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Is WSU forcing students to install software that invades their privacy?

Surveillance in the wake of coronavirus is forcing students to decide between privacy and their grades....
Surveillance camera peering into laptop computer. Source: Thomas Jackson

A wave of surveillance in the wake of coronavirus is forcing students to decide between privacy or their grades with online exams to be monitored with a software called ProctorU. In a time where people want to protect their online privacy and security more than ever – it’s no wonder that students are concerned.

One can argue that the testing service protects exams and ensures academic integrity – but at what cost? It’s a system where students are cheaters until proven innocent – selling a narrative that students can’t be trusted. The outcry of the student’s voice has been seen in both email correspondences to staff and student leaders. Western SRC Representatives have already sent emails to the VC and Vice President Academic on behalf of students to voice these concerns.

There are two ways your exam may take place: Live+ means a real person will supervise your exam in real time via your webcam and Review+ means you and your screen will be recorded and reviewed by Proctor U after the exam session.

Read more: Online Exam Proctoring – FAQ

Third-year ICT student Daniel Grech said that he and other students would prefer if WSU were conducting the remote exam rather than a third party. The main issues with ProctorU being data gathering, such as geo-location data, biometrical data, IP address’ and the troubling possibility of data retention.

“I think the university should ditch the use of ProctorU and use their own software such as vUWS (which they are using for my other units). And possibly the use of zoom if deemed necessary,” says Grech.

Nearly 3,500 WSU students have signed the petition created by third-year honours civil engineering student Mark Ibrahim opposing the use of ProctorU. Other petitions, include the University of Queensland with nearly 7,000 signatures, UNSW with almost 2,500, and uSYD with nearly 4,500.

 

Samantha Pamplin is a second-year student at WSU studying her first year of Bachelor of Social Science and recently sat an exam using the proctoring software – and assures it isn’t as bad as everyone makes it out to be.

“Sure, there are privacy concerns, but I looked away plenty of times and spoke to myself to collect my thoughts, and I was fine. And all the permissions it requires, such as having control of your screen are reversed at the end of the exam,” Pamplin said.

Students with a disability using their AT will render them liable for misconduct with this software. For a student to receive accommodations for a proctored exam, they will need to register with an exam facilitator so that they can provide a form to disclose a request before the exam. ProctorU does not require any information about your disability. If you have questions about accommodations, please email support@proctoru.com.

 

Actions and behaviours that will be flagged during an exam. Source: ProctorU Website.

 

However, some students have reported that the software is buggy and crashes their computers. There are also concerns about not having access to webcams and stable internet now some students have moved back home due to COVID-19.

Macquarie University who have chosen not to use ProctorU has handled their exams by offering alternate assessments such as essays, carving the path for other universities to follow their lead. However, students of WSU may be forced to approach the media or seek legal representation, as those affected at USyd have done.

“The proposed alternatives to using ProctorU include alternate assessments; options for browser locks, using Zoom (if all you’re doing is recording people to be sure they’re not looking at other devices to search answers). Some options are less invasive but still maintain a reasonable level of academic integrity without students having their privacy invaded,” says Hollie Hammond, Academic Senate Representative.

Pamplin wasn’t sure what students expect to do instead of sitting a monitored exam. However, she would’ve preferred the test to be changed to an assessment she could complete and then submit.

“I truly believe the student experience with ProctorU will vary depending on the person watching you, and I did get lucky, but if students have any issues, they can contact the exam board. I did, as I was using my mum’s workspace, which has extra monitors. And stuff like bathroom breaks, I was told by my disability advisor at the university that I would be allowed those and on the day the guy watching told me the same thing before I even asked,” she said.

 

Read more: UQ students raise privacy concerns over third-party exam platform

 

NSW Education Vice-President James Newbold from the National Union of Students shared a template for students to use for those who’d like to express their concerns to university executives, deans of schools and unit coordinators.

Currently, the university will be going ahead with ProctorU to provide this service to students for exams scheduled to be held in this year.

Read more: How to Prepare for your Online Exams

If you feel you need further support, please contact the services below:

Technical problems (vUWS) itservicedesk@westernsydney.edu.au

Examinations team examinations@westernsydney.edu.au

 

 

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Single parent payments and COVID-19

We were doing okay, until COVID-19 hit and once again I was a single mum doing a university degree....

We were doing okay for a little bit, until COVID-19 hit and once again I was a single mum doing a university degree, living on benefits. Benefits that could hardly cover the cost of living. When my employer went into self-isolation because of his health, all future projects were put on hold.

 

Since Sunday, I’ve been living off $35 that has dwindled down to $25 on Tuesday and now it’s a $15. This isn’t the first time I’ve been broke, and so far, $15 at Friday seems okay. But I know what I can manage this week, will not be what I can manage the next.

I’ll get a bill. It’s always a bill that upends a delicate balance between staying afloat and pawning the few valuable items I have left. If I go to my ex-husband, he’ll say I don’t know how to spend money. Even though he knows we live on government support, he will say I’m irresponsible with money and that I just want to go out and have fun.

 

I don’t have a bed for my four-year-old. Baby sleeps in my bed, wriggling through the night clutching to me. I can only afford one bedroom. We had to move to the Inner West to be near childcare, because my ex refused to change, stating that if I did, I would have to pay the fees. When I had an income, it was meagre at best, though it made saving up for payments easier.

Our place has a garden, concrete, and plants. Filled with junkyard toys found on the street, rusted and flaking. People leave out forgotten toys, broken or old. There was a pair of wellies left on our doorstep once, but they didn’t fit him. Shame. He really needed wellies, still does, and the rainy season is yet to come.

I stopped the gym membership first, then a forgotten Celtx subscription that billed $30 monthly for scriptwriting services. Then came the take-away coffees and baby’s kinder surprise eggs. I’m frugal with bills, shutting off lights every night, unplugging the unnecessary. I have this flatmate who puts the kettle on twenty times a day but only uses the water five times, constantly flicking the switch but rarely relieving the contents. I haven’t had a hair cut in five years and when it gets too long, I cut it myself. I used to dye it black. I still have a packet of dye in my cupboard that I’m saving for when I’m in a particularly sorry state. The ends are a charred brown, but since there are no friends to visit, it feels like a waste to use it now.

I regret the trip to the dentist before all this happened. It was only a month ago. A dip into my savings, but I was working, earning money, so I knew I could replace the funds. I paid my university fees just before I lost my work. As a resident, I can’t apply for HECS. The paperwork is in the works and even so, I won’t be a citizen for at least another eighteen months. Until then, we are floating like a life-raft with a punctured hole, slowly and surely sinking to the bottom of a financial abyss.

 

 

 

Editor’s note: If you are undergoing financial hardship, you may be able to receive support from the following services:

Community charities: