SAMRU advocates for changes to how university practices online proctoring
By Daniel Gonzalez, Staff Writer
The shift to online and alternative education has caused many changes to how students learn. But, after a rise in advocacy by the Students’ Association of Mount Royal University (SAMRU), one aspect of learning in a virtual environment — exam proctoring — will be less of a concern for students in the upcoming winter 2021 semester.
“Generally speaking, exam proctoring is the act of monitoring a student while they write an exam to ensure academic integrity,” said Carly Bullough, vice-president academic of SAMRU, in an email.
“At MRU, this typically happens inside the classroom with a professor watching to ensure that students completing their exams are not using any prohibited materials to answer questions.”
However, since the university has transitioned to online course delivery, the use of third-party proctoring software to disable certain features on students’ computers, and of webcams in classes, has worried some students. Bullough and her work with Mount Royal University (MRU) administration is changing how these tools will be used by professors.
“In my own research, I’ve found conflicting data that does not necessarily support or negate evidence that using online proctoring solutions ensures academic integrity,” said Bullough.
“However, anecdotally, I’ve heard from hundreds of Mount Royal students over the last eight months that the thought of taking a proctored exam online would cause them even more stress and anxiety in an already overwhelming period in our lives — this is why I’ve been advocating for alternative solutions, and I’m happy to say that I’ve been fairly successful thus far.”
Professors will no longer be able to make webcam usage mandatory for any class, and they cannot be used as a determining factor for grades or participation in the upcoming semester.
“Some students do not have access to adequate internet bandwidth or stable Wi-Fi required for webcam use, and some students do not have access to a webcam at all,” Bullough said.
An additional problem that students may have is in regards to privacy. “Some students have concerns with their professors and other students having visual access to their environment, and experience anxiety and stress knowing that anyone could be looking at them and their home or personal space throughout the duration of the class.”
Although Bullough recognizes the advantages of webcams in the classroom, she thinks that “requiring students to use their webcams puts some at an unfair disadvantage, and this has been recognized by the university.”
MRU will not be requiring online proctoring for all courses in the winter 2021 semester. Also, professors will not be able to make online proctoring software necessary for students without providing notice on the course syllabus at the beginning of the term.
The university uses software provided by the company Proctorio. The same software is used by the University of British Columbia and several other institutions across Canada and the United States.
“Proctorio is generally not as invasive as other exam proctoring software for two main reasons. The first being that it does not require another person to watch you through a webcam, the second being that all the personal data it collects is fully encrypted and never shared with anyone,” said Bullough.
Although this system is less intrusive, it can still be considered troublesome for some students.
“Software that uses artificial intelligence to monitor students writing exams has been shown to adversely affect those who tend children while working and studying from home and students with darker skin colours,” says Bullough.
Bullough has been speaking with MRU administration since the advent of online delivery regarding this topic. But, only a small group of professors did request that a proctoring agreement be reached for their courses based on the course material.
“There were about six professors that requested a proctoring solution for their courses by the end of the summer, of which only one will be moving forward with it,” said Bullough.
All 26 students in the sole course are already aware that it is being used.
“Additionally, the professor of this course agreed that webcam use cannot be required, and so only a temporary browser lockdown and suspension of cut and paste functioning will be used.”
According to Bullough, online proctoring in 2021 is going to be instituted similar to the fall semester.
“Whether or not a course will have proctored online exams will depend on the professor and the nature of the course material,” said Bullough.
“But for the vast majority of MRU students, online exam proctoring will not be required or expected.”
In addition to these changes, Bullough has worked with the university to provide students with laptops that they can loan from the library. This service is also available for students who are not registered in classes that have an online proctor.
“If students who would be required to take an online proctored exam do not have access to a webcam, or if they are not comfortable with downloading the proctoring software on to their personal computers, they can borrow a computer that meets all the technical requirements.”
As the winter semester approaches, Bullough anticipates that there will not be any major shifts in how students receive their education online.
“Things are still changing on a regular basis, but I am confident that as of right now, there aren’t any major changes planned for the winter semester,” she said.
“There are lessons being learned every day on all sides: students, professors and staff at Mount Royal are all trying their best to get through this pandemic while navigating novel challenges.”
Bullough and the rest of SAMRU are available for any students who have problems or concerns with online learning, she says. She advises anyone who is struggling to contact the Representation Executive Council.
“I know that times are overwhelming, stressful, and difficult right now for a lot of students out there, and as a fellow student myself, I want to offer my support to everyone.”