Even after his classes went online last spring, William Scott Molina, a 31-year-old student at San Diego State University, thought his remote learning experience was going just fine. As required in one of his online courses, he downloaded and began using the Respondus LockDown Browser, custom software that prevents students from venturing outside of their testing page to ward off cheating.
Molina didn’t think much of the company until he started using its monitoring software for a business administration course over the summer and his webcam became a device to observe, record and study him during an exam.
By the end of the semester, Molina was the subject of multiple cheating accusations that consumed his academic life.
In the swift and chaotic pivot to virtual test-taking, companies like Respondus — along with competitors including Honorlock, ProctorU and Proctorio — have stepped in to help schools keep watch on students. Because the new digital tools are required in certain courses, students are being forced to subject themselves to surveillance inside their own homes and open themselves up to disputes over “suspicious activities,” as defined by an algorithm.