The University of Wisconsin renewed its contract with Honorlock, an online proctoring software used to monitor students taking tests, according to Government Technology.
Honorlock uses students’ computer microphones to detect noise and the webcam to verify student identity and watch eye movement, according to the Honorlock website. It can also be used to monitor the students’ web browser, check for plagiarism and identify cell phone use during the exam, according to the Honorlock website.
Honorlock was first used at UW in summer 2020 to help instructors ensure academic integrity while teaching remotely, according to the UW Information Technology website.
While UW will be renewing its contract with Honorlock, UW Spokesperson Meredith McGlone said in a statement to The Badger Herald the number of classes using Honorlock for exams has drastically decreased this semester compared to the spring.
If the system detects suspicious activity, it sends a notification to the instructor, letting them decide whether or not intervention is needed, according to the Honorlock website.
UW student Mason Lahm said Honorlock fails on this front. Instead, it just forces students to be more creative when they cheat, Lahm said.
“I’ve heard all kinds of different ways people work around Honorlock,” Lahm said.
Studies across the country showed incidents of academic misconduct increased significantly during the pandemic, despite increased use of proctoring programs like Honorlock, according to NPR.
At UW, there were 317 reported cases of academic misconduct in 2019-20 but 608 cases in 2020-21, according to Government Technology.
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Far from preventing cheating, Honorlock doesn’t even detect cheating reliably, Lahm said.
Instead, many students have gotten false reports of cheating when the software detected them looking away from their monitor or overheard a roommate talking in another room, Lahm said.
UW students aren’t the only ones who have spoken out against Honorlock. For example, a Texas A&M University Change.org petition to remove Honorlock got nearly 10,000 signatures in 2020, and similar petitions from dozens of other universities can be found on the same website.
Lahm himself had issues working with Honorlock, having to buy a $50 webcam before taking an exam.
“I’m already paying thousands of dollars to go to school here,” Lahm said. “It’s ridiculous that I should have to pay more just to take a test.”
Though Lahm had the money to cover this unforeseen expense, he realized many other students were not as lucky.
Online learning disproportionately detriments low-income students who might not have a quiet place to learn, a reliable internet connection or functioning tech devices, according to an LA Times survey. In this way, simply being low-income could lead to worse test scores and worse grades overall, Lahm said.
Honorlock disadvantages other marginalized groups as well. For example, its authentication process, which requires a photo ID, could out transgender students or put undocumented students in vulnerable positions, according to NBC News.
UW students of color taking tests with Honorlock have been incorrectly flagged as cheating because the software could not recognize their darker skin tones, according to Inside Higher Ed.
In addition to perpetuating discrimination against marginalized students, Honorlock breaches students’ privacy by forcing them to show their homes and give access to their web browsers, Lahm said.
“It’s a major invasion of privacy, and it doesn’t help our learning at all,” Lahm said.
As the university has moved to a majority in-person learning environment, McGlone said instructors have begun using Honrolock in person, allowing students to take exams on their computers instead of on a scantron or bluebook, which may be easier for some students and instructors.
“It’s important to note that the settings that have prompted the most concern – such as “Record webcam” and “Room scan” – would not need to be used for an in-person exam,” McGlone said.
McGlone said it is up to individual instructors whether or not they choose to use Honorlock for an exam and which settings they choose to utilize.
This story was updated 12:54 p.m. Oct. 27 to include comments from UW Spokesperson Meredith McGlone.