A committee at the University of Texas at Austin has advised against using AI software to oversee student online testing, citing the psychological toll of students and the financial toll of academic institutions.

Recognizing that some form of online monitoring is necessary to deter academic misconduct, the committee concluded: “We strongly discourage the use of AI-based software like Proctorio and ProctorU”.

The report of the Academic Integrity Committee on online testing and assessment, Point by Megan Menchaca, education reporter for the Austin-American Statesman, was reportedly included in an academic official’s recent post to faculty.

AI-based software to monitor students remotely as they take online tests – “academic monitoring software” for detractors – has flourished during the COVID-19 pandemic. A lot of students study remotely and schools think they need a way to prevent cheating.

But the software that was deployed was widely criticized by students and privacy advocates. The concern centers on the inability to audit software source code and the possibility that these systems rely on flawed algorithms and biased or arbitrary signals to label student cheaters.

Critics also fear that the software may not take into account the varying living conditions of students and be vulnerable to racial biases – for example, motion tracking which produces different results with different skin tones – and to cognitive biases such as as gaze tracking that signals ADHD behaviors as suspicious.

Such criticism last year led UC Berkeley [PDF] and Baruch College in New York to stop using remote monitoring products. In February, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign announced it would drop Proctorio after this summer due to “significant accessibility issues.”

If in doubt, continue

Amid the backlash, monitoring software maker Proctorio continued the criticisms, alleging last year that Ian Linkletter, a learning technology specialist at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada , had violated US copyright law by linking to the company’s publicly available videos. This case is still ongoing in Canada and has forced Linkletter to seek funds to defend itself through the costly legal process.

Last year, Proctorio also filed a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) withdrawal complaint against University of Miami computer science student Erik Johnson, demanding the removal of Twitter posts that criticized the company. Twitter deleted the messages and later restored them.

The company’s legal crusade has caused the Electronic Frontier Foundation to back down, which said the company should not be able to “abuse copyright law to undermine its detractors.”

The UT Austin committee began work on its report after student councils in the spring of 2021 asked the university to get rid of the AI ​​monitoring software, which was used extensively over the course of the year. 2020-2021 academic year.

The committee asked student leaders and faculty to provide information on how the software was being used and decided it just wasn’t worth it.

“The invasive nature of the tools as well as the warnings that the tools can send to the screen during the exam cause high levels of anxiety,” the report says.

“Although these tools were widely used by faculty during the 2020-2021 academic year, only 27 cases were referred to the Office of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity as potential violations of the law. academic integrity, and of these, only 13 have been confirmed. Thus, the psychological problems (and the financial costs) of the tool do not seem to be worth the small advantage of its use. “

Trust the teachers

The report then offers alternative methods to monitor students during tests, such as Zoom for Small Groups and other academic software such as Canvas Quizzes, Gradescope, and Panopto. He also recommends that instructors consider rethinking the way they assess student progress to reduce anxiety related to online testing.

The University of Texas at Austin, Proctorio and ProctorU did not respond to requests for comment.

In an email to The register, Linkletter – still awaiting a decision on his efforts to dismiss Proctorio’s copyright claim under Canada’s anti-SLAPP law, the Public Participation Protection Act – said what According to him from the UT Austin report, this is the conclusion that Proctorio is simply not worth the trouble. this.

“Each institution should carefully consider whether Proctorio is worth the ‘psychological cost’ mentioned in the report, let alone the expense,” he said.

“More than half of the 27 accused students have had their academic integrity cases dismissed. Thousands of students have been monitored, at great cost, for what? How much time has been wasted on faculty and staff?

“The students understand that surveillance is bad. They know how the technology works. There is no technical explanation that will reduce the damage done – it just has to stop.

“The only way institutions can prove they’re listening to students is to stop using college monitoring software. “®

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