Software that looks over students’ shoulders raises privacy issues

More stories from Vikram Gill

After the hiatus from complete in-person learning, teachers at De Anza High School and other schools have been looking for new ways to keep an eye on their students —  even if it comes at the cost of privacy. 

Proctoring software has been the go-to for colleges and high schools, allowing instructors to monitor the actions of their students. 

However, it’s important to know, virtual proctoring is not a new concept. We’ve all experienced being proctored in one way or another, even as early as in elementary school through the CAASPP (California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress program, which administers assessment tests)  locked browser. 

According to Carlo Lacsina, a De Anza teacher, all instructors in the district have to undergo training to operate the system and learn how to  track the performance of their students. This system works to prohibit students from using the web to cheat or become  distracted during the exam. 

Students can rest assured that CAASPP isn’t going to peer at them through the camera. There is intense data protection in place and release of information is limited to protect the privacy of students. 

It’s a different story when it comes to proctoring software commonly used by institutions. The sketchy proctoring software students might find themselves downloading for an exam doesn’t guarantee the same data protection and could be meddlesome.  

Recently, the monitoring site Proctortrack released information about a recent data breach from its system. This news created great distrust, decreasing students’  willingness to download similar programs. 

According to Consumer Reports, some students object to the use of such systems, calling them “intrusive” and making “exams very stressful.”  In the comfort of one’s own home, they said, it’s unnatural to have their eye and mouth movements tracked. 

Mr. Lacsina stated that he does not consider CAASPP an invasion of privacy, because it’s used during “protected class time.”  

Online learning, taking place outside of protected environments, is different. Teachers are unable to simply use lockdown browsers and assure complete safety from cheating. Students can use second devices or even enlist the help of another person. 

This is what newly found proctoring software companies strive to fix. They have implemented technology to track the eye and mouth movements of attendees. This enables close monitoring of students, while asynchronously checking for signs of cheating. 

Even as this eases the burden on the instructor, it increases the pressure on the student. 

Christian Del Rosario, a Junior at De Anza High School, describes his experience with proctoring software as anxiety-causing. While he does not think it is an invasion of privacy and serves to “prevent students from cheating,” it can be stressful trying to make sure you don’t look “suspicious in any way.” 

Some other students completely reject the use of proctoring software. 

 Anthony Aponte, a De Anza junior, expressed his concerns about trusting such applications to handle valuable data. He believes that students “should be trusted,” and not be made to feel uncomfortable. 

While not loving the experience of using these systems, other students have gotten used to the idea of being monitored on camera and don’t object strongly to its use. 

Teachers are generally more supportive of its use. 

Hali Morgenroth, a De Anza teacher, has had personal experience with proctoring programs. She believes that since “there is no alternative to prevent cheating,” it’s fair to mandate the use of the monitoring software. She mentioned initially feeling nervous about monitoring software, but getting over it as her experience with online learning increased.