In order to find a solution, in April rector magnificus Frank van der Duijn Schouten proposed setting up a committee to analyse the main issues relating to online proctoring and come up with recommendations. He was joined on the committee by members of the University Council, representatives from among the deans and the examination boards, as well as policy officers in the fields of ICT and education. The committee has now reported its findings and recommends thirteen changes to the policy, in both the short and longer terms. The Executive Board has adopted the recommendations.
In a joint statement, the committee members say that the second camera is ‘necessary in the short term’, but that it ‘takes a heavy toll on student lives’. They also published a report explaining the thirteen recommendations for the short, mid and long terms.
Less invasion of privacy
Van der Duijn Schouten says that seven recommendations were already implemented on 15 June. From now on, lecturers must defend the need for online proctoring for each exam. The second camera may be positioned nearer the laptop, meaning that less of the student’s room is visible and thus creating less invasion of privacy. Examination boards must also communicate more explicitly that alternative forms of examination are possible if personal circumstances – such as stress, an inconvenient home workplace or religious reasons – require this. If anything goes wrong, through no fault of the student, the resit will be registered as a first attempt. The committee also asks the university to create more space for offline examinations (on Monday, the Erasmus School of Economics matched words with deeds by holding a big exam in Ahoy).
In the longer term, alternatives must be explored in as many ways as possible. Faculty councils or programme committees must obtain the right of consent or advice for the flow chart with which lecturers decide whether they can use online proctoring. The committee also wants the university to reach agreements with universities abroad to organise exams on campus for EUR students who cannot come to Rotterdam due to coronavirus.
I definitely feel we can justify this compromise to the students who signed the petitions against the second camera’
‘Second camera does add value’
Committee member Bram Heesen, one of the students in the University Council who considered legal action, is pleased with the compromise that has been reached. “These are very specific measures for students: for every online proctored exam, they can go to the examination board to request an alternative form of exam; they no longer need to have an entire room scan, just one wall. You may now place the second camera on the desk instead of behind you. I think that students will be very pleased with that.”
Nevertheless, the second camera is still compulsory, and wasn’t that where it all started? Heesen: “You must always consider the validity of diplomas against the burden borne by the student. Through these modifications, that consideration falls on the side of a second camera. In some cases, it does add value for the student, for example because the images from the second camera can be used to eliminate any doubts of alleged fraud. So, I definitely feel we can justify this compromise to the students who signed the petitions against the second camera. It’s a good result, also for them.”
How did it nearly come to legal action now that a compromise has been proved possible? Couldn’t the Executive Board have been more responsive to students’ concerns? Van der Duijn Schouten: “That’s difficult for me to answer: I took up the position of rector in January when the situation was already ongoing. I’ve always looked for a solution that was acceptable to all parties. Maybe things might have been different if I’d been involved from the start. But in November, the Executive Board was suddenly confronted with the possibility of fraud via the screen. The Executive Board then rightly took responsibility for installing that second camera. I feel it is good that we are now making these changes, but a lot of consultation was needed to achieve them. That was difficult to do in November.”
‘Abolishing [online proctoring] does add to the workload of our staff’
So, online proctoring will be a ‘last resort’, but that was the intention all along. Nevertheless, some faculties managed to organise nearly all their exams with proctoring software. That must now change, says Van der Duijn Schouten. “We are particularly investigating whether we can prevent online proctoring. That might be possible by dividing up groups or choosing other forms of examinations. At Rotterdam School of Management, for example, they don’t use online proctoring much at all. Abolishing it does add to the workload of our staff, however. That’s the dilemma we face.”
The situation with respect to online education and proctoring in the new academic year is difficult to foresee, according to Van der Duijn Schouten. “We are still having discussions with the Ministry, which will decide about social distancing restrictions in mid-August. Many universities are assuming that these restrictions will be lifted, which would mean more opportunities for offline examinations.”
Was the threat of legal action a weapon or did it bring the students in the University Council the compromise they hoped for? Heesen still supports the decision to explore the possibility of legal action. “It put the subject clearly on the table. We really felt that what the university was doing wasn’t right. Obviously, legal action is your last option, and we’re glad it didn’t come to that,” says Heesen.
Van der Duijn Schouten emphasises that taking legal steps is a legitimate form of action. “The option is open to council members and I don’t want to deny them that right. However, I feel that you must always do your utmost to find a solution together, and I’m delighted that we finally managed to do that.” Heesen: “The feeling’s mutual.”