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Can online exam monitoring invade privacy in universities?

The current global lockdown and rise in online learning have brought significant changes in the education sector, including changes in curriculum design, the adaptation of full digital schedule, teacher-student interaction, evaluation and monitoring resources, and virtual classroom safety.

Face with the task of ensuring tests are done remotely, tutors and academic staff are forced to implement online exam monitoring and testing solutions. These resources have significantly made it easier for teachers to continue evaluating and grading learners effectively.

However, these new systems have brought certain problems to the education sector that are feared to have potential effects on learners' privacy, especially at the university levels.

Discover about online exam monitoring systems and if they can invade privacy in universities through this post.

Control over students’ learning environments and the problem of data privacy.

Even before the pandemic struck, most of the higher learning institutions had raised several concerns about online exam monitoring platforms. When the crisis finally came, there was a rise in stories and protests about the effects these proctoring systems can cause.

While these resources might not be harmful, teachers, students, and parents have expressed serious concerns about the measures these services use to ensure total online exam integrity.

These steps can be taken as an excessive jeopardization and invasion of students’ information and personal data.

Most of online exam monitoring resources do not allow learners to access the tests until they activate their webcams, provide photos of their faces, offer official identities from their respective universities, and rotate their cameras at 360 degrees in the hall where they will sit for the exams.

Some extend these to extreme levels that raise serious concerns from most academic stakeholders. For instance, some learners were instructed not to have anyone in the house using the internet during exams period, even though some students stay together and take the same course or live together with family members using the internet.

This level of scrutiny from most of the online exam monitoring solutions will be interpreted as disruptive if it occurs in a physical classroom setting.

For example, suppose a teacher removes students from their seats, searches under them, and asked learners to open their bags and pockets for any material that can aid cheating. In that case, the teacher's competence will undoubtedly be questioned.

Another consequence of online exam monitoring platforms is the risk of data theft. These proctoring systems can be easily invaded by hackers to get private information about students, such as personal identification details or their room number.

Also, the monitoring service providers retain the rights to this information and can share them without the consent of the students. This creates serious and valid concerns from the teachers, parents, and the entire academic stakeholders.

Understanding assessment data and surveillance data.

The reasons for the applications of online exam monitoring solutions begin with the basic knowledge that students cannot be trusted and must be monitored to ensure there is no cheating during the exams.

It is obvious that restrictions to protect exams integrity is essential in maintaining good ethics and quality control of exams to operate as a learning validation solution.

However, it is also vital to initiate a conversation about the types of learner’s behavior and information that need protection to ensure there is no exam dishonesty in proctored tests.

Solutions such as ProctorU require access to learners' webcam, browsing sessions, and microphones. They also use biometric controls to monitor facial features, record and counts the number of times they blink.

Furthermore, they record the time students are not looking at the screen. If it surpasses a given time limit without staring at the monitor, the system automatically warns them and sometimes penalizes them.

With such extreme and insidious measures, it is easy to create system misunderstandings and errors that can lead to students losing their careers and academic dreams because they repeated a question loudly or rested their eyes from looking at the screen for a second.

For instance, a case like this occurred to a learner who got a failing result because she was recorded re-reading for better understanding. Unfortunately, this lady was studying on a scholarship, and this scenario almost cost her the opportunity were it not for quick interventions from the dean.

In such instances, it is necessary to question the type of measure that would make an exam more cheating-proof and the kind of actions that cannot be harmful to students.

What the experts say about evaluation data and surveillance data.

According to Joe Fisher, a designer for Pierce College, there has a difference between evaluation data and surveillance data way before the pandemic pushed people into adopting full-time online learning.

Fisher explains that the evaluation data are linked to exam results. The answers provided by the students are the surest way to ascertain that they took the tests correctly and without traces of cheating.

Joe Fisher also points that factors such as taking digital records of the whole exam room, students' retinal movements, and the number of times students clicked the mouse while taking the exams are not evaluation data but surveillance information.

Such kind of monitoring is not applicable as a method of ensuring learning or academic honesty. However, it is a solution to facilitate and streamline online assessments offered in large numbers.

Despite all these, educational stakeholders and authorities themselves know that this level of surveillance goes past the boundaries it ought to have not crossed.

According to Chris Dayley, the academic director of evaluative services at the University of Utah, this level of scrutiny is “a legitimized spyware."

Alternative ways to students’ surveillance.

Administrators and departments students' security and privacy, together with academic integrity, should consider other monitoring options and assessing student performance. The first steps should be dropping the conventional exams systems where possible and introducing an alternative graded method.

Offering these alternative grading systems may need additional time ranking and providing feedback on the instructor's side. However, it can be a task that some instructors may be willing and able to do.

For those teaching classes that are not possible to introduce other alternative grading systems, they might choose to trust students to do the right thing or consider making exam open book.

Though it might not be a better thing to say, it is important to make students understand that if they cheat, it is they who lose in the long run.

Also, tutors may need to consider monitoring the exams personally using video-conferencing tools like Zoom and Google meet. But also, these tools have their own challenges in terms of privacy, usage, stable internet, and access to webcams.

Another viable alternative to online exam monitoring solutions is through the use of varied questions. Avoid creating a test having true-or-false questions or all multiple choices and use open-ended quizzes.

It is hard for learners to provide the same answers to a similar question for open-ended questions. And they would have to explain their responses using specific information and supporting details, unique to according to the individual's understanding of the course concept.

Another subtle alternative you can apply instead of online exam proctoring is by creating questions that require higher-level thinking.

Instead of crafting questions that can be easily through a web search or from textbooks, you should set quizzes that are more analytical, evaluative, and synthesis level.

Obviously, it will be difficult to search from Google or ask a friend for an answer, but the questions want you to explain, infer, analyze, compose, create, and authoritatively display their mastery of course content.

Questions that are more analytical display different levels of intelligence among students and this can be used to gauge whether online exams integrity is protected.


The rise of online learning has led to infrastructural changes in the education sector, ranging from how exams are offered, monitored, and graded.

Despite the available online exam monitoring system being essential for maintaining exams' integrity, there has been a lot of public outcry and concerns on the possibility of invading students' privacy.

Several issues have been arising that beg the question of whether assessment data and surveillance data can be used in grading and deciding the fate of students. And if so, to which extent should the penalties be harmful to learners.

While these monitoring resources tend to be effective in an online exams environment, there are other alternatives you can utilize to avoid privacy concerns. First, ensure you change the existing solution to meet online requirements, monitor exams through other platforms like zoom, avoid all multiple questions, and set questions that require high order thinking.

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