In order to make good use of my unemployed time, I am currently taking classes online during the pandemic…hoping to finally finish up my bachelor’s degree that I’ve started and stopped over the years. Mind you, I have a 20+ year career behind me, so the degree isn’t really necessary at this point, but it is a personal goal that I set for myself, and I enjoy learning new things. The added bonus? It has helped my mental health, as well. Throughout my college career, both currently and previous degree attempts, I have taken classes online. They have allowed me the flexibility with my job (when I am working), to travel (when I am not), or to not have to be around people (beneficial for introverts like me, and for safety protocols in the instance of a major pandemic). What’s new this year (for me, anyway) is the idea of online proctoring exams.
They are some of the most horrible amalgamations of A.I. technology, just behind China’s oppressive ‘crime prediction’ algorithms and emotional contagion experiments run social media networks for profit. After taking an exam in this manner, I can attest that online proctoring is an overt invasion of privacy. Schools have been duped into implementing Minority Report-style surveillance, all under the guise of creating greater “academic integrity.” Meanwhile, these companies are making millions of dollars, without providing any transparency in the manner in which the data is captured and stored. Sound familiar? Big Tech has a BIG problem with keeping personal data private and secure…because it’s simply not profitable. Negative content resonates, fear is rampant, and outrage sells. When you dig into the numbers though, how rampant is academic dishonesty?
“The system had flagged 247,000 ‘confirmed breaches of integrity’ — or about 6 percent of their 3.9 million proctored exams.” This over a 12-month time period. “Breaches of integrity” include Black students’ faces flagged as unrecognizable (this is a common flaw of facial-recognition software because the code is written by non-Black people, don’t even get me started…), wearing a skull cap (Ummm…why?! If I’m in the comfort of my own home, then WTF cares?! This isn’t a job interview, and it’s discriminatory), excessive eye or head movements (what does that even mean?! Do you know how many times you move your eyes/head in 6-minutes? And can you say ADA rights violation like a MF?!), looking away from the screen (you know…like when you get lost in thought or are thinking about the answer?), reading a question aloud (something I know many of us, including myself, need to do to make sure we understand the question), and more. The more you dig into the data, the 6% number ProctorU made up sure starts to become extremely unreliable, but we’ll use it for the sake of argument here.
Now let’s compare that 6% with the number of times the 45th President lies daily, which averages somewhere around 23.8 times a day over the same time period, essentially once an hour, versus normal people who lie maybe once or twice a day (4-8% of the time). Essentially, schools are currently paying $500,000+ per year to catch integrity violations that occur with less frequency than our own President..I ask, “to what end?” With the current trend of over-inflated tuition costs, plus a decrease in student populations due to the pandemic and imminent recession, I’m curious if this is really how schools should be prioritizing their spending. As of 2018, colleges spent an abysmal ~30% on instruction and upwards of 60% on “student services and institutional support,” which might explain why the US doesn’t break the top 5 for most educated countries (along with the fact that we don’t invest in education as an economic driver like other countries does, but that’s a whole other blog post entirely).
If someone wants to cheat, doesn’t that ultimately come back on them when they try to get a job? (or maybe not, considering you can be a pathological liar and still be president…which is also for an entirely different blog post.) Is it really in the collective student body’s best interest for teachers to spend all of their time and energy chasing down 6% of their classmates for academic dishonestly (if you count having a Black face as being dishonest…this right here is an excellent example of systemic racism…remember it). While $500K may seem like a drop in the pan when college operating budgets extend into the millions, I would argue that investment would go further if schools work to improve the actual quality of online instruction, because let’s all agree that college instructors seem to really suck at teaching to an online forum. Instead of taking our tuition money and turning around to reinvest it in a game of “Gotcha”, train your teachers how to answer a f**king email in a timely manner for GAWD’s sake.
It would behoove the institution to look at students in totality. For example, if I turn in my homework on time, I get 100% on all of these homework assignments. Not to brag, but they well-written, fully formed manifestations of complex thought, so of course, I should expect to do well. Yet, if I were to fail an exam due to a “breach of integrity…do you really think that is a failure on my part to participate or try and learn? Or you do see that as a failure of either the software itself (because I needed to stretch after 90-minutes straight in front of a computer), or possibly a failure on the instructor’s part to attempt to educate people in a way that makes them successful? Out of all of the online instructors I have had thus far TWO (out of about 20 now) have engaged with their classes. That means that an instructor’s failure rate to do their job is astronomically higher than the rate for alledged “breaches of integrity.’ So, again, I ask dear college institutions….when you are struggling to fulfill your enrollment quotas…how do you expect to attract/appeal to students with your Orwellian-type behavior that does nothing to further someone’s career, only heighten their anxiety in an already anxiety-ridden period of our lives (pandemic and social unrest aside, the college experience is miserable enough as it is.
Speaking as an adult learner, I can attest that NONE of what I have learned in school, thus far, would have EVER prepared me for what I do in my career. You see, what I do in real life is actually only taught in ONE (count it again, one) college class…throughout an entire 4-year program. While college is critically important to professions in the medical field, or rocket science, any of the interns that I have coached over the years have accumulated an abysmal amount of business acumen or marketing skills that would bring into question the value of their degree. Students…for as much as you spend on school, shouldn’t there be some sort of ROI involved? Basic business 101 – if I invest capital, then I expect to see a return on that investment…otherwise, no more capital. Instead of being riddled with debt after 4-years, compounded with the propensity for being sexually assaulted or having a substance abuse issue, maaaayyybeeee we should be demanding better of our universities….after all, you pay THEM….they work for YOU, not the other way around.
And employers….when you state that a bachelor’s degree is required…is that only to give you some indication that the person you are about to hire can think? A simple 20-minute conversation can tell you that…demanding that someone have a bachelor’s degree does not tell you whether or not they have integrity however…something that many people working in corporate America lack these days anyway. Just a reminder, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Ellen DeGeneres, Beyonce, Whoopi Goldberg, John D. Rockefeller, Mark Zuckerberg, and others either didn’t go to college or left before graduating. Why? For many, the financial burden put on their families outweighed the opportunity for greatness….also, they were smarter/better at what they did than what anyone at their college institution could teach them.
So, instead of investing in yet some other fascist A.I. that leaves you wide open to lawsuits for privacy-violations, data breaches, and lack of accommodation for students who need it, maybe spend it on upping your game a bit…sounds like your bottom-line needs it more to help the many students who want to learn/need help versus catching the few students who aren’t. As my partner is famous for reminding me…”let ’em whirl anyway.”