College Students Feel Testing Software's Uneasy Glare

By Singer, Natasha | International New York Times, April 7, 2015 | Go to article overview

College Students Feel Testing Software's Uneasy Glare


Singer, Natasha, International New York Times


Many administrators are introducing new technologies to deter cheating in online courses.

Before Betsy Chao, a senior here at Rutgers University, could take midterm exams in her online courses this semester, her instructors sent emails directing students to download Proctortrack, a new anti-cheating technology.

"You have to put your face up to it and you put your knuckles up to it," Ms. Chao said recently, explaining how the program uses webcams to scan students' features and verify their identities before the test.

Once her exam started, Ms. Chao said, a red warning band appeared on the computer screen indicating that Proctortrack was monitoring her computer and recording video of her. To constantly remind her that she was being watched, the program also showed a live image of her in miniature on her screen.

Even for an undergraduate raised in a culture of selfies and Skype, Ms. Chao found the system intrusive. "I felt it was sort of excessive," she said.

As universities and colleges around the country expand their online course offerings, many administrators are introducing new technologies to deter cheating. The oversight, administrators say, is crucial to demonstrating the legitimacy of an online degree to students and their prospective employers.

Some schools use software that prevents students from opening apps or web browsers during online exams. Others employ services with live exam proctors who monitor students remotely over webcams.

But the rise of Proctortrack and other automated student analysis services like it have raised questions about where to draw the line and whether the new systems are fair and accurate.

The University of North Texas Health Science Center, for instance, is partway through a two-year pilot test of Proctortrack involving the 160 students enrolled in its online public health master's degree program.

"If you are going to offer online learning, you need to find ways to ensure the integrity of the course, the test-taking and the degree," said Jeff Carlton, a university spokesman. "For us, this is high-stakes."

These schools are not simply trying to protect the academic integrity of their brands. They are seeking to stay competitive in a rapidly expanding industry. The market for online higher education could reach $32 billion in the United States this year, up from $25 billion in 2012, according to estimates from Eduventures, a research firm in Boston.

And the increased oversight of test-taking only intensifies a college experience that is monitored and analyzed more than ever. More than 3,500 institutions of higher learning, for instance, use an automated plagiarism detection system called Turnitin, which scans students' papers for copied passages. And at Utah Valley University in Orem, the school developed its own early warning system, called Stoplight, which uses academic and demographic details about students to predict their likelihood of passing specific courses; as part of the program, professors receive class lists that color-code each student as green, yellow or red.

Proctortrack works along similar lines. …

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