In its recent board meeting, University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU) passed a motion to oppose the University of Manitoba’s use of an exam surveillance software program on our campus. A quick scan of Canadian news publications reveals that students at many universities including the University of Alberta, Wilfrid Laurier University, Carleton University and the University of Ottawa have expressed similar concerns with these kinds of programs.
Exam surveillance software can include tools to disable or limit a student’s browser, activate the computer’s web camera, require a student to provide a 360-degree scan of their setting at intervals during the exam and monitor a student’s eye movements as they answer questions.
Students are justifiably opposed to this invasion of their privacy as they complete exams from their homes. Some also wonder about the storage and subsequent use of the video data that is gathered while others worry about the safety of having their browser locked down or question the appropriateness of this software for students with disabilities. Many describe the enormous stress these tools add to the experience of writing a time-limited exam.
As professors at the faculty of education, we support UMSU in opposing the use of this tool. We are concerned with the intense focus on academic integrity, often narrowly defined, which is increasingly overshadowing other aspects of teaching and learning in universities. In fact, at the Oct. 5 meeting of our faculty council, a motion that “the faculty of education formalize a stance against using surveillance software on students” passed with overwhelming support.
As educational researchers, we advocate for the development and use of fair, ethical and culturally responsive assessment practices that are based on relationships of mutual respect, support the learning process and provide more valid and reliable indicators of each student’s achievement. Time-limited exams administered with the use of surveillance software do not meet these requirements.
We applaud UMSU’s vice-president advocacy, Kristin Smith, who has indicated — at the union’s Oct. 8 board of directors meeting — that she will work with individual faculties regarding their use of surveillance software.
We encourage U of M professors to adopt assessment strategies that do not compromise students’ right to and need for privacy as they learn and that do not undermine pedagogical roles, relationships and outcomes. Fortunately, there is ample research to show that alternate evaluation strategies often have greater validity than timed, closed-book exams and can more fully assess the critical thinking, reasoning and problem solving capacities at the heart of many university courses.
Exam surveillance software goes well beyond requiring students to “leave your backpack at the front of the exam room.” Rather than exacerbating the inequities already intensified for many students during this pandemic, we encourage professors to share ideas with one another as they learn about and implement more fair, ethical and effective assessment strategies.
Faculty of education members in the department of curriculum, teaching and learning:
Martha J. Koch, Assistant Professor;
Melanie D. Janzen, Associate Professor;
Clea A. Schmidt, Professor;
Dawn Sutherland, Professor and Department Head;
Lilian Pozzer, Assistant Professor;
Joanna Black, Professor;
Sandra Kouritzin, Professor;
Francine Morin, Professor and Associate Dean Undergraduate Programs;
Wayne Serebrin, Professor;
Yi Li, Associate Professor;
Shannon Moore, Assistant Professor;
Bruno de Oliveira Jayme, Assistant Professor;
Frank Deer, Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair.
Faculty of education members in the department of educational administration, foundations and psychology:
Joe Curnow, Assistant Professor;
Cameron Hauseman, Assistant Professor;
Priya Mani, Associate Professor;
Charlotte Enns, Professor and Director Arthur V. Mauro Institute for Peace and Justice;
Zana Lutfiyya, Professor;
Rick Freeze, Professor;
Nadine Bartlett, Assistant Professor;
Robert Mizzi, Associate Professor;
Merli Tamtik, Assistant Professor;
Ee-Seul Yoon, Assistant Professor.