On July 23rd, the Librarians’ Assembly¬†of the Z. Smith Reynolds Library, the governing body of ZSR Library faculty, voted to endorse the following statement on online proctoring services:

ZSR Librarians’ Assembly, Statement on Online Proctoring Services, July 23, 2020

Online exam proctoring services deploy software-based interventions into students’ personal computers and homes in order to deter academic misconduct during online exams. These services require that students install software onto their personal devices so that their activity during an exam can be actively monitored and/or recorded for later review. These monitoring activities range from the restriction and recording of students’ software use, to active and passive surveillance of students and their surroundings through the student’s webcam and microphone, often through live human proctors.1

Increasingly, proctoring services are employing automated, algorithmic proctoring methods, such as facial recognition and face detection, to identify, flag, and report what they deem to be suspicious behaviors. Facial recognition and face detection technologies have been shown to display gender2 and skin-type biases that more frequently mis-identify women and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color3 and present significant challenges to trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming students.4 Likewise, students with neuromuscular disorders, vision impairments, or other disabilities might be at greater risk of their behaviors being flagged as suspicious by these technologies.5

These services are built upon the assumption that all of our students will have access to quiet, private space in which to take their exams. In a survey of our undergraduate students after the spring 2020 transition to remote teaching, only 65% of students indicated that they had a space sufficiently large and quiet enough to attend synchronous class sessions, suggesting that they might have similar difficulty finding sufficiently private space for proctored exams. What’s more, proctoring services present an intrusion into our students’ private spaces by companies and individuals not affiliated with the university and not known by the student. These intrusions are troubling enough on their own, but the potential for abuse by those with access to recordings of students’ bodies and private spaces presents extremely disturbing possibilities for sexual harassment.6

While we affirm the need to ensure academic integrity and protect academic freedom, as well as the need to meet the requirements of various accrediting bodies, we must place before all of these our commitment to a just and equitable learning environment that respects the privacy and the inherent dignity of all of our students. Online proctoring services are in direct conflict with this commitment and with our professional values as librarians.

Out of concern for our students’ privacy and the trust relationships we build with them, members of the Z. Smith Reynolds Library faculty will agree to not adopt or promote online proctoring services and will instead use forms of assessment that embrace, rather than attempt to suppress, the open nature of the internet.

  1. D’Arcy Norman, “Online Exam Proctoring,” D’Arcy Norman Dot Net (blog), March 31, 2020, https://darcynorman.net/2020/03/31/online-exam-proctoring/.
  2. Shea Swauger, “Our Bodies Encoded: Algorithmic Test Proctoring in Higher Education,” Hybrid Pedagogy, April 2, 2020, https://hybridpedagogy.org/our-bodies-encoded-algorithmic-test-proctoring-in-higher-education/.
  3. Larry Hardesty, “Study Finds Gender and Skin-Type Bias in Commercial Artificial-Intelligence Systems,” MIT News, February 11, 2018, https://news.mit.edu/2018/study-finds-gender-skin-type-bias-artificial-intelligence-systems-0212.
  4. Os Keyes, “The Misgendering Machines: Trans/HCI Implications of Automatic Gender Recognition,” Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction 2, no. CSCW (2018): 1-22. https://dl.acm.org/doi/10.1145/3274357 .
  5. Swauger, “Our Bodies Encoded.”
  6. Swauger.