DMC should stop using lockdown browsers 

Online classes and thus online testing had been around for years before the start of the pandemic and provide a valuable option for those who require the flexibility of the more self-paced environment. Online courses then grew to become ubiquitous when Del Mar College went into lockdown during 2020 due to the pandemic. Everyone had to take them, as in-person classes were either rare or simply non-existent for many courses.

Today, most courses have at least one class provided in-person while still maintaining their online option. Though many of them, despite having returned to holding instructing face-to-face, have continued many of the practices adopted primarily because of the pandemic. This includes keeping exams and quizzes entirely online through either Canvas or other software. Along with this is the more widespread adoption of software known as lockdown browsers.

A lockdown browser is a program designed to maintain academic integrity in online testing by limiting access to all other functions of a computer during testing, such as limiting other apps and providing the professor with an audio-visual feed of the testing environment before and during the exam.

Lockdown browsers have received criticism in the past, primarily on the grounds of invasiveness and security concerns. There are also accessibility issues.

There are still some tangible benefits to keeping exams separated from the classroom, but the use of lockdown browsers as a proctoring tool needs to change.

The use of lockdown browsers brings proctoring into the homes of students, which might provide a non-ideal testing environment. Especially if the student lives with others, it creates the risk of academic consequences due to factors beyond their control.

The primary benefit of the software is its ability to prevent academic dishonesty and cheating. The means of preserving academic integrity is through the software’s ability to restrict the device and monitor the student. These same features are also the source of most major cybersecurity concerns. An app that can connect to the microphone and camera of a device as well as restrict its features would usually be considered spyware, especially when compromised and put in the wrong hands.

They are not a perfect solution either, as a knowledgeable enough student can contain the browser to a virtual machine, which is probably the best option for ensuring the digital safety of the student’s device. This safety strategy though can completely void the benefits of the proctoring software.

If academic integrity is a high enough concern, it may be more beneficial to provide exams in a traditional setting. Del Mar College is home to some technical masterminds, but for all their ability and intelligence, they have likely not discovered how to hack a piece of paper.

Lockdown browsers have also been criticized for their higher broadband requirements and requiring some students to acquire extra hardware if their personal devices lack a built-in camera and/or microphone, such as with many desktop computers. They have also been criticized for being somewhat prone to crashing, which can obviously be an issue.

A common trope in courses that include online testing is that many professors will view any IT issues as a personal problem on the side of the student. Connection and software issues are not considered viable reasons for not being able to complete an exam before the due date.

While it can be understandable that a student be expected to have all the means to complete a course when they sign up for it, students are not provided with the minimum hardware and internet requirements of a course before they sign up. If responsibility for technical issues falls solely on the student, isn’t it sensible to avoid putting unnecessary strain on the students’ technology from the beginning?

The increased bandwidth requirements of a lockdown browser will primarily harm students of a lower income who might have to settled for slower internet, and those who live with a family, as it is likely that multiple devices will remain online during exam times.

If testing was brought back into the classroom, then internet connection would not be an issue, ensuring a more fair and accessible testing environment to every student regardless of economic or living situation.

For most courses, instruction has largely returned to the traditional classroom setting. Yet, exams — the core assignments that define success in many classes — remain online and tied to software that carry risks to device security and put strain on students who are lacking technological resources, whether that be in the form of practical ability and knowledge or in the form of broadband and hardware. With the new semester coming, maybe it’s about time we go back to doing it the old way.

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