The stranger on the Zoom call appeared to be sitting in a tent. He wore a black headset and a blue lanyard around his neck. Behind him was white plastic peppered with images of a padlock.
“My name is Sharath and I will be your proctor today.
” Correct,” stated Jackson Hayes, from his cinder-block dormitory at the University of Arizona.
The curriculum instructed Hayes and his classmates to sign up for Examity, an online test-proctoring service.
To produce his account, Hayes was needed to upload a picture of his picture ID to Examity’s site and offer his complete name, e-mail, and phone number– pretty banal stuff.
” It feels so jury-rigged together,” Hayes states. “The website appeared like it was built in 2008.”
A month later, Hayes was preparing to take his first practice test, with an Examity proctor seeing him over Zoom. Hayes didn’t wish to download Zoom– he ‘d become aware of its laundry list of security concerns– but it was needed to take his midterm.
Sharath told Hayes to share his screen, and after that to show both sides of his driver’s license in the cam’s view. “I need to see your desk and work area,” the proctor said. “Please rotate your webcam 360 degrees so I can see the location around you.” Hayes complied. “Please take a step back and reveal me the entire desk,” the proctor advised. Again, Hayes obeyed.
Then he had to address some security concerns. Chrome believed among the fields was for a charge card and autofilled.
” Why the fuck did that appear?” Hayes asked.
” First and last name without area,” said Sharath, unperturbed.
Hayes rapidly unselected the box, but his card’s last four digits and expiration date had actually already been shown.
Finally, Hayes was advised to approve the proctor remote access to his computer system. “Please open your system choices and click on the lock icon,” the proctor said monotonically. “Please enter your computer password. Perfect. Thank you.”
The proctor got in a password, using Hayes’ computer system, and the test– taken online through Examity’s website– began. Sharath watched Hayes work, through his webcam, the entire time.
” I resembled, holy shit, this is bad,” Hayes states.
The pandemic has increased our reliance on video chat, but remote proctoring was on the increase long prior to the first circumstances of COVID-19 The University of Arizona is one of over 500 schools that use or have utilized Examity in some form. It’s not the only webcam-proctoring service out there: other schools utilize similar live programs like ProctorU, automated services like Proctortrack, or plagiarism-detection algorithms like Turnitin. But while the unique coronavirus didn’t begin the trend, it did worsen it. Online proctoring has seen an explosion of company as schools around the world are required to move their classes online; the CEO of a comparable service called Proctorio predicted that his service would increase its worth four to five times this year.
Examity’s proctors told me they have actually been flooded with new tests since the start of the outbreak, and the business’s CEO Jim Holm verified that some staff members have actually taken on extra hours. “We are grateful for our workers and their versatility in supporting our partners during this time,” he adds.
Examity is one of the fastest-growing online-proctoring services. Employees approximate that the company had around 10 proctors in 2014, but had numerous hundred by the end of 2015, and it now utilizes over a thousand. ( The Edge talked to three Examity proctors and one former proctor for this story and approved them all anonymity to prevent retaliation from their employer.) The company doubled in size between 2018 and 2019, and it was named the fastest-growing ed-tech business in The United States and Canada by Deloitte’s Fast500 At the beginning of 2019, the business approximated that it would proctor over 2 million tests for higher education alone.
In 2006, a group of students at McLean High School in Virginia collected 1,190 signatures for a petition versus the school’s needed use of Turnitin. “It’s like if you browsed every automobile in the parking lot or drug-tested every student,” McLean senior Ben Donovan informed The Washington Post at the time
And in 2015, after Rutgers mandated the use of Proctortrack in some online courses, a group of students revolted, distributing a petition versus it that gathered over 900 signatures. Quickly after the petition began, the university announced it would provide students the alternative to take their exams in person.
The University of Arizona’s administrators believe most trainees do not mind the software application. “They know this is an expectation due to the fact that their teachers put it out there,” states Kristin Ziska Strange, UA’s assistant director of technology and innovation.
That hasn’t been Hayes’ experience. “Every student I understand discovers this the creepiest thing ever,” Hayes says. On his school, he discovers, “the predominant feeling towards Examity is ‘Screw this.'”
Takashi K., who requested that I keep his surname to avoid consequences from his school, is a trainee at St. Charles Neighborhood College in Missouri who has actually used Examity for multiple classes. None of his good friends like it either. “Anyone I have talked to about it concurs that at least it’s a suspicious or bothersome thing they have to do,” he says.
“Whether it’s face to face or whether it’s online, taking a test in basic is demanding,” says Melody Buckner, associate vice provost of digital knowing and online efforts at the University of Arizona.
But students who have used Examity state it feels much weirder than proctoring with a teacher or TA. They’re being watched closer up, by a stranger, and in a location more private than a classroom. In talking to me, trainees described their experiences as whatever from “uncomfortable” to “intrusive” to “questionable.” “It’s generally like having someone standing over your shoulder looking at your screen the whole time,” Takashi says.
That’s not far from what the proctors are in fact doing. Tushar, a former Examity proctor who worked for the business from 2014 to 2015, says, “we closely enjoy the face of the student to see if there is something suspicious, like suspicious eye movements, or if the trainee is trying to mumble something to somebody else outside the space.” (They keep track of one student at a time.)
“If we see any kind of book, if I see somebody else there, there’s a chance the student may copy,” Tushar states. After adequate flags, Examity forwards the video to the trainee’s trainer.
Examity’s proctors certainly understand that trainees might find their product intrusive. “I feel some kind of guilty,” another proctor, Dhruv, tells me– and he thinks most of his co-workers feel the exact same way. Drhuv has seen personal info and messages on trainees’ screens prior to. He still enjoys the work and says he would never share anything he saw. “We all will take care,” he states. “No issue with that.”
“Definitely, all proctoring environments, either in-person or online, require a level of monitoring that can provide discomfort to students, however is vital to guarantee the stability of each examination,” he states. He keeps in mind the resemblance of the Examity experience to that of an in-person screening center, which may monitor its kiosks with cameras.
“Examity employs a large variety of security controls– administrative, technical, and physical,” he says.
That is, Examity takes no duty for safeguarding students’ individual information, which they are needed to provide in order to pass their classes.
“It’s a big security problem for students to be required to set up third-party software that they do not have the chance to meaningfully vet themselves, and offer a stranger complete remote access to their computer,” Li states.
Li states Examity’s process is swarming with potential privacy nightmares. “The proctoring software application might have a security vulnerability that leads to a hacker making the most of the remote control abilities, the proctor might utilize their position of power to maliciously socially engineer the trainee to enable them to set up malware, or the proctoring platform could leakage data including student ID cards and other individual information to identity thieves.”
It’s easy to see the argument for services like Examity at a time when over 6 million US trainees are registered in online college courses. I spoke with several trainees who appreciate the capability to take tests in the house due to their range from school, familial responsibilities, or other situations that make online classes appealing in the first place.
And that does seem to be Examity’s primary mission: to open up online courses to students who couldn’t take them otherwise. “Online education has the potential to dramatically broaden access and respond to the needs of a digitally connected generation of students,” Holm tells The Edge.
To use Examity, trainees are required to have a computer system with a working web cam, a steady internet connection, and a personal room where they can take their tests alone. Those don’t seem like unreasonable asks, especially for folks who are already registered in an online class. Buckner at the University of Arizona says most UA trainees do not have problem utilizing the software application. “Students know their research studies are going to be online,” she tells The Brink. ” They understand they need to have particular devices to be able to do a totally online program.” Buckner says UA trainees can check out laptops and web cams from the university’s library, and that the school offers a physical screening center for students who need the area. “We are attempting to accommodate students as much as we can throughout this crisis,” she states. “We’re attempting to cover all our bases.”
Still, some students think that the service might trigger more ease of access problems than it prevents.
Sandra L., who likewise requested that I keep her surname, utilized Examity for a midterm in her astronomy class at Ocean County College in New Jersey. Her very first assigned proctor was so frustrated that she hung up the call; Sandra called back and got another proctor who still couldn’t figure out the issue.
” Simply a genuine bad experience,” she says. “I would not suggest Examity to anyone.”
She wasn’t the only one. Numerous of her schoolmates had similar technical problems that Sandra’s professor chose not to use the program for the final exam.
A Yale student, who used Examity for a summer class, states she spent hours repairing technical problems prior to she could start her midterm. A variety of her classmates also had trouble beginning at their assigned time. For students she knew who were squeezing the test into a lunch break or balancing other commitments, the hold-ups were an issue.
Takashi states the portal has crashed two times in the middle of his screening. After one of the crashes, his proctor called his cellphone to ask why he ‘d dropped the call.
A University of Wisconsin trainee states that Examity makes testing especially tough for parents. Examity needs that trainees remain in an empty, silent space while they evaluate. For the trainee, who lives with their 2 kids, this was a high order. “It is difficult for a non-traditional trainee to be alone and peaceful,” the trainee states. “I have a family in a tiny home.” The trainee didn’t protest, however others did; the professor stopped using Examity a month after presenting it.
The weirdness and the technical hassle may be worth the trade-off if Examity dependably captured cheaters. While every student I asked stated they had never cheated with Examity (or a minimum of didn’t confess to it), they all thought it might be done.
Tricksters across the internet have actually established workarounds. One Reddit user was successfully able to keep a cheat sheet pressed against their computer screen, out of the webcam’s view. They were likewise able to use their phone throughout the test. When the proctor asked to see their phone, the student showed them a case with the Apple logo and an electronic camera drawn inside, then dropped it into a backpack. “I passed the test and that was that,” the trainee wrote. “It’s amusing to believe these business can avoid cheating.”
“Print your notes on plastic transparency, the stuff they utilize for overhead projectors,” noted one user.49- inch ultrawide with an iPad taped to the ideal side of it,” recommended another.
His list, he kept in mind, includes just a portion of the techniques students may attempt.
Examity’s website says its proctors are required to have “years of technical assistance accomplishments” and go through eight weeks of extensive training; in theory, they need to be catching every technique in the books.
The company is headquartered in Massachusetts, but the proctors are in Hyderabad, one of India’s biggest cities. There are a number of Examity job postings in Facebook groups for current college graduates in the location. One, in a group called “Better Jobs Hyderabad,” lists “good interaction skills” as the sole requirement. (Holm stands by the info on the website. “In nearly every case, we supply our proctors with an eight-week training course.”)
When it comes to cheaters, Holm states that Examity is constantly adjusting to brand-new strategies; he notes that the business keeps proctors notified of novel techniques and keeps policies and treatments upgraded as they progress. The proportion of cheaters that Examity deters (or catches), however, is a less important concern. What is clear is that as universities find new ways to suppress cheating, trainees find new ways to cheat. And as the cycle intensifies, intrusive treatments and technical requirements continue to stretch beyond what many students are comfy with.
” It’s like a digital arms race,” Hayes states.
Gabi Martorell, a psychology teacher at Virginia Wesleyan University, believes that arms race isn’t worth the compromises. Instead, she states, it illustrates the limitations of tests as assessment tools.
” In my experience, students almost always discover some method to cheat if they actually want to,” states Martorell. “I would rather set up a scenario where trainees are less most likely to cheat.” She has moved her classes far from multiple-choice tests and put more focus on open-book examinations, jobs, and documents where responses aren’t easily discovered on Google.
However as some professors desert Examity, others get on board, especially as travel restrictions and school closures related to COVID-19 force universities all over the world to scale up their online direction. Southern Cross University in Australia piloted the platform for its health courses, despite issues that some students couldn’t access the bandwidth or hardware necessary. Only 20 out of 24 students in China were able to take their arranged exams, an outcome the university considered a success.
As classes move online and demand for proctoring grows, Examity continues expanding. “The scope and scale of this particular obstacle for greater education is something that no one might have forecasted,” Holm says.
The business rolled out a brand-new interface in February, intended to create a much better experience for test-takers. Hayes, who took a midterm on the brand-new platform in March, states the same problems continue. And in spite of their frustrations, he and his classmates presume Examity isn’t going anywhere. “When you’re a trainee, you have no choice,” he says. “This is school in 2020.”