Last week, in a viral TikTok viewed over 3 million times, user Daynuh Joe spoke directly into her phone’s camera, teary-eyed, explaining “how online school, college is going”: She took an exam, earned a B, and was told by her instructor that she would receive a “zero” because the digital proctoring service her school uses—ProctorU’s “Review+” system, which combines “a live environment scan and launch process with artificial intelligence behavior monitoring and professional review”—detected her re-reading the questions for comprehension and flagged it as cheating. In a follow-up video, she explained that she contacted the Dean, made an appointment to make her case, and contacted ProctorU, who sent her the full video of her taking the exam to use as evidence.
In the end, the Dean told her she may need to take the exam again. Seems like an effective system, right?
She’s not alone. Countless other students have been posting on TikTok, describing their own failings with ProctorU and the Review+ system. Another user, Cheyenne Keating, posted a TikTok with the text, “Did I throw up during a ProctorU exam where I’m not allowed to leave the room or my desk so I had nothing to clean it up and I had to sit in it until I finished my exam?” as Kris Yute’s “I Did It” plays.
Beyond the obvious surveillance concerns, privacy violations, and the overwhelming sensitivity of the system—not being able to move, or sit in a room with ambient noise (an impossibility for some), or speak or mouth questions aloud—are issues regarding race and disability. Sergine Beaubrun, a 30-year-old, Afro-Latina law student who attempted to take the New York State Bar exam told The New York Times that her school’s “mock exam” system, ExamSoft, couldn’t even identify her face. “It couldn’t see me at all,” she said. “It was the middle of the day so the sun was still shining. I was in a boardroom, so bright lights, fluorescent lights. The ones that make you look really ugly. I was sitting directly under them.” Sabrina Navarro, a junior at California State University, Fullerton, said she never felt the need to register her chronic illness with her school... until digitally proctored exams became a necessity, and she grew worried that “her involuntary mouth movements would get her flagged for cheating,” The Times reports. Obviously, services like ProctorU are an ADA disaster. You know, among all the other disasters that come along with remote learning.
There, too, appears to be a fundamental flaw in the kind of testing that AI surveillance supposedly protects. As my brilliant coworker Emily Alford pointed out, reliance on memorization to prove mastery of a subject doesn’t mean anything... unless you’re a doctor or technical professional who requires a certain level of ingrained comprehension to get shit done. All tests should be open book (because LIFE is OPEN BOOK!). At any rate, schools shouldn’t have such controls over their students. Period. Remote learning shouldn’t feel more like Big Brother breathing down your neck than an alternative education, and taking a test shouldn’t fill the generation most susceptible to mental health concerns with needless anxiety.