Rector Klaas Sijtsma: “Digital surveillance is indispensable to maintain the value of the diploma”
In the coming months, exams will be taken online with the surveillance program Proctorio. The Executive Board has decided this on Friday 17 April after a trial earlier in the same week. Students are concerned: what about privacy? And what if your computer, internet or workspace is not suitable? Univers submitted some of those concerns to Rector Magnificus Klaas Sijtsma.
The introduction of proctoring, or digital surveillance for online exams, is often accompanied by discomfort and concerns about privacy. That is not unsurprising. You are sitting in your own room, with your own computer and meanwhile what you are doing is monitored with your own equipment. Big Brother is watching you. Sometimes this happens literally and an invigilator watches you through your computer, sometimes everything is recorded and later assessed for unauthorized behavior. With Proctorio, the sytem Tilburg University will be using, no one is watching, but the system flags irregularities based on video, sound or, for example, keystrokes. After that an invigilator will assess whether there has been cheating, on the basis of the recorded data.
Questions and concerns about this also exist at Tilburg University. Student parties SAM and Fractie Front already expressed their concerns about digital examinations after the trial. And after the announcement of the use of Proctorio, student Noami de Leng placed a petition online. In it, she expresses her objections about violation of privacy and she requests the university to use an alternative form of testing. The petition has already been signed more than 2,300 times.
There are many concerns among student parties and among students about the use of online proctoring. Do you understand those concerns?
“I understand very well that students are worried. If I was a student myself, I would also like to know what it means and what happens to that data. The data is discarded at a time determined by us and only viewed by invigilators appointed by us. A program such as Proctorio offers many options for surveillance, but we only use what we need. We want to exercise great restraint in this. We will also set up a test exam, so that students get an impression of what it all means beforehand. ”
Students feel overwhelmed by the speed at which it is introduced.
“We suddenly found ourselves in a very extreme period in which everything had to be different at once. The government no longer allowed us to meet each other on campus. Education could only be given online. And that is the least of our problems. Remote exams are a lot more difficult. And it is also a huge number: there are 130,000 exams that we want to have completed before the new academic year starts. Otherwise the burden on students in the new academic year will increase, and they will build up a structural study delay. We don’t want that. ”
Must privacy be surrendered for this?
“Not at all. As I said, we only use the most essential tools. That being said, as a teacher you want to know that Jan de Vries is on the other side, so there will have to be some form of identification. You also want to know that nobody is helping Jan de Vries and that he will not check books during exams, if that is not the intention. And that Jan de Vries is not secretly on the internet or on google or emailing with a fellow student. This is necessary to establish that the student actually possesses the knowledge and skills for a diploma. Society must be able to rely on that and we are also legally obliged to do so. Actually, the privacy infringement may even go further with a physical exam. An invigilator may then want to look in your bag or take your smartphone away. And if he detects fraud, he can even verbalize you in front of everyone. Even in non-corona times, privacy is not absolute. ”
Is it the intention that all exams will now be taken with digital surveillance?
“We want to keep the number of exams with proctoring as small as possible. We only use it where it is necessary, for example for smaller assignments this will not be the case. The options for alternative assessment are still a subject of discussion with the vice-deans of education of the faculties and the chairs of examination boards. They also discuss whether certain other ways of testing are acceptable. These are subjects that we are still occupy us. We are in a situation where we gradually solve problems. ”
Students are also concerned about potential technical problems. A computer that is not suitable, faltering internet connections or not having a quiet space to take an exam.
“We are trying to find solutions for this. Students know in advance when an exam is due, so we hope they have the opportunity to borrow a computer from someone or find a quiet place somewhere. For example at the parents’ home. In case that is not a possibility, we are investigating whether it is possible to make places with a computer available on campus. We need to do this in consultation with the government, because we are currently not allowed to have any activities on campus. ”