A certain type of educational technology flourished that’s more punitive than pedagogical when the pandemic first began and classes moved online. Students started taking exams proctored by software like Proctorio and Honorlock, invisible overseers that tracked the sounds around them and the movement of their pupils. The surveillance software has the power to heighten the stakes of their assessments and turn teacher-student relationships from amiable to adversarial.
It also can tempt them to cheat. Testing service Honorlock has employed fake answer sites with names like “quizlookup.com,” “gradepack.com,” “examequip.com,” “buzzfolder.com,” and wikicram.com to tempt and track students who attempt to search the answers to their online exams, according to a report by The Markup,
Dubbed “honeypot” sites, they appear to contain the answer to a specific question and send student data — IP address, device information, and mouse movement — to Honorlock’s servers. A conniving student who searches a specific exam question and encounters one of the honeypot sites may face punishment from instructors. And students can’t just use their phone to escape the tracking software: These honeypot sites report that IP address to Honorlock’s servers, too.
Basically spyware — Honorlock’s site boasts that its service is used by over 300 educational institutions including the University of Wisconsin, University of Florida, and Arizona State University. Honorlock isn’t cheap, either: ASU, for example, pays $880,000 per year.
The surveillance software’s flagship function is to use a student’s webcam and its AI to detect forbidden exam activities, like asking a friend for answers or typing on a phone. One student from ASU reported that, in the middle of his online exam, his screen froze and showed the message “Take off your Apple Watch.” The software scans faces to verify identity.
How’s this helpful? — The practice of introducing temptation for students to cheat is ethically dubious, but it’s not new. Professors can put fake answers to questions on answer sites such as Chegg to detect cheating students. One mathematics TA at Princeton faced backlash after purposely posting a wrong solution online to catch students who turned to search engines instead of studying.
Honorlock — and other surveillance edtech companies — claim to promote student integrity but eschew ethical responsibilities of their own, using deceptive techniques in the name of student honor. Cheating on exams is certainly a problem, but invasive surveillance software seems like a shoddy (and expensive) fix, especially for situations in which continuous assessment or project-based learning can be an alternative to high-stakes testing.