suggesting alternatives including open-book exams, or administering multiple versions of exams to limit the chance of cheating.

"We have software, we have machines, we have programs that can do this, and it keeps the privacy concerns of individuals safe," he said.

Carleton said students concerned about privacy can discuss the issue with their instructors to see if there's some other way to take the exam.

Gagne said the issue will be discussed at the next university senate meeting on Oct. 30.

How do you make sure students don't cheat on their exams, if everyone is writing them from home? Carleton University is asking students to download software that will let it watch out for cheaters. But some students say that's no grounds for the university to spy on them. 7:28

About the Author

Natalia is a multi-platform journalist in Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador.

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