'You’re being watched and recorded, every breath': Students unsettled by exam 

By Natassia Chrysanthos  May 22, 2020 

Turn on your webcam, enable your microphone and share your computer screen, an 
anonymous voice told university student Emily Johnston as she sat her first 
online exam from her bedroom.

Don't look away from your screen for too long, in case artificial intelligence 
scans your face and registers suspicious behaviour. Any noise or movement you 
make will be recorded, reviewed and stored for two years.

Many university students have been unsettled by proctoring software being used 
to invigilate their online exams during the coronavirus pandemic.

Ms Johnston watched with discomfort as her cursor moved around her screen, 
controlled by someone on the other side of the world. They closed her tabs, 
accessed her computer and disabled the screenshot function.

Then the voice commanded: "Show me around your room". Ms Johnston walked the 
computer around her bedroom, showing the stranger her bookshelves and where she 
sleeps. Any notes spotted on the walls had to come down.

Finally, the voice asked for her driver's licence. Having already provided her 
location, full name, date of birth and computer security settings, Ms Johnston 
didn't want to give away her licence number as well. "But I did it reluctantly 
otherwise I couldn’t do the exam," she said.

She was using ProctorU, which the University of Sydney has chosen to monitor 
its online exams. The Australian National University has opted for a similar 
service, Proctrio, while the University of NSW has used Examity.

Deakin University Associate Professor Phillip Dawson, who researches academic 
integrity and digital learning, said the software was a trade-off between 
privacy and assessment security.

"We’ve never had cheat-proof exams or assignments. These tools probably work, 
but there’s no public evidence. The question is whether it's worth it," he said.

"When people feel like they’re being surveilled they might get anxious and feel 
their performance is not at the level they want. A lot of universities are 
trying hard to take student circumstances into account, but being surveilled 
isn’t a nice experience."

Universities will mainly assess students through take-home assignments and open 
book tests this semester, after students protested against the use of 
proctoring software due to privacy concerns. Macquarie University will not hold 
any proctored online exams.

But most institutions will still proctor some end-of-term exams in the upcoming 
assessment period, as students remain unable to take in-person tests due to 
social distancing requirements.

Third-year student Jock Bell said his 90-minute online environmental resources 
exam was "pretty weird".

"It’s not fun, knowing you’re being watched and recorded, every breath and 
movement. It’s even more invasive than a normal exam. Someone is staring at 
just you, but you have no idea who it is," he said.

When he became nervous and needed to go to the bathroom - which was permitted 
in writing by his university and is typically allowed during in-person exams - 
he messaged his virtual supervisor.

"She said ‘no, you can't go'. I had to rush the last half hour because I was 
really worried, I thought I could get in trouble," Mr Bell said. "That was 
pretty horrible."

Ms Johnston, a second-year student, said she "miserably failed" her two-hour 
anatomy exam, which was worth nearly half her grade. Her microphone didn't work 
initially, and she needed to wait for a technician to fix it remotely.

"It was 40 minutes of nothing but a loading symbol on my screen while waiting 
nervously for my exam," she said.

A University of Sydney spokeswoman said it had questioned ProctorU about 
privacy and had provided extensive information to students.

"ProctorU already works with hundreds of universities and companies worldwide 
and is subject to multi-jurisdictional privacy and security regulations – as 
well as our own assessment and procurement processes," she said.

An ANU spokeswoman said Proctorio would be used in a "small number" of courses 
that required invigilated exams, and had been assessed for privacy and security.


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