Big Ed-Tech Is Watching You: Privacy, Prejudice, and Pedagogy in Online Proctoring



In the pandemic-era scramble of digital education delivery, the line between public and private has been unduly blurred. Remote learning has brought one particular learning tool — remote invigilance, or more colloquially “online proctoring” — to the fore. And students are not happy. Considering the unprecedented threats online proctoring services pose to student privacy, accessibility, and health, educational institutions should categorically reject these kinds of online proctoring services and seek other pedagogical approaches to evaluate student learning.

Online proctoring services for higher education are exploding in popularity, with an estimated 19 billion dollar global market size. One market leader, Proctorio, boasts a customer base of over 1,000 universities and estimates it will administer as many as 30 million exams by the end of the year. These companies have experienced accelerated  growth given the pandemic and are expected to remain in high-demand as online education becomes more prevalent. While these proctoring systems vary in functionality, the general idea is this: to disincentivize cheating on virtual exams, students are either remotely monitored by a human proctor or are recorded (visually and audibly) for the duration of their exams. In the latter case, AI technology will detect and flag any movements that raise suspicions of cheating. Yet a barking dog, a glance down to solve a math problem, or a passerby sibling in the background — any extraneous sound or object — can subject students to scrutinized review and even disciplinary action. 

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