UNB recently announced its plans to introduce the use of a lockdown browser during tests and exams in a Microsoft Office SharePoint document. The Respondus Lockdown Browser was selected by the university in August 2020 in an effort to curb examination malpractice while classes continue to be delivered virtually. 

The software locks down the testing environment within D2L, preventing students from accessing other applications on the computer while the exam is being taken. A student’s video and audio are expected to be turned on, identification is to be presented at the beginning of the exam, and in some cases, the student might have to let the software scan the entire room in which the exam is being taken.

A trial launch of the software was performed in December 2020, and some students who tested the invigilation software raised concerns over the fact that the software seems to be particularly invasive and has potential to compromise a user’s data.

Respondus asked me for admin control of my system when I ran it, and admin control gives full permission to access anything on your computer,” said John*, a UNB computer science student who wishes to remain anonymous and tested the software in a Management course (ADM 1213). 

Although the university addressed data privacy concerns in the SharePoint document, they focused on external data, advising students to cover pictures, documents, and items that could reveal personal information.  

“Respondus admits to collecting ‘information on applications and processes running on your computing device during the assessment,’” said John. “Data is stored by Respondus for 16 months, which seems like an absurdly long amount of time.”

David Bunce, a second-year UNB Law student, used Respondus during his undergraduate years at Wilfrid Laurier university. 

“It feels a tad invasive since you have to scan your entire room, move all books out of sight, and stay on camera the whole time,” said Bunce.

Bunce reported that the software monitors the user’s face and stops them mid-exam if their face is covered in any way. He had a problem during one of his exams when he rested his face on his hand and the browser wouldn’t let him continue his exam until he took his hand off.

UNB instructors are required to give students three-weeks notice that the assessment will take place with the use of Respondus, and students have the option to opt out of using the lockdown browser during the exam. If a student opts out, the instructor is then obligated to provide an alternative way for the student to take the assessment. 

Although Respondus can scan a user’s environment at the beginning of an assessment, UNB instructors are compelled to turn the option off in the start-up sequence for the assessment. 

The university has set these guidelines to try to ensure the safety of students, but some are still not convinced. 

“I think the software, while necessary to legitimize finals, raises too many red flags for me to use without concerns,” said John. 

*Names have been changed to preserve anonymity.