“Unacceptable”; Students Respond to Accusations of “Code of Conduct” Violations over Proctorio
By Keeley Dickinson
ANU recently re-affirmed its intention to carry out invigilated online exams using ‘Proctorio’, despite student backlash. Objections relate predominantly to privacy, accessibility and logistical concerns.
In a staff email shared on ANU Schmidtposting, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) Grady Venville laid out plans for the functionality of the remainder of Semester 1, particularly relating to the use of Proctorio. The email also stated that it was “a small group of students” that were behind the campaign against Proctorio, and that this group had “disseminated materials that are both unfounded and untrue”. What information this referred to was not specified. Venville went on to describe these actions as “a clear breach of our student code of conduct”. Many students expressed confusion at this statement, as the ANU Policy Library does not contain a “Student Code of Conduct”.
In a statement to Observer, an ANU spokesperson stated that “late last year…the University in collaboration with ANUSA and PARSA developed a Student Code of Conduct” which “covers similar behaviour as outlined in the Student Discipline Rule”. ANU’s Student Discipline Rule dictates that behaviour which is considered “dishonest, unethical, or lacking integrity” constitutes misconduct. The spokesperson referenced “some posts and comments on social media, comments in media, form emails sent to course convenors and the petition” as examples of false or dishonest information. They also stated that the Code of Conduct had been “approved by the ANU Academic Board and will be published in the near future”. They were unable to provide Observer with a copy of the Code. When asked if students accused of violating the Discipline Rule and Code of Conduct would face punishment, the spokesperson stated that “under the Student Discipline Rule, the University can take action when and where appropriate.”
According to ANUSA Women’s Officer, Siang Jin Law, who was involved in developing the Code of Conduct, it has not yet been fully passed and as such has not come into effect. Law told Observer that though the Code of Conduct had indeed been passed by the Academic Board two days ago, it has not yet entered the second stage of voting, and thus cannot come into effect until May. According to Law, the Code’s purpose “was not to protect the university, it was to protect the students”, for example from violations of their privacy or physical person.
When asked if the ‘No Proctorio’ campaign violated anything within the Code, Law responded “not really”, and asserted that this was “not in the spirit of the Code of Conduct”. She stated that “it’s frankly unacceptable that the university is using a document made and advocated for by students for the safety of students as a weapon against them”. Law added that the move was “especially disappointing” given recent advocate efforts to rebuild trust with the University “despite all the institutional betrayal survivors and advocates have been through”. The Women’s department “stands in solidarity with ANUSA [against Proctorio]”.
In a statement to Observer, PARSA stated that “[they] also do not think it is at all appropriate to censure students under the code of conduct when they are expressing valid concerns about university decision-making”.
Further concerns raised against the Proctorio software relate to the accessibility of the program for students without reliable internet, new enough devices, or devices with functional webcams and microphones.
Women’s Officer Siang Jin Law has expressed concerns that “Proctorio will disproportionately affect certain students, and especially those in marginalised groups”. She added that “as much as a case by case accommodations can address this there is bound to be students who fall between the cracks”. The ANU spokesperson stated that ANU was implementing “a full suite of measures” to address access, inclusion and technology concerns.
In their statement to Observer, the ANU spokesperson stated that “[ANU is] working on providing workstations in the library and will support students not in Canberra through Access and Inclusion to go to another university or library to participate in exams if needed”. They also suggested that students without appropriate equipment should apply to PARSA or ANUSA for emergency grants, stating that “[ANU has] also provided $1 million to the student associations to support students in need with books or IT equipment for study amongst other things”.
At the ANUSA OGM yesterday, ANUSA Treasurer Maddy Wang, stated that it is “odd” that students have been asked to apply for funding for the aforementioned equipment. Wang noted that “[ANUSA’s] student assistance program has traditionally never included webcams”. During discussion on Motion 6.1, relating to the University’s use of Proctorio, the motion’s mover, Grace Carter, argued that ANU has “no right to film students in their own home” – a sentiment echoed in many Facebook comments by members of the student body. The motion, which passed, included an amendment to condemn the use of the ANUSA emergency fund to provide webcams, microphones, or any other costs borne from the use of Proctorio. Clubs Council Secretary Jordyn Gibson stated that “the University has put the burden on ANUSA to fund the University’s mistake”.
An ANU spokesperson stated that the University had conducted consultation with ANUSA and “other student representative bodies…every step of the way”. They assert that this specifically took place through the University’s Teaching Continuity Working Group (set up as a response to COVID-19), regular meetings with the Deputy Vice-Chancellor on the issue, student representation on the Academic Board, and consultation with College teaching staff and Associate Deans Education. They also stated that “in every instance [ANU has] been transparent with our students” in reference to student privacy and security concerns.
ANU’s student associations have both made various public condemnations of the University’s use of Proctorio. ANUSA has stated that it is “disappointed by the representations made by the University which imply that genuine student consultation has occurred in the procurement of Proctorio, and the decisions surrounding its use”. PARSA also expressed concerns regarding “sporadic and inefficient” communication by ANU, particularly “where valid student concerns have been seemingly dismissed out of hand and have not been effectively addressed”. The ‘No Proctorio’ campaign has been spearheaded by ANUSA Environment Officer Grace Hill, with several other ANUSA Representatives also actively advocating against it. A petition run by the campaign has received 3796 signatures from individuals at the time of writing.
According to a ‘rapid security assessment’ conducted by the University, the Proctorio program is compliant with a variety of Australian and overseas privacy and security regulations, and does not log keystrokes or mouse movement – abilities which caused much student concern – but rather computer activity more generally. A statement by Deputy Vice-Chancellor Grady Venville later clarified that the program does monitor “that you type”, rather than what, specifically, one types. Venville also claimed that the program does not employ facial recognition technology. However, the program’s website, quoted in the University’s security assessment, states that it “automatically analyzes and captures images of test-takers and their IDs” and flags anomalies between the two for review.
Venville also asserted that the program “does not have access to your machine” – however, according to Proctorio’s website, in order to create a “secure exam environment”, it does restrict “computer functionality”. Proctorio also asks its users to agree “to allow Proctorio to monitor you by webcam, microphone, browser, desktop, or any other means necessary”, which may include “a scan of your surroundings and computer display” – a fact that many students continue to flag as unnecessarily invasive.
An ANU spokesperson stated that the software cannot be considered “spyware”, as it has been labelled by many student activists, as “spyware is, by definition, software that is secretly or surreptitiously installed into an information system to gather information on individuals or organisations without their knowledge…Proctorio is installed manually by test takers with the knowledge of both student and examiner”.
Students also expressed concerns regarding the security of data recorded by Proctorio during exams, referencing the late-2018 ANU student data breach. An ANU spokesperson stated that, since the breach, “ANU has embarked on a major cybersecurity program”, including strengthening systems like Wattle for “end-to-end use with Proctorio”, in order to protect data. They added that videos of students sitting exams would not be stored by ANU, but in an “encrypted storage environment” at another Australian location. They added that the storage system has been tested independently by a third party, and has passed “requisite security levels” along with “an independent auditor’s security report”.
A previous version of this article misstated that Jordyn Gibson is the Clubs Council Chair.
Graphics for this article were created by Rebecca Zhong.
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