Four weeks ago, student council members Robbert Rog and Younes Assou submitted an open letter to the Executive Board asking the board members to reconsider their decision to implement a two-camera set-up for proctored exams. Despite the fact that their letter has received significant endorsement from fellow EUR students, 786 students having signed it, they are yet to receive an official reply from the EUR’s Executive Board. Last week, we interviewed Robbert Rog and discussed the new proctor exam set-up and the introduction of the 2nd camera.
What led you and Younes to write this letter?
After the University announced that students would have to use the second camera for proctored exams, there was a lot of outrage among students. In fact, the reaction was quite logical because the news was announced only in a tiny paragraph in an email. Of course, this raises many questions. I witnessed so much concern among people around me so I thought it would be best to combine all of this into one letter and let the Executive Board know how many of the students feel.
Are you satisfied with the impact it has had?
On the one side, I'm happy and I think that we have proven that the University cannot implement whatever they like without any backlash from the students. I'm very happy that a lot of people spoke up and voiced their opinions. On the other hand, however, I am disappointed as the new proctoring policy has not been reconsidered by the University. What’s more is that I have also not received a formal response from the Executive Board.
I've read that the University had actually been preparing this new rule for some time now, how do you feel about them announcing it so late?
I think the way they announced this has not been very pleasant for the students. Many students could have had more time to prepare everything, especially as some needed to buy a new phone. The timing could have been better especially considering that they wanted to implement this way earlier. For instance, if they had given us a heads-up directly after the Christmas break then we would have had a full block to prepare.
I think you certainly have a point here. It was shocking to find out that the phone app is not supported by some older phones. Moreover, the proctoring software does not work if your phone’s camera is broken. What does this mean for students who cannot afford to buy a new one?
I think that's pretty bad and it's also one of the main issues I raised in my letter. The fact is that the University is simply demanding a lot from students, especially as some students don't have access to these kinds of means, not all students can afford to buy a new phone with only a month’s notice. Then, the solution proposed by the Universe is along these lines: borrow a phone from a friend or from a family member. But basically, it feels like they say that it's the student’s problem and I think that's what upset most of the students.
Now, given the fact that some students are having difficulties sitting their exams, do you believe that this is the university’s way of saying that all students are equal, but some are more equal than others?
I like to believe they do not want to say this because I think equality is a paramount principle of the university. It's just sad that this policy doesn't reflect it. I think there are a lot of students whose internet is not that good. For them, this new rule will mean more stress and I think that's not fair. Also, I don't think they do this because they want to increase inequality among students, but more of a downside that they're aware of and which they have accepted. All in all, a questionable decision.
I see. Some students believe that the second camera can prevent exams from being incorrectly declared invalid. What do you think?
I think it will help to some extent. I cannot deny that it will first and foremost prevent some people from cheating, but it can also serve slightly as a technical backup. However, I think the benefits are rather insignificant if compared to the drawbacks. Ironically, in the context of exam-related technical issues, the University is adding yet another piece of technology that can fail during an exam. There are so many ways this could go wrong, and I think this calls for more information. What happens when this second camera fails? What happens if the phone falls over?
To go back to your initial letter, it has been signed by no more than 786 students. Great feat! However, there are approximately 20000 students currently enrolled at EUR. Thus, around 4% of the EUR students signed your petition. Do you still believe that your petition reflects the prevailing consensus among EUR students?
I think there are a few important things to notice here. Firstly, I didn't go around asking every student at the Erasmus University whether they want to sign my petition, so I think there are a lot more people that actually agreed with our initiative, but just didn’t have their names written in the latter. Secondly, I gathered these names in less than 24 hours, because we wanted to take immediate action. At least amongst the students I spoke to, I think the general consensus was clear: the second camera rule is both intrusive and very student unfriendly.
The petition has nonetheless attracted the attention of two members of the Dutch parliament, Lammert van Raan and Eva van Esch from the Party for the Animals, who have brought this matter under the attention of the Minister for Tertiary Education. Has the Minister reacted to this?
I'm not quite sure, but I would have been quite flattered to receive a reply to my letter. Unfortunately, I am not up to date on this matter.
Let’s head back several months, when the Examination Board issued the warning letters for not having performed the so-called ‘room scan’ prior to the exams. Astonishingly, some students argued that they had never completed the room scan, despite having already sat multiple exams. Doesn’t this warrant a tougher stance of exam fraud?
Of course, the room scan was part of the original measures that were taken to prevent fraud and I think those were quite good and also not too student unfriendly. However, when students don't adhere to them, and I am not saying that this is not bad, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you need to implement tougher and more intrusive rules.
Then, what would you say to students who are worried of receiving a so-called "corona degree", instead of a certificate that has indisputable value?
Firstly, I think that the quality of education at Erasmus University is still good. Personally, I don't feel like I'm learning less than I was learning before Covid-19, so I would like to congratulate the University and the Professors for their dedication. Every university around the world is struggling with this, even top universities like Harvard, Oxford or Yale, and I do not think their degree will be less valuable because of the pandemic. So, I also do not believe that ours will be either.
Do you believe that introducing the 2nd camera in the exam set-up will reduce fraudulent behaviour?
I think it's still possible to cheat in this exam format. What will nonetheless be prevented is having multiple people in the room when you're making the exam. But then you have to ask yourself, how does this measure up against all the aforementioned downsides. I think it's shocking to see that we haven't seen any true cost-benefit analysis made public by the University, especially given the limited gains derived from this fraud prevention method.
Right, and what would be the “costs” of such a measure? The negative externalities, if you like.
Firstly, I think there are monetary costs involved which are quite high. I think Erasmus University budgeted almost €1 million dedicated to proctoring in 2020 alone, which is money that could have been used to improve the quality of our education rather than increasing surveillance during examination. Also, there’s the people hired by the faculties to go through the proctored exams’ footage.
Secondly, the actual research has shown that proctoring or taking proctored examinations can reduce the quality of students’ performance. (Link to research can be found in the comments). This paper showed that the students who do not cheat actually get significantly lower grades because of the stress caused by proctoring, while students who do actually cheat, they get significantly higher grades. This is certainly a cost for the students who do not cheat on their exams and this inaccurate depiction actually lowers the quality of your examination.
Ever since the inception of Covid-19 pandemic, the university has been busy publicising its concern for student wellbeing. And now, the 2nd camera rule. What do you think: has the university fallen short on its task to care for students’ wellbeing?
Yes, I think so, at least when this decision is concerned. I feel like the negative effects on our well-being have not been proportionally taken into account, a fact which has been proven by the large number of students speaking up against this measure. Generally, though, I think the University is trying to care for students’ wellbeing and I have to give him credit for that.
Our next question concerns another potential cost associated with this new rule: privacy. There have already been two data breaches at Groningen University and at Hanze University of Applied Sciences, allowing external parties to view the images from proctored exams. Given the risks involved, should we be worried?
Of course, I think the actual risk is hard to estimate, but I think the university at least publicly endorses the students’ concern regarding privacy issues surrounding the proctored exams. Of course, actually caring is something different. For instance, as an ESE student, you can apply for a position as a ProctorExam checker, and you will be going through footage flagged as potentially fraudulent. I find it is quite shocking that fellow students can see me in my living room writing my exam and I think that is just crossing the line. Indeed, I am slightly worried myself, but I do think that a data leak is something different whatsoever. The recent data leaks occurred during exams that were not organized with the proctor system, but with a really poor setup also consisting of a Zoom call. Of course, the Zoom link leaked to some journalists and they just joined their Zoom call right away. So, in that regard, I am less worried than I would be if I were studying in Groningen, but I am still worried about the people who are checking the footage.
Given your close involvement in the matter at hand, could you tell us more about the university’s stance on the privacy issue regarding proctored exams?
I think the University really likes to say that they care about privacy but that is something different from actually caring. As a reference, the University has sort of a line for privacy which they do not cross with on-campus exams. For example, they do not join students when they go to the toilet, although they could still potentially have a cheat sheet with them which they could use during the toilet break. The University acknowledges that it is absurd to check on students when going to the bathroom, but now, it seems like there are no boundaries with proctoring, which I find shocking.
I understand. How would you picture a scenario in which the University actually cares for its students’ wellbeing?
Firstly, there has to be better communication. I personally think that most students feel like they are in this alone. Secondly, I think there are a lot of other alternatives out there that do not require proctoring. For instance, there's no other university in the Netherlands that implements the second camera to ensure its exams’ quality. I think that the ESE is simply overlooking other options that are out there that are also more student friendly, like open book examinations. Also, the Executive Board publicly stated that they want proctoring to be a last resort, but the ESE conducted the vast majority of its examinations with proctoring. It feels like there's a bit of a discrepancy between the standard set by the Executive Board and the ESE’s view on examination.
Lastly, what do you think will be the outcome of this week’s exams? Will the Executive Board reconsider its stance on the issue?
That’s the big question. The University ran some pilot tests in regard to implementing the 2nd camera and apparently got positive results. However, the fact that they have not yet published their results is worrisome! For instance, TU Delft has also done pilots for this, and keep in mind that it's mainly a tech university, and in the end, they deemed it too technologically complicated to introduce the 2nd camera set-up. So, my expectations are not optimistic. Quite the opposite! I think that it's going to be quite a technological disaster especially after having heard from students who completed the practice test with the new set-up.
We would like to thank Robbert for taking the time to reply to our questions and also applaud him and all the students who spoke up regarding this new exam policy, irrespective of the opinions they voiced. Last but not least, we hope your proctored exams went smoothly! Feel free to comment below your own experience with the new proctored exam set-up.