Students express concern over amount and personal nature of information shared with exam supervisory companies

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, educational institutions have had to move quickly to distance learning and taking exams. This has led to an increase in the use of online surveillance services to combat student cheating, including restricted browsing modes, video / screen surveillance, local network traffic analysis, and eye tracking. .

In a one-of-a-kind study, researchers led by Adam Aviv, associate professor of computer science at George Washington University, explored the perceptions of the security and privacy of students taking proctored exams. After analyzing user reviews of browser extensions from eight monitoring services and subsequently conducting an online student survey, the researchers found:

  • Exam Watch browser extensions use a technique called “URL match patterns” to activate whenever they find a particular URL. These URL patterns correspond to a wide variety of URLs, most associated with online course content. However, generic URL patterns (for example, any URL containing / course / or / quiz /) can also enable the browser extension whether or not the student takes an exam. Therefore, the monitoring browser extensions data collection and monitoring features can be active on a number of websites, even when a student is not taking an exam.
  • Students understood that they would have to give up some aspects of privacy in order to take exams safely from home during the pandemic. However, a large number of students were concerned about sharing personal information with surveillance companies in order to take an exam. These concerns include the identity verification process, the amount of information collected by these companies, and the need to install third-party online exam monitoring software on their home computers.
  • When reviewing the exam monitoring browser extensions in the Google Chrome online store, there was a noticeable increase in February 2020 in the total number of reviews combined with a sharp decrease in “star ratings” for these. extensions. This probably indicates an extreme aversion to exam supervisory services.

“Institutional support for third-party monitoring software lends credibility and makes exam monitoring software safer and less potentially problematic, as students assume that institutions have properly verified the software and methods used by monitoring services, ”David Balash, a PhD student at GW and principal investigator on the study, said. “We recommend that institutions and educators follow a principle of minimum supervision when using exam supervision tools using the minimum number of types of supervision necessary, taking into account class size and knowledge. behavior expected of students. “

“As many universities and colleges return to the classroom, students may be less willing to trade their privacy for their personal security in the future,” said Rahel Fainchtein, a PhD student at Georgetown University and senior researcher at Georgetown University. ‘study. “However, at the same time, online exam monitoring technology appears to be here to stay.”

The article, “Examining the Examiners: Students’ Privacy and Security Perceptions of Online Proctoring Services”, will be presented at the 17th Symposium on Usable Privacy and Security on August 10, 2021. In addition to Aviv, Balash and Fainchtein, the research team included Dongkun Kim and Darikia Shaibekova at GW and Micah Sherr at Georgetown.

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Materials provided by George Washington University. Note: Content can be changed for style and length.

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