Students & Parents | General Education

Berkeley moves to ‘lock down’ students’ browsers to prevent cheating

CAMPUS REFORM   |  April 8, 2020 by Mary Rose Corkery

The University of California-Berkeley is restricting professors from proctoring virtual exams to ensure students don’t cheat. Rather, the university has opted to implement a “browser lockdown” method.

Campus Reform obtained a campus-wide email sent by Paul Alvisatos, the Executive Vice Chancellor & Provost on this decision. While professors are being told not to proctor exams online, a “browser lockdown” software program appears to be the approved alternative. While it has not yet been implemented, the software would prevent students from switching between windows or tabs while taking online tests. 

“This tool does not provide remote visual proctoring via a webcam. We will continue to explore remote visual proctoring via webcam after due consideration, for potential use in this Spring Semester and future semesters,” Alvisatos wrote.

For professors who have already scheduled exams, the options are to either push back the exam date or consult other practices. One other practice includes the P/NP grading policy for the undergraduates of UC. If professors are found “proctoring exams” online, such as the use of Zoom, students have the ability to have their grades reconsidered and in most cases, approved. 

“To be clear, this is a campus directive requiring that all instructors refrain from using any other remote proctoring products and not otherwise engage in remote proctoring for the remainder of the spring 2020 semester,” the provost said. 

UC-Berkeley plans to “subjectively compare” grading systems in order to accommodate students and faculty.

Campus Reform reached out to National Association of Scholars Director of Research David Randall, who said in an emailed statement, “The University of California system ought to trust individual professors to be able to determine the best approach to online proctoring—and allow students an easy process to opt-in to request a pass/fail grade for the semester.”

“This is generally the case, and not just for online proctoring. An asterisk on the transcript for ‘Spring 2020—Coronavirus Pandemic Conditions’ is easy enough to do. But we should presume that professors and students are able to take courses properly, with proper rigor and grading, and not place bureaucratic roadblocks in their way,” Randall added. 

Jonathan Pidluzny of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni echoed that point. 

“Individual faculty members are still the best judge of how best to assess learning outcomes in their courses,” he told Campus Reform. 

“Academic freedom requires allowing faculty to develop assessments based on their expertise and experience.  That is not to say that online proctoring services are unproblematic.  They can raise important privacy and accessibility concerns.  Universities should absolutely raise awareness of those concerns, so that faculty members can make an informed judgment,” said Pidluzny. 

While faculty members “should be encouraged” to “discuss alternative arrangements,” Pidluzny said UC-Berkeley’s “blanket prohibition is unnecessarily broad,’ saying that he prefers to “trust individual faculty members to devise assessment methods that balance these concerns against the academic integrity imperative — even under these difficult conditions.”


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