Honorlock is not the key to proctoring

Graphic by Quinn Sherer | Mercury Staff

As midterm season approaches, students are experiencing an Orwellian nightmare. With UTD professors having the option to use remote proctoring, several students have been forced to comply with the use of Honorlock for their exams.

As classes transitioned into virtual settings, the demand for remote proctoring software like Honorlock, Proctorio and ProctorU exploded to alleviate educators’ academic integrity concerns. Much like its competitors, Honorlock boasts its use of “state-of-the-art technology” that prevents cheating by monitoring students using artificial intelligence. From allowing instructors to record audio activity to getting 360-degree views of students’ rooms, educators and companies now have unprecedented access to private student spaces in the name of academic integrity. Although hundreds of UTD students have expressed concerns about Honorlock, they have unwillingly accepted the use of this software in their courses since several professors in JSOM, ECS and NSM have implemented its use.

Should students be forced to use remote proctoring software that they’re uncomfortable with? Although protecting academic integrity in remote learning settings is important, using Honorlock is a cop-out for educators to continue relying on outdated means to assess students. By not replacing Honorlock with other examination alternatives and further exacerbating educational access barriers, universities are not only implementing a solution that doesn’t necessarily avert cheating but are also failing their students during this crisis.

Due to COVID-19, universities have made multiple adjustments to replicate the in-person classroom experience virtually by using online platforms to teach students. However, in a study conducted by the Three Amigos for the “Excellence in Virtual Education Project,” 79% of 1000 students across 89 universities reported lower performance in virtual classrooms and 59% reported experiencing lower test scores. Due to variability in setting and instruction mode, in-person experience can’t be fully replicated online. Therefore, relying on traditional methods to assess students through class exams is not reasonable as virtual learning can produce variable outcomes for students. Furthermore, tests and quizzes are measures of lower-level learning that assess memorization skills rather than application. Yet, faculty continue to rely on this as an easy way to grade students.

Spending millions of dollars on testing software like Honorlock for assessments that don’t accurately measure student knowledge in the first place is not fiscally reasonable. Instead, Rena Palloff and Keith Pratt, experts in online instruction and authors of “Lessons from the Virtual Classroom: The Realities of Online Teaching,” suggest using alternative methods like learner-center assessments and open-book tests, quizzes or collaborative assignments that push students to synthesize information at higher levels. This way, educators can ensure academic integrity and assess proficiency without having to use uncomfortably invasive software. Since UTD professors are not mandated to use this software in their courses, examination alternatives are worth considering.

Moreover, as students returned home to take classes virtually, the pandemic exacerbated barriers to educational access. More than 24 million people in the United States do not have access to broadband internet and 12% of undergraduate students don’t own a laptop, which is needed to use Honorlock. Therefore, implementing online proctoring software on time-sensitive tests that require stable internet and laptops with webcams hurts students who may not be able to afford these appliances. Although students who don’t have laptops and webcams can check out these devices from the Office of Information Technology (OIT), this option is limited to those who are living near UTD. As students attempt to navigate the financial strains of even attending college in the first place, universities should be doing more to accommodate students rather than investing millions of dollars into unnecessary, anxiety-inducing testing software.

Online proctoring systems simply serve as a deterrent to cheating and students can always find ways to beat the system. Even though Honorlock does not violate FERPA rights, educators should not be encouraged or have the option to use unnecessary surveillance measures during a high-stakes test, especially when academic integrity can be preserved in other ways like using essays and group projects to assess student knowledge.

As students adapt to the financial, academic and emotional obstacles from COVID-19, universities shouldn’t be investing money into expensive proctoring software. Instead, they should divert those funds to support students financially. Students are worried about enough; they shouldn’t be worried about Big Brother too.

Note from the editor: as of the date of publication, JSOM allows students to request a proctoring alternative to Honorlock by allowing students to take in-person exams on campus instead of using the software. The form can be found here.