Students and professors across Cal State Fullerton have met at a crossroads about the implementation of Proctorio in classes since the university transitioned to fully-online courses during the summer.
Proctorio is a software designed to observe students while they take exams remotely, preventing them from using the internet or notes on their desk to improve their performance. According to its website, the software was founded in 2013 and has been used by Amazon and over 400 other universities such as Columbia, Duke and Georgetown, but was launched into the spotlight during online education this year.
Many students, including Eduardo Jimenez, a second-year English major, discovered the software through posts made on CSUF’s official subreddit. Initially, he said he thought it was an ordinary lockdown browser, but became wary of its use in his courses once he discovered the extent of the access the software is granted.
“When I found out they monitor your screen, that they monitor your eye movement, body language, I was just like ‘That’s kind of weird,’” Jimenez said. “It's creepy, an invasion of privacy.”
The unfamiliarity of the software and its owners was a point of concern, said Saleem Haider, a third-year business major.
“It obviously did the screen capture, it closed all of my browsers, it turned off auto-correct in (Microsoft) Word, which was something I didn't know was possible for a software to do,” Haider said. “It did make me turn on my camera, made me have proper lighting so it could see my face and track my eyes. That was something that felt incredibly intrusive.”
An early adopter of Proctorio at CSUF was Randy Hoffman, a full-time lecturer at the College of Business and Economics. Hoffman taught courses over the summer term, and regulated his exams through Proctorio.
“There were virtually no problems associated with it,” Hoffman said. “It worked very well for my purposes in summer school, and I was pleased that I was able to implement it in summer school to make sure that it did work well and that I knew how to work it.”
The biggest concern voiced by students was related to uncontrollable interruptions and background noise during a test, Hoffman said. During his summer term exams, these instances were flagged by the software, which then allowed Hoffman to observe the events and rule that they were not attempting cheating.
Jimenez and Haider both said their classmates viewed Proctorio as a distraction during exams that could impede their thought process. Hoffman said he believes that there isn’t anything to worry about unless a student is trying to beat the system.
“If you focus in, and you're not trying to cheat or augment your knowledge through some other way during the test, there's no issue here at all. Nobody should be worried about failing the exam unless they're trying to commit some sort of fraud during the process,” Hoffman said.
The classroom experience is the main reason Hoffman began and continues teaching, but he understands that adjustments must be made for an online classroom to emulate the physical experience, he said.
After the university transitioned to virtual instruction in March, Hoffman cited an 11% increase in exam scores compared to the average that he has recorded for 10 years, since he began instructing at the university.
He said that one business professor’s exam average rose to 93%. Additionally, another accounting professor told Hoffman that 75% of his students recorded a perfect score on their first virtual exam in the spring.
Instead of trying to administer in-person exams virtually, Haider said that professors should consider different styles of exams that work in harmony with virtual learning.
One example that Haider gave was switching from multiple-choice questions to open note, short-answer exams.
“An open note, short-answer exam would really help show and allow students to demonstrate their complete knowledge over the course matter. A student that has taken thorough notes, has paid attention in class and gone to all of the sessions, their short-answer responses are going to be much more thorough and rich and related to the question, as opposed to a student who just looked and got the definition from the textbook,” Haider said.
Jimenez suggested that students who prepare for their tests should not be worried about setting off any of Proctorio’s alarms.
“Study harder so that once you take the exam and you're being monitored, you don't look like you're doing suspicious activities. If you know you have the exam in the bag, you shouldn't worry,” Jimenez said.