Students Question Lockdown Browsers as Online Learning Continues

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Anton Johnson
ONLINE EDITOR

Last semester, UNO’s Student Government joined students across the country raising concerns over lockdown browsers for exams. Now, administration is looking at ways to address those concerns. Photo by Anton Johnson/The Gateway.

The University of Nebraska at Omaha has joined universities across the country in raising concerns with third-party digital proctoring services for exams, also known as lockdown browsers.

In November, the UNO student government passed a resolution asking the university administration to ban lockdown browsers, citing concerns with privacy and accessibility. Other institutions like Berkeley City College and San Francisco State University have passed similar resolutions. 

What students are saying

The resolution, introduced by Student Senator Travis Vo, said data breaches have been associated with some third-party digital proctoring services and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed a complaint against several services for deceptive trade practices regarding student information. Infosecurity Magazine reported last year that hackers published information from a database of 440,000 ProctorU users.

Students also had concerns about accessibility. Vo said test anxiety is a major concern for many students. The Mayo Clinic said test anxiety is often associated with disabilities like ADHD and dyslexia. 

In a written testimony, one student said: “I had to take a webcam proctored exam for my introductory biology class and I started to experience very intense anxiety and ended up having a panic attack. I was not able to pause the exam or step away to collect myself and as a result I failed it.”

Vo said the administration has been active in discussions, and he believes they can reach a happy medium. He said students’ need for privacy and teachers’ need to prevent cheating aren’t contradictory. Vo said students with experiences using third-party proctoring software should reach out to the student government.

What the administration is saying

UNO uses a third-party proctoring service called Respondus LockDown Browser. Assistant Director of Academic Technologies Rick Murch-Shafer said the default setting doesn’t record students, but instructors can use Respondus Monitor, which does. He said less than 3% of UNO’s courses use the monitoring capabilities.

Murch-Shafer said Respondus Monitor records students and flags potential violations, but it’s the instructor’s responsibility to review them and decide how it will affect the student’s grade. 

Respondus doesn’t allow for the instructor to watch the student in real time, which Murch-Shafer said is the main concern for most students. Instructors can, however, use Zoom simultaneously with the lockdown browser to monitor students synchronously.

“Many concerns weren’t with the test, but with the instructor,” Murch-Shafer said.

The Accessibility Services Center is available to help students find accommodations for test anxiety. Murch-Shafer said UNO provides faculty with a practice exam so their students can become familiar with the program and ease some of the anxiety.

Murch-Shafer said the university used a thorough vetting process to select Respondus. He said they did a small pilot program early last year with Examity, which does include live-monitoring by third-party proctors, but the administration decided it didn’t fit students’ and faculty’s needs.

What next?

Faculty senate is expected to weigh in before the administration makes a decision, but Murch-Shafer said the student government did a great job advocating for their needs. He said student feedback is important for his job to make sure technology works for students.

University policy isn’t likely to change this semester, but Murch-Shafer said communication with faculty might need updating. He said courses for “humanizing online learning” have been offered to instructors, and they will now incorporate quotes from students about test anxiety.

With COVID-19 transmission still high, remote learning is likely to stick around. Online tools like lockdown browsers will continue to be a debate on university campuses for the foreseeable future.

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