Student writing

While taking an online exam, it is common for Charlotte students to be required to use a program called LockDown Browser. Developed by Respondus, this application locks students out of everything on their computers, except for the exam. It also monitors students via audio and video. The program is designed to detect and prevent cheating. However, this program may do more harm than good.

Some students agree that LockDown Browser is unhelpful and causes excess stress––more than they would typically experience. Taking an exam is stressful enough, but using this program has students feeling surveilled and worried about seeming like cheaters. When the program suspects that a student is cheating, they get flagged.

This feature might be too easy to trigger. Simply glancing away from the screen for too long might appear suspicious. However, looking away from the screen for a brief moment is common for everyone, especially people with attention deficits or anxiety.

"A glance away from the computer or shifting my head in any direction that is out of view gets flagged," Hannah Presnell said, a Charlotte student who has used LockDown Browser for two classes. "This causes me more anxiety than normal because I feel like I can't even be comfortable taking an exam even if I know the content."

Another way to get flagged is through audio monitoring. Any significant amount of sound can be detected by the program. Alina Madsourivong is a Charlotte student who has used the program for a few courses. She feels that it's too easy to be flagged. When she takes an exam at home, she has to do it in a room where her family members might also need to be, meaning it won't always be quiet.

"When I'm in a room to take my test, my family will sometimes need to get things done in the same room," Madsourivong said. "Being potentially marked for any background noise they could be making seems ridiculous."

The awareness of being constantly monitored adds tension, regardless of whether or not a student intends on cheating. This particularly impacts students with disorders relating to anxiety or attention span. Their anxiety may cause them to take longer with the exam or perform poorly, which is not entirely fair.

"Throwing this add-on to the class will only inhibit their abilities to take the test," Madsourivong said. "They may feel more pressured having to behave in a certain way and may suffer more from their disorders."

Moreover, LockDown Browser is especially common within asynchronous, virtual classes. Because of this, some argue that online exams should be open-note. Tests often require more memorization than actual learning. Also, students usually have to do more to learn the content by themselves in online classes. "If the class is asynchronous, you are basically having to teach yourself," Presnell said.

According to the Respondus webpage, using LockDown Browser "increases confidence in online testing." Although, this confidence is only for instructors, not the students taking the exam. Supposedly, professors have the assurance that no cheating is occurring. Meanwhile, students feel more stressed about being watched or giving off the wrong impression.

"Some instructors resist online testing because they're concerned students can easily cheat," Respondus said. "LockDown Browser protects the integrity of online testing and gives faculty confidence in using it."

LockDown Browser has its benefits, such as locking students out of other applications and websites besides the exam. However, video and audio monitoring are unnecessary, especially for students struggling with attention and stress-related issues. Students who genuinely cannot concentrate with LockDown Browser should not be required to use it.