Online Proctoring – Impact on Student Equity

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

A fundamental aspect of instruction is the assessment of student learning. The rapid response to move classes online in a pandemic has exposed concerns surrounding the practice of online proctoring. There are many online proctoring features offered by companies such as Proctorio, Examity, Honorlock, and Respondus. The methods that do not require a webcam include locking down the students’ browser so they cannot perform functions such as open another application or tab, use the toolbar, copy/paste, or print screen while taking an exam. The intrusive methods include requesting a photo ID, activating facial recognition, and a live proctor monitoring for sounds and motions. Sessions are typically recorded from the exam start to finish and a live proctor can monitor potential testing infractions as they occur. Proctoring services say exam videos and other data are securely stored. Some store videos in a certified data center server, and then archive them after a defined period of time in line with Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act​ (FERPA) guidelines.

According to a 2017 study, it is suggested instructors familiarize themselves with how the services work so they can anticipate students’ concerns. Instructors should identify students’ technical difficulties and try to address them by spending time familiarizing students with how to get ready for and ultimately take their exams. In this pandemic, we know many students lack access to computers and wifi, and the newly issued Chromebooks challenge students to operate another new device and establish wifi access. 

Online testing may seem to make things easier but it’s possible the transition to new technology, or the lack of access using current technology that doesn’t include a webcam, may complicate matters and lead to a significant level of discomfort with online proctoring. A survey of 748 students about technology and achievement gaps found about one in five struggled to use the technology at their disposal because of issues such as broken hardware and connectivity problems. Students of color or lower socioeconomic status encountered these difficulties more often. 

My colleague, Aloha Sargent, Technology Services Librarian, shared with me an article from Hybrid Pedagogy that asserts “algorithmic test proctoring’s settings have discriminatory consequences across multiple identities and serious privacy implications.” When Texas Tech rolled out online proctoring, they recognized students often take exams in their dorm or bedrooms, and students noted in a campus survey “They thought it was big brother invading their computers.” Some test takers were asked by live proctors to remove pictures from their surroundings and some students of color were told to shine more light on themselves. That’s a disturbing request in my opinion. Many of our community college students occupy multi-family or multi-person residences that include children. These proctoring settings will “disproportionately impact women who typically take on the majority of childcare, breast feeding, lactation, and care-taking roles for their family. Students who are parents may not be able to afford childcare, be able to leave the house, or set aside quiet, uninterrupted blocks of time to take a test.”

At the University of California, Davis, they are discouraging faculty members from using online proctoring this semester unless they have previous experience with such services. “It suggests faculty consider alternatives that will lower students’ anxiety levels during an already stressful time, such as requiring them to reflect on what they learned in the course.” The following article highlights a University of Washington story about adopting Proctorio because of the COVID-19 rapid transition to online. Read the experience of one University of Washington student, Paranoia about cheating is making online education terrible for everyone. The students’ experiences “are another sign that, amid the pandemic, the hurried move to re-create in-person classes online has been far from smooth, especially when it comes to testing.” Live online proctoring is a way to preemptively communicate to students, we don’t trust you. It is a pedagogy of punishment and exclusion.

In higher education, traditional exams represent the most appropriate assessment tool. There are ways to cheat on exams no matter what method is used to deploy them. Even a major “NSA-style” proctoring software is not “cheat-proof.” Their sales representative was very candid in showing me how it’s done.  There are alternatives to typical exam questions—often referred to as authentic assessment. According to Oxford Research Encyclopedia, “authentic assessment is an effective measure of intellectual achievement or ability because it requires students to demonstrate their deep understanding, higher-order thinking, and complex problem solving through the performance of exemplary tasks.” 

Given the limited timeframe, there will be limits to what you can use now. That’s OK. Consider using Canvas question pools and randomizing questions, or even different versions of the final. For example, replacing six multiple-choice or true-and-false questions with two short-answer items may better indicate how well a question differentiates between students who know the subject matter and those who do not. Or ask students to record a brief spoken-word explanation for the question using the Canvas media tool. Just keep in mind, there are a dozen or more ways to assess learning without “biometric-lockdown-retinal scan-saliva-sample-genetic-mapping-fingerprint-analysis.”


  1. Dimeo, Jean. “Online Exam Proctoring Catches Cheaters, Raises Concerns.” Inside Higher Ed, 2017.
  2. Woldeab, Daniel, et al. “Under the Watchful Eye of Online Proctoring.” Innovative Learning and Teaching: Experiments Across the Disciplines, University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing Services’ open book and open textbook initiative, 2017.
  3. ​Schwartz, Natalie. “Colleges flock to online proctors, but equity concerns remain.” Education Dive, April 2020.
  4. Swager, Shea. “Our Bodies Encoded: Algorithmic Test Proctoring in Higher Education.” Hybrid Pedagogy, April 2020.
Posted in Course Design Showcase, equity, Equity, Online Teaching, Rubric Section C.

Francine is the Distance Education Coordinator at Cabrillo College. In addition, she also serves as Cabrillo's Title V Grant Activity Coordinator,
CVC-OEI Project Lead, Peer Online Coach Reviewer, and Flex Calendar Coordinator.


  1. I completely agree that if an instructor is unfamiliar to “proctor” for a quiz or test, a more reflective essay is a better solution.
    Just this past 2020 Spring COVID/Shelter at Home semester, I asked my students to “reflect” in writing about their face to face vs online remote learning experiences in the class.

    • Your activities that foster reflection will probably be the most positive memory students carry forward this term, Mary. Not the Zoom lecture, not the group discussion, not the rubric for that writing project, but a chance to embrace what their learning meant to them—how it made them feel. Thank you for sharing your experience!

  2. I really appreciated this article because I do not now or ever plan to give online proctored exams for the reasons that you have provided.
    I give my students exams that they can take at home on their own time in a relaxed setting without Big Brother watching them.
    I prefer students to write paragraphs, dialogues, or compositions. I give them open-ended questions. I avoid multiple choice and true/false tests. I do not want to teach my class thinking that my students are going to cheat.

  3. Thank you for your thoughtful feedback, April. Giving students responsibilities and trust goes hand-in-hand with delivering exceptional instruction, especially in this stressful time.

  4. As a student, I’ll never forget the math teacher who made me a relaxing environment during lecture and tests. I certainly learned more than in any of my other math courses.

  5. I am utterly in support of the critique and the move to different ways of assessing knowledge. But: some disciplines (like Nursing at our school) absolutely need some kind of proctoring for some of their assessments. They are getting students ready for the exam that will determine whether or not they can become nurses. What can we do during Covid to proctor if Proctorio (and other versions) have these big downsides? I am not sure we can move all of evaluation into “authentic” and nontechnological modalities. This is the third good article I’ve read (another is at that seems willfully to ignore this issue. Thoughts?
    PS when we are able to return to campus some but not all of these issues will be less onerous. But what if we have distance learning with a need to proctor?

    • Thank you for the thoughtful response to the blog post, Dr. Mentor, and the detailed information related to the online proctoring dilemma in health occupations. Our college faced similar challenges last year for both our medical assisting and nursing programs. As a former dental hygiene clinical instructor, I empathize with the challenges faculty are facing getting students ready for their Boards. I will also defer to others more knowledgeable about online proctoring guidelines/regulations (e.g. BRN) in this area.

      Our program leaders were open to letting go of Proctorio and instead use Respondus LockDown Browser, which does not include live 3rd party video surveillance (or machine video surveillance). Assessments are displayed full-screen and cannot be minimized, and the menu and toolbar options are removed.

      Additionally, instructors use Canvas features like question banks, which allows them to randomize question order, and also randomize answers. Summative assessments are timed, and formative assessments provide more than one attempt. Additionally, grading scales can be revised to weigh more recent performance and growth instead of averaging performance over time.Thank you for pointing out this may be a non-issue in the near future. Another perspective might characterize it as an opportunity to provide more students flexible access as a hybrid instruction model.

  6. Pingback: Honorlock: Friend or Foe? - The Citizen

  7. Pingback: Against Proctoring Software | The Open Learning & Teaching Collaborative

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