Harassment During Exams Spotlights a Pitfall of the Rush to Adopt Online Learning


Jan 11, 2021


Image Credit: Aditya Waikul/BCCL

Several women students studying at the Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (NMIMS) in Mumbai have alleged harassment from their online exam proctors during and after their semester exams last week.

The details of their allegations highlight the vulnerabilities of the rush to adopt online learning and examination models amid the Covid19 pandemic.

Students from NMIMS state some exam proctors spoke to them inappropriately mid-test. Proctors also received students’ personal details, including name, email, and phone numbers — which some then used to contact students outside exam hours.

Proctors are allowed to communicate with students via chat functions and ask students to change their webcam position to prevent cheating. Webcam angle, in fact, is perhaps the only way they have of fulfilling their role. Yet, the way one proctor in question communicated his webcam repositioning request scared a student (harassed by a different proctor just days before) so much that she had to pause her exam.

In direct comparison, in-person proctors cannot speak to students in exam rooms, as they are conducted within camera-monitored spaces, and almost always inside colleges and universities. Plus, in-person proctors have previously never received access to students’ personal contact data.

Students allege the third-party proctoring service NMIMS engaged did not background-check the individuals they hired, thus leading to harassment and unprofessional conduct.

Due to Covid19’s rapid lockdown, colleges and universities had to rapidly adapt. Though conducting exams during a high-stress year for students is in itself an ethical dilemma, Indian universities and colleges have stuck to their guns, keeping the academic year going as usual. Colleges like NMIMS have turned to third-party assessment services that provide both human and AI-based proctoring services online.

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But AI-based proctoring technologies come with their own issues. In a letter to the University Grants Commission, the Internet Freedom Foundation highlights how such technologies can also violate data privacy and are susceptible to glitches and workarounds that cause far more stress than good. “The constant threat of being flagged by the technology for a perceived wrongful action in addition to the stress of the exam being given leads to a student having heightened anxiety levels,” the foundation’s open letter says.

As of now, NMIMS has released a statement saying it is pursuing the matter with Mettl, its proctor provider. Mettle hasn’t officially commented on the situation as of now.


Written By Aditi Murti

Aditi Murti is a culture writer at The Swaddle. Previously, she worked as a freelance journalist focused on gender and cities. Find her on social media @aditimurti.


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