Federal case to set example for online proctoring

By Christopher Gillett

For the last five years — especially during the pandemic — Youngstown State University has employed class-proctoring services for online classes and remote learning. A recent court case could change the university’s policy and limit use of these apps.

These applications proctored tests to prevent cheating and ensure students were in an appropriate test-taking environment.

The apps’ use increased markedly during quarantine, but they were being used by the university beforehand. The app Examity was an option for several years before the pandemic and Respondus was implemented right before the pandemic, already seeing extensive use.

The environmental scan in particular has caused recent legal debate. The apps provide other proctoring features such as having students hold up their identification, recording students during exams, and flagging behaviors that might be considered cheating.

Jessica Chill, director of the department of cyberlearning, which focuses on educational technology such as online proctoring, learning and Blackboard, explained what an environmental scan is.

“The environmental check is whenever it’s doing the automated [check]. It’s going to ask you to take your computer and turn it around so you can see the room to make sure there’s nothing obvious in the open area,” Chill said.

YSU uses the apps Respondus and Examity in particular. Respondus employs environmental scans. Examity currently does live proctoring where a person watches the student as they take an exam.

Cleveland State University also employed proctoring services. This was to the objection of Aaron Ogletree, a freshmen chemistry major in Spring 2021, when he was asked to deploy this technology at his home.

He brought a lawsuit against the university, arguing that the use of such technology violated the Fourth Amendment which established the right against unreasonable searches and seizures. 

Ogletree’s lawyers also argued the environmental scans were bad at cheating prevention, negating any benefits. 

Greg Morgione, associate general consul for YSU, explained the unique nature of the case and how YSU differs from CSU.

“The case has a lot of unique circumstances or factors to it that are atypical of what goes on here at YSU. In the Ogletree case, the scan was done over a Zoom, so you had other students that were able to view Mr. Ogletree’s bedroom at the time. That is not what happens here through our approved software platforms,” Morgione said.

According to Morgione, the pandemic’s quarantine played a role.

“I believe Cleveland State offered for Mr. Ogletree to come to campus and take the test by himself in a room but he had some health concerns and I believe it was also indicated in the facts of the case that he had some family members that were high risk. So he chose not to do that,” Morgione said.

The case was brought to federal court where Judge J. Philip Calabrese ruled in favor of Ogletree on August 22, 2022. Following the decision, YSU’s department of cyberlearning sent an email recommending professors cease environmental scans.

Williamson College of Business Administration frequently used online proctoring. Class and test sizes in WCBA can be 200 students. Kelly Wilkinson, dean of the business college, gave her opinion on the case.

“When you’re speaking of teaching, if you have 300 [students] in a class giving assessments and feedback becomes a challenge. This was a way to ensure integrity as well as be able to grade and get student feedback, but there will be other ways of doing it,” Wilkinson said. “There will be something we can use, and it may be as simple as changing the assessment.”

The case is not completely settled as the judge ordered both sides to come to an agreement, originally on Sept. 12 but now Sept. 16. The final results could mean a lot for YSU, as both YSU and CSU are public universities in Ohio. CSU or Ogletree could decide to appeal. YSU has not made a new official policy for online proctoring, only recommendations, which many faculty are following.

The Jambar will follow the case.