The University of Wisconsin disabled a part of the Honorlock system after receiving complaints from students about the software’s inability to recognize darker skin tones during exams.

Honorlock is a proctoring software that instructors can opt to use to ensure academic integrity when students are required to take online exams, according to UW’s Division of Information Technology.

Based on the university’s “Proctoring with Honorlock” webpage, the “Exam Pause” feature was automatically set up for students who need to use the program and pauses the exam if the webcam frame could not detect students’ facial features.

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In an email to The Badger Herald, UW spokesperson Meredith McGlone said the university collected feedback from students through focus groups and an undergraduate survey last fall. McGlone said the optional “Exam Pause” feature prompted some concerns among students, including three students who said the system failed to recognize their darker skin tone and activated the pause feature in response.

The university communicated these concerns with Honorlock, and the company said they have no data showing the software has difficulty recognizing certain skin colors from students at UW-Madison or other universities, McGlone said. UW disabled the “Exam Pause” feature of Honorlock on March 11, according to Channel 3000.

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According to the Wisconsin State Journal, Honorlock spokesperson Tess Mitchell said Honorlock’s artificial intelligence in the UW cases did not detect facial features because students looked down or away from the webcam when taking an exam. Mitchell said this is what activated the “Exam Pause” feature.

According to the Division of Information Technology, the artificial intelligence flagging is a key feature of Honorlock that marks students’ behaviors that may be related to academic misconduct, and the instructor can review the flag after students finish the exam.

In her email, McGlone said that the university has not decided whether or not to renew the contract with Honorlock for the 2021-22 academic year yet. 

“The university continues to offer support and training for instructors regarding Honorlock to improve students’ experiences and ensure it’s being used as effectively and fairly as possible,” McGlone said in the email. “We will continue to conduct thorough reviews of student and instructor experiences to inform decisions about future tool procurement.”