By Breegan Petruska
As colleges across the country have resorted to online and virtual teaching, many of these schools have turned to a new browser to help prevent students from cheating. The Lockdown Browser gains access to students’ video and audio on their computer to record them during tests.
Before accessing the test, there are a number of steps the student must take inside of the browser in order to take their test. They have to be in a quiet room where no one else is present. The student must show their surrounding environment to prove that there are no phones, papers, books, etc. They must record a practice video, showing their face in a box on the screen, that will be monitored during the test, and they must show their ID to the camera to show that they are who they say they are.
According to the Respondus website, “LockDown Browser is a custom browser that locks down the testing environment within a learning management system. Used at over 1,500 higher educational institutions, LockDown Browser is the ‘gold standard’ for securing online exams in classrooms or proctored environments.”
At Grand Rapids Community College, a number of online classes are using the lockdown browser this semester instead of having those students come to campus for testing. This is helping reduce the number of students on campus while helping ensure that these students are not cheating on their tests at home.
Dave Murray, the communications director at GRCC, gave some insight on what it means at GRCC to invest in the Lockdown Browser.
“The safety and wellness of GRCC students is a top priority. We want to be able to offer testing remotely, so additional students don’t need to come to campus, especially those who have been working in online, hybrid and virtual real-time environments,” Murray wrote in an email to The Collegiate. “The LockDown Browser allows students to take exams through Blackboard, GRCC’s learning management system. Once an assessment has started, student monitors are ‘locked in’ to the testing environment, and stay in it until the student is ready to submit the test for grading. It preserves the integrity of the exam, and decreases distractions to students as they focus on the test.”
Even though this browser is used at schools across the country, it is not free like commonly used software, like Google Chrome. The cost of the browser is dependent on the number of students a school buys a license for.
“The college invests $4,585 for an annual license for the software, and that comes from the budget’s general fund,” Murray stated. “It’s one step of many the college has adopted as we work through the pandemic and keep our students safe.”
Frank Conner, the Faculty Association President, and Psychology Dept. Head at GRCC, used the Lockdown Browser in his classes. He started using it for makeup tests in his classes last semester and uses it for all of his online classes this semester.
“My biggest reason for using it is I can allow more time on an online test,” Conner wrote in an email to the Collegiate. “Time is oftentimes used as a way to manage the integrity of the test; if the students only have so much time, they don’t have time to look up answers. However, with the lockdown browser and camera, I feel like students cannot easily look up the answers and thus I am willing to give them more time. My feedback from students is they appreciate the extra time and don’t mind the browser requirement.”
After using this browser and evaluating the feedback from his colleagues and students, Conner plans to continue to use the software in future semesters and classes.
This browser is used by over 1,500 schools and colleges across the country, and there has been a mix of positive and negative feedback from students.
Inayah Hakeem, GRCC’s Student Alliance president, shared her thoughts on the browser.
“Lockdown Browser is an aggressive means of control and insensitive regulation imposed on virtual students,” Hakeem said. “From my experience, there are other ways to ensure students are completing quality work in an honest manner. For example, the semi-frequent checking in on students by professors to encourage accountability seems more effective than a sans-noise, sans-movement surveillance system.”
Bryn Mortensen, 19, from Kent City, is a former GRCC student who is currently finishing up her degree at Grand Valley State University. She has used the Lockdown Browser and has had a hard time with it this semester.
“I personally feel like the lockdown browser adds more stress and anxiety to the student taking the test,” Mortensen said. “Not only do we already have stress going into the test but the added stress, I feel, reduces our test scores. I have to look away from the screen because my eyes start to hurt, but then the browser won’t let you and flags you for looking away. Because you took a break, you get questioned about cheating.”
Elizabeth Sible, 19, also from Kent City, is a freshman at Hillsdale College. Her experience with the browser has left her with mixed feelings.
“I’ve only had to use it once for one of my classes,” Sible said. “It was, for the most part, a positive experience. Occasionally it would not recognize my face and switch to a different screen to remind me to not look away or down. In the moment, I would get frustrated because I was wasting my precious time waiting for it to bring back my test.”
Another student who has found themselves struggling with the software is Brandon Toppel of Wyoming, who is a junior at Davenport University. He is studying data structures and algorithms. Toppel used the Lockdown Browser in his computer programming class.
“It would change the way the icons on the desktop were arranged after each use,” Toppel said. “It would also make the computer itself stop working after it was used. I built my computer myself, so there should be no reason why the computer would stop working. I would have to restart the whole computer after each use of the browser.”
While not a fan of the browser, back at GRCC, Hakeem said, “I do applaud institutions for using this software in (an) effort to harbor the legitimacy of western schooling, however, Lockdown Browser does not accommodate the realities of students’ lifestyles. But what’s school without timed and monitored test-taking? All in all, it is just another form of adaptation on an institutional level: since students can’t be physically monitored while test-taking, virtual monitoring will be the new black.”