Saskatchewan

University of Regina students worried anti-cheating software will invade privacy

Proctortrack is an online program verifies a student's ID and uses a computer's webcam to watch students to deter academic misconduct. But some U of R students say it's invasive, and a petition to get rid of the software has already received more than 1,700 signatures.

Software 'a tool that an instructor can go back and look at if they perceive something untoward': U of R VP

The University of Regina selected Proctortrack to monitor students taking online exams as they learn remotely because of the pandemic. (CBC)

University of Regina students are concerned that the computer program being used to monitor students taking exams remotely this fall will invade their data privacy.

Proctortrack is an online proctoring program that can help detect academic misconduct, according to its website, in part by "continuous identity verification throughout the exam via facial recognition." It accesses a computer's webcam during the exam, and offers "multi-factor biometric authentication" to verify a student's identity, according to the website, including face or ID scans.

The U of R selected the software as a way to ensure students who are learning remotely this term aren't cheating when taking their final exams online. But some students at the university say it's invasive, and a petition to get rid of the software has already received more than 1,700 signatures.

"By allowing this software access to my computer, I would be giving it access to my audio recordings of my home, video recordings of my home, and of biometric data and scans of my face," said Julian Wotherspoon, an undergraduate student who signed the petition.

She added that what she types on the keyboard would also be accessible to Proctortrack.

"It's just not a level of surveillance that I'm comfortable with," Wotherspoon said.

Undergraduate student Julian Wotherspoon says she has concerns about the possibility of hackers gaining access to information gathered by Proctortrack. (Eugenio Marongiu / Shutterstock)

Wotherspoon said she's also concerned about the possibility of hackers gaining access to personal information.

But the interim provost and vice-president of academics at the University of Regina says there's "a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding out there about remote proctoring, and in particular Proctortrack."

"I do appreciate and understand that students are concerned whenever a new technology is introduced, and especially around a stressful time like final exams," said David Gregory.

In an interview with CBC Radio's The Morning Edition, he said the program does not do things like watch eye movements or iris scans. He also said it doesn't track keystrokes, but the the FAQ section on Proctortrack's website suggests that the software can do that.

The software doesn't monitor a person's web browser history, or view or read personal files on their computer, according to the website.

New software for remote learning can help professors detect if students are cheating on exams but its use at the University of Regina has spurred a petition and complaints about attacks on student privacy. We'll hear how the university aims to address those concerns. 10:32

Proctortrack works similarly to how students would be surveyed when taking exams on campus, Gregory says.

Before the pandemic, students had to present their ID cards and were subjected to video surveillance. Proctortrack does the same thing, Gregory explained.

When a student logs on for their exam, the software will ask to confirm the student's ID and the camera will verify whether the face matches that on the ID card.

The software uses the camera to take photos at random and records audio, then sends that to a server where it is stored for 180 days — about six months — in case an investigation is required, he said.

"It does not determine academic misconduct," he said. "It is simply a tool that an instructor can go back and look at if they perceive something untoward on the exam itself."

The software can flag what it deems to be unusual behaviour, and the instructor can then review the video, said Gregory.

A student leaving their room would be an example of activity that is flagged, he said. But if a student had to use the washroom, for example, there are ways to announce that to the program so they are not flagged.

The university took several months to select Proctortrack. After the selection, the selection committee met with the students' union and held a town hall meeting to address questions and concerns about the software, said Gregory.

The university also tested Proctortrack over the summer to make any necessary adjustments, he added.

While she understands that there are challenges to finding alternative ways to monitor students taking exams, Wotherspoon believes the university is taking the simpler solution, not the right one.

Instead of relying on exams and Proctortrack, she suggests having students do final projects, presentations, or open book exams. She has tried making alternative plans with the university but has had no luck, she said.

With files from The Morning Edition

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