A scroll down Wildfire, UNCG’s safety alert and campus social media app, reveals students with business propositions, memes, the occasional actual safety concern and complaints about classes and school. A more recent theme among these complaints, however, is a fear of the Respondus Lockdown computer software.
“Why do professors [make us download] [L]ockdown browser when it messes up my computer?” asked one anonymous user on the platform.
A quick search in the app reveals many complaints and anecdotes about Wildfire hurting their computers, or fears that it might based off of other students’ stories. There are stories about the computer being unusable, or certain features such as the microphone on the computer not working properly.
The Respondus Lockdown Browser is a software used in academia to prevent or reduce cheating during online exams. The browser shuts down a vast list of other programs in the background and not allowing you to leave the browser until you have completed your exam. The browser also records students via audio and their camera during the exam with sensors to flag any suspicious activity for the professor to review.
“ We didn’t want Respondus on our laptops because we read reviews on them and they’re not very good. Some people have been hacked, it’s messed up their computers.”
These concerns are not just voiced by UNCG students, either. Gaylord News in April 2020 covered similar concerns of nursing students at Rose State College.
Second-year nursing student Daysha Black spoke to the publication at the time about her concerns in their article “Online classes lead to claims of privacy invasion.”
“I’m not using my own laptop so I didn’t feel comfortable having to download the app even though [my professor] made us,” Black said in her interview. “ We didn’t want Respondus on our laptops because we read reviews on them and they’re not very good. Some people have been hacked, it’s messed up their computers.”
Another anonymous student from Rose State College’s nursing program affirmed Black’s statements and added that after using the browser, they experienced problems with their computers.
While specific details are difficult to track down about the technological failure, that is not the only concern students have about the Lockdown Browser. Some have pointed to a troubling clause in the terms of service for the browser. The clause is as follows.
“The use of Respondus Monitor will require individual student activity to be recorded, both audibly and visually, during certain assessment sessions,” says the terms of service. “Other data related to individual student activity during assessment sessions may also be recorded by Respondus Monitor, such as, for example, without limitation, time taken by a student to answer specific inquiries on an assessment, etc.”
Some point to this as a potential for abuse from system administrators. However, farther down their are several clauses outlining methods Respondus Lockdown has to protect the privacy of students, including making the recordings impossible to share and the system deleting unflagged audio and video after an hour.
While it is more difficult to reassure in regards to the issues with technology, the website for Respondus Lockdown does have a troubleshooting section for common scenarios.
Students are still uncomfortable with the Lockdown Browser but it seems it is here to stay.