Know your rights before you sign them away

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Photo Credit: Ella Williams | Daily Texan Staff

You know the friend who covers up their laptop camera because they are paranoid the government is watching them? They sound crazy, but in a way, they are right. We live in a world engrossed in technology, and privacy concerns are a real issue. At UT, students can face privacy concerns while taking online classes. One of the methods of testing for online classes is proctored online exams where a third-party service usually watches or listens to students through their laptops.

In order for these proctoring services to work, students must waive their rights to their computer’s microphone and camera during exams. This program can be intimidating, especially when the professor does not explicitly explain that the online assessments are being proctored. Professors should clearly state in their syllabi and course descriptions if online classes are being virtually proctored so that students are aware beforehand. This change would give students the option to drop the course if online proctoring is a concern for them.

Biology freshman Serena Martin had no idea her online class used online proctoring when she first signed up for it this semester. Martin said she learned about the proctoring policy while completing the pre-class activities on Canvas. In the 10 activities Martin completed, a yes/no question read, “I have a webcam with a functional microphone for online exam proctoring.” Martin said that she expected her professors to be clear regarding a policy as invasive as proctoring, and they were not.

“I felt a little bit tricked,” Martin said.

According to Marla Gilliland, College of Liberal Arts Online course developer, professors choose how to assess their students. This can include online examinations, in-person testing or take-home essays. Gilliland said COLA averages 25 online classes during the long session. Of those 25 classes, only one or two use proctoring services. Gilliland said online proctoring is more likely during the summer session.  

“One of the things that we’ve learned over time and very quickly … is that students knew through pre-class activities and Canvas announcements (about proctoring services),” said Gilliland. “Over time, we’ve worked with faculty to further line out that process.”

Despite the administration’s attempts to clarify the process, students in Martin’s class said proctoring was not explicitly stated in the syllabus. Rather, the details were explained in the pre-class activities such as the “Studio Production Release.” This release waived the students’ rights to their laptops’ microphones and cameras. Not only may students rush through these activities, but by the time they are taking them, it may be too late for them to drop the course if the policy makes them uncomfortable.

Undeclared freshman Ryan Baker, who is in the same course as Martin, said she was unaware of the proctoring until Martin informed her. Baker said knowing she is being proctored through her computer during exams is a stress inducer. “I feel like it is an invasion of privacy considering the entire point of the class is that it’s online and not in person,” Baker said. Martin said the anonymity of who is watching her during exams makes her feel uncomfortable.

If left unchecked, students can easily cheat outside of class. For this reason, some online classes already require in-person assessments. However, for classes unable to require in-person exams, professors should make it clear that online exams are proctored. It should be stated on both the syllabus and course description as well as gone over in class in order to prevent any confusion. Then, students such as Martin or Baker would have the option to leave the class or not even register if they feel online proctoring will inhibit their performance.

Wyatt is a journalism major from Atlanta, Georgia.