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Exams are stressful enough without the knowledge that one’s being constantly monitored.

The word “test” can cause any student to shudder with fear. Studying the material and making sure they'll be able to memorize all the information can be extremely stressful for students. With COVID-19 continuing to affect schools and universities around the country, Zoom and Webex are still being used to deliver lectures and assignments. Although students may have adjusted to learning this way, taking tests online has been a struggle for many. 

When classes went online because of the pandemic, many questioned how professors would deal with handling exams. For the most part, professors have allowed their students to use their notes and study guides while taking the exams online; some might require a student to download a lockdown browser. Recently, webcams have been introduced as a method of monitoring academic honesty, even though it’s forcing students to worry whether or not what they’re doing could be flagged for “cheating.”

Although this sounds like an innovative way to make sure that students aren’t cheating or using their notes, the idea of a webcam recording a student’s every move is concerning. Not only is it a violation of privacy, but a student could make one wrong movement and falsely incriminate oneself. Although it’s important for students not to cheat on their exams, using webcams is an unethical way of making sure that they don’t. 

When using the LockDown Browser webcam, it asks for a student to take the exam in an area that’s isolated, take videos of themselves talking to make sure the audio is caught and share a 360-degree view of the student’s surroundings. This ensures that the student doesn’t have any noise or sight violations the software may pick up as well as making sure that there’s no help for the student to cheat on the exam. 

Community college math professor @MathProfPeter detailed the struggles his students have encountered when using webcams for online exams. In a Twitter thread, he explained how students have felt uncomfortable sharing a 360-degree view of their rooms, haven’t had isolated areas to take their tests and have gotten locked out of their exams because of looking away from the screen for too long. 

“I don’t see how any of this is creating a productive learning experience for students,” Peter said in the thread. “There’s no way you can convince me that students should just get used to these complaints they have.”

This goes back to the argument on whether or not using notes or outside information is a bad idea. Of course, stealing people’s answers for tests without their consent is wrong and shouldn’t be tolerated; however, why is it a bad thing for a student to use the notes that they’ve taken throughout the class and apply it to their exams? Taking exams have been ways to help students “memorize” the information given to them, but some students may find it hard to remember notes on an exam due to being anxious about taking the test or other factors. This ties in well with the Hawthorne effect, which occurs when people behave differently because they’re being watched. According to an article done by the Catalogue of Bias from Oxford University, it can affect all sorts of behaviors such as dietary habits, hygiene practices, and study results.  

Using webcams for exams is unethical and makes students feel uncomfortable. Although it’s wrong to plagiarize and copy an outside resource without consent, using a webcam for an exam is ridiculous and puts unnecessary pressure on students. The more professors use webcams, the more students will have increased anxiety and stress when it comes to exams. 

Kylee Toland is a junior media arts and design major. Contact Kylee at tolandkm@dukes.jmu.edu.