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Unfeeling AI and Assessment

As we approach the end of the semester in our new and unexpected distance delivery mode, the question of assessment is, if it wasn’t already, moving to the forefront of our and our students’ minds.

April 8, 2020
 
 

As we approach the end of the semester in our new and unexpected distance delivery mode, the question of assessment is, if it wasn’t already, moving to the forefront of our and our students’ minds. Even with flexible grading policies, assessments and grading remain fraught territory, with new modalities and formats to contend with. We’ve seen a move toward AI-powered proctoring software to ensure “academic integrity.” We’ve already read in this space the thoughts of Thomas J. Tobin on this issue, but we also need to think carefully about AI-powered proctoring.

As we try out new tools, it’s important to examine them critically for any potential limitations or issues. In his recent essay "Our Bodies Encoded: Algorithmic Test Proctoring in Higher Education," librarian and senior instructor Shea Swauger outlines some of the potential unintended consequences of using AI-powered proctoring solutions. It is an important read because it lays out ways in which tools like Proctorio can amplify racial and ableist discrimination, as well as signal to students that their course is not as inclusive a space as was perhaps initially indicated.

The examples laid out by Swauger highlight the ways in which a software like Proctorio does not take physical or mental disabilities into consideration, as the AI is trained on “normal” or ableist norms of behavior. Students who need to stand or move frequently, or who are unable to control their movements, will be flagged by the software, and while there are allowances that can be made, it is now up to the students to advocate for themselves for the proper accommodations, rather than the environment being a welcoming space for them.

As someone with ADHD, until reading this essay, I had not realized that much of my fidgeting and inability to sit still would be flagged by the software. I do not typically disclose my ADHD, and this behavior in a traditional class setting would be probably overlooked. However, I cannot help but think the added layer of scrutiny on my movements during an online test would cause me undue stress, focusing my attention on keeping still and not appear to be cheating, rather than on the test itself.

Swauger also highlights how “normal” is also coded as “white,” with the AI in many instances unable to “see” black faces and bodies. Our students risk being literally erased by AI, with stories of students having to put themselves under bright lights in order to be recognized by the AI, creating less than ideal testing conditions for the students. Again, the students’ attention becomes focused on elements that have little to do with their ability to show content mastery, but instead communicates to them that they are occupying space not meant for them.

If you do use or are thinking of using an AI-powered online proctoring solution, I encourage you to read Swauger’s essay in order to best mitigate the very real, albeit unintended, potential negative consequences, to help all of your students be as successful as possible in their assessment activities.

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