Privacy Concerns as ANU Proposes the Use of Online Invigilated Exams
By Declan Milton and Adelle Millhouse
Students have raised privacy concerns over the planned use of online invigilation during the Semester One exam period. Based on information from a staff-targeted Wattle discussion forum, the ANU wishes to use invigilation “to ensure the correct student completes the assessment… without assistance from outside sources”.
As the ANU campus is scheduled to remain closed until at least 23 June as a social distancing measure, traditional exams will not be held this semester. An ANU spokesperson has stated that the University is encouraging course convenors to use a range of traditional forms of online assessment, such as take-home exams and quizzes. They added, however, that “in some cases alternative assessment will take the form of online exams”.
According to the forum, online invigilation can take one of two forms. The first form, referred to as “soft invigilation” utilises the software Zoom – a video conferencing application most ANU students are already familiar with. It is suggested that students may be placed in video conferences with up to 30 other students and an invigilator while they complete their exam. During the exam, students may be asked by the invigilator to scan their web camera around the room or share their screens at random intervals to minimise the potential for cheating. For courses which require handwritten examinations, students may also be asked to direct their cameras onto their desk as they write their answers.
This option has raised some privacy concerns. Zoom has faced backlash after several public missteps in its privacy practices. Despite claiming ‘end to end’ encryption, Zoom in fact only employs ‘transport’ encryption, allowing the company access to user data. A vulnerability in the Mac app would allow hackers to access a user’s webcam and microphone. Zoom has also only recently stopped sending data from its IOS app to Facebook without the appropriate user permissions. Although these specific vulnerabilities have been patched, questions remain as to how secure the service is.
‘Zoom bombing’, a term to describe unwanted people entering conferences has also been a concern in recent weeks. ANUSA’s SRC 2 on 1 April was paused for a number of minutes when a non-ANU student entered the call through the publicly-available Facebook link.
A second option for running online exams is digital proctoring. If used, students will be required to download and run a program called Proctorio to complete the exam. According to its website, Proctorio supports “student identification checking, browser lockdown, webcam capture, room scanning, recording keystrokes”, among others. The service also uses AI to track and record “suspicious behaviour”. Exam data is then saved and stored in servers. This allows markers to access the record of ‘suspicious behaviour’ to determine whether the student was cheating.
The software has an average rating of 2 stars on the Google Web Store, with many reviewers labelling it “borderline spyware”.
Proctorio requires students to have Google Chrome installed on their devices. Virtual machines, which are applications emulating a computer, will not work with Proctorio. To use the software, students must have a “steady and reliable internet network”. It is unclear what would happen if a student’s internet dropped out during an exam.
It was also suggested on the forum that students should have the choice of opting in/out of the proposed invigilation system, with those who opt out having to wait until they are able to take the exam in person. It is, however, unknown, when such an opportunity will arise, as the University is yet to announce when they plan to move back to in-person teaching.
President of the ANU Computer Science Students Association, Felix Friedlander, today posted a statement condemning the use of invigilated exams on the club’s facebook page. Co-signed by a number of ANU clubs and societies, the statement highlighted that the program “by its very nature is extreme”, urging the ANU to use alternatives which aren’t “privacy invading” or “opaque”. ANUSA have also expressed their disapproval, stating that they “do not support the use of online invigilation services or features that are invasive”, and that they will advocate for the University to seek “alternative arrangements”.
In a submission to the Teaching Continuity Working Group, ANUSA Vice-President Madhumitha Janagaraja said that “it is [ANUSA’s] recommendation that wherever possible, all examinations are adapted to be suitable for a take home, open book exam format.” Janagaraja added that ANUSA “believes that it is evident that proceeding with current arrangements will come at a reputational risk and damage to the ANU”.
Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) Grady Venville has stated in response to Friedlander and ANUSA that the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) is preparing a paper on privacy in “relation to staff and students using online tools including Zoom and Proctorio.” Venville also said that the working group would consider both ANUSA’s submission and the CISO’s paper “as soon as possible”.
A spokesperson for the ANU has said “we are undertaking constant monitoring and a risk assessment of these services” and encourages students to reach out to the Associate Deans of Education if they have concerns about privacy or security.
Sam Wright contributed to reporting
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