UW-Madison extends contract with controversial exam software

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(TNS) – With the number of academic misconduct incidents nearly doubling last year compared to last year, UW-Madison extends its contract with an online proctoring software company.

Even though more than 90 percent of classes are returning to a face-to-face format this fall, and some in the campus community are expressing concerns that the testing technology is “creepy,” “invasive,” and discriminatory.

Honorlock, UW-Madison’s digital monitoring software, first deployed in the summer of 2020, relies on controversial tools like artificial intelligence, facial recognition software, and eye tracking technology to detect behaviors that suggest students are cheating on their tests.


The university is in the process of finalizing a one-year contract extension with Honorlock that will run through the end of this school year and cover 20,000 users, said UW-Madison spokesman John Lucas. The estimated cost of $ 267,800 is roughly the same as the previous year’s contract.

Critics from Honorlock and other similar software companies say that online proctoring compromises student privacy, creates additional anxiety, and discriminates against certain test-takers, such as students of color and others whose appearance or behavior may be flagged as abnormal by the software. Universities and corporate officials argue that the technology ensures a fair test environment for everyone.

The number of cases of academic misconduct at UW-Madison rose from 317 cases in 2019-20 to 608 in 2020-21, according to University of Wisconsin system data, first reported by Wisconsin Public Radio. Three other UW locations saw increases, while two locations reported roughly the same number of cases and five had fewer cases.

Plagiarism is usually the most common form of academic misconduct on campus, UW-Madison officials said, but the university saw more students over the senior year finding workarounds for online testing, e.g. different.

UW-Madison has decided to renew its contract with Honorlock as some faculty are still teaching online and the university expects other faculty to use the software for personal exams, said UW-Madison spokeswoman Meredith McGlone. Students can take the test on a laptop instead of a blue book or other paper exam, which is easier and more efficient for both students and teachers.

Teachers can also customize Honorlock settings based on the type of test, she said. For example, instead of letting students use their own graphing calculator, which could be a potential cheat opportunity, teachers can choose a setting that puts scientific calculators on students’ screens.

Some honor lock features are not needed in a face-to-face test environment, such as: B. in a computer webcam that records students during the exam. But other settings may still be useful in physical classrooms, such as the “Disable Copy / Paste” and “Disable Printing” settings, which are designed to prevent exam questions from being passed on to future test takers.

Paige Leistner, a senior who took several Honorlock exams last year, said she was happy to hear that certain features like webcam monitoring are likely to be discontinued because those settings pose privacy issues for her. But she was surprised to hear that UW-Madison is renewing with the company.

“I find it kind of strange that when we’re in person we still use an online surveillance system,” she said. “It just seems like a waste of money.”

Students weren’t the only ones worried about Honorlock. More than 120 UW Madison employees signed a petition in March calling for changes after hearing the technology failed to recognize the faces of several darker-skinned students during exams.

“All of the students who have mentioned this testing platform to me have only negative things to say,” wrote one academic advisor. “It is an unnecessary additional burden for students who already have difficulty learning virtually, and it hurts already disadvantaged students more. That has to go !!”

Last spring, UW-Madison disabled the Honorlock feature, which pauses exams if the students’ faces are not recognized.

Honorlock denies that his technology does not recognize color students, saying the exams were only interrupted because they looked down or away from the camera during the exam.

© 2021 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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