Will there ever be any appropriate consequences for the Machiavellian politicians, incompetent health professionals, irresponsible teachers and fear-mongering journalists who collectively pushed the United States into a foolish, destructive and reckless lockdown in response to the Wuhan virus and its relatives? The harm inflicted on the nation, its culture and the public has been , and continues to be, catastrophic. In comparison to so many of the disastrous results of this deep self-inflicted wound, the travails of a young student unjustly accused of cheating doesn’t seem that consequential. What it demonstrates, however, is how many victims of the Wuhan Virus Ethics Train Wreck we don’t know about. I’m sure there are millions.
In truth, we know there are millions. For example, millions of people were forced to take bar exams, tests and quizzes alone at home on their laptops. Such conditions are not conducive to trustworthy or even meaningful tests, but never mind: the education community was willing to sacrifice learning for fear and bad science. Then there was the special bonus of getting rid of President Trump by knee-capping the economy.
At least remote proctoring companies boomed, offering web browser extensions that “detect keystrokes and cursor movements, collect audio from a computer’s microphone, and record the screen and the feed from a computer’s camera, bringing surveillance methods used by law enforcement, employers and domestic abusers into an academic setting.” Of course, as we learned in “War Games,” handing over critical tasks requiring judgments to machines has its drawbacks.
A Florida teenager was in the final year of a special program that would earn her a high school diploma and an associate degree. Along with 40 other students in her biology class, she never had face-to-face interaction with fellow students or the instructor; the Broward College class was remote and “asynchronous”—the students didn’t even all attend it at the same time.
To take her exam, the student set up her laptop in her living room and followed a long list of rules in the class syllabus and dictated by Honorlock—the anti-cheating monitoring system being used by Broward. She was not to eat or drink, use a phone, have others in the room, look offscreen to read notes, and other taboo behaviors. She had to pose in front of her laptop camera for a photo, show her student ID, and then pick her laptop up and use its camera to provide a 360-degree scan of the room to prove she didn’t have any forbidden material.
The student followed all of the edicts and thought the test went well, but days afterwards, she received an email from Dr. Orridge, the professor whom she had never met or spoken to in real time. It informed her that she was flagged as cheating by Honorlock, because she had been observed “looking down and away from the screen before answering many questions.” This meant, her Phantom Professor explained, that she was getting a zero on the exam and being referred to the dean of student affairs. “If you are found responsible for academic dishonesty the grade of zero will remain,” Dr. Orridge wrote.
The New York Times reviewed the video of her taking the test, and saw what the artificial intelligence technology also saw: she looked down frequently after reading a question and before responding. It concluded that the video was ambiguous. The student said she looked down when thinking. That was as plausible an explanation as anything else. If the professor had actually seen the student in a class, she might have known that. But the video and verdict of the computer was good enough for the professor and the dean
The student was found “responsible” for “noncompliance with directions,” resulting in a zero on the exam and a warning on her record.
She graduated from the program last month, but the cheating verdict remains on her record. (If she decided to become a lawyer, it could bar her from membership in a state bar.) Now she says she is learning to be “like a mannequin during tests.”
And one more human being is forced into convenient conformity after being punished without fair due process. There is a persuasive and well-written petition on Change.org asking for the use of algorithm-based monitoring systems like Honorlock to cease. It has attracted 545 signatures in two years.