With exams in full swing, students are hunkering down and buckling in to study. With midterms as one of the most stressful times in a student’s academic life, universities should be doing all they can to encourage effective and smooth preparation. But in the case of the University of Connecticut and many others, there is a major hurdle students must overcome before even approaching their exams: LockDown Browser. In recent years, students shudder at the thought of this incredibly problematic testing software.
LockDown Browser prevents students from copying, pasting and printing exam questions for later use or sharing them with peers. The program effectively limits the window so students are unable to open any other applications or tabs unless the professor specifically permits them to. Many universities, including UConn, only started using it during the pandemic, with the idea that it would cease online exam cheating. However, in this day and age, students’ access to multiple devices, most commonly a cell phone, undermines the system entirely. While this was initially used to prevent cheating during the pandemic, it seems almost useless given that students were at home with access to notes, other devices etc. So why are we using it now? The circumstances don’t really change whether a student is in their room or the library, thus LockDown Browser doesn’t actually do much to prevent cheating.
The program is intended to be used in a proctored environment, and if not, to be used with the Respondus Monitor program, a software that uses a webcam to monitor students’ environment. This in itself is an incredibly invasive and extreme violation of privacy. Granted, some versions require a webcam while others do not. While this may seem a less intrusive method, it is deceivingly not so. Once installed on the computer, the software takes full control of the device and makes it more vulnerable to malfunction and attacks. LockDown Browser’s poor security may lock students out of their computers and doesn’t protect against private data breaches.
Furthermore, not only is the program essentially ineffective and potentially damaging to a student’s device, but it is also incredibly difficult to get started in the first place. The website advertises the program as easily compatible with most systems; however, that is quite frankly false. Personally, I had to go through five different computers and three different types. Starting off with a Mac, the software wouldn’t start; after contacting both UConn IT and Respondus IT themselves, they both said it is a common problem, with no realistic solution. After going to Best Buy IT with no further luck, they recommended I find a cheap computer that would be compatible. The program is quite often non-compatible with Google Chrome, one of the most popular platforms used, which specifically impacts Chromebooks. Students who cannot afford to get an entire new device for exclusively test taking –which is absurd in the first place and an incredibly expensive, unrealistic and appalling expectation to place on students – who are left scrambling to get the problem fixed or acquire one of the severely limited loaner computers UConn provides. The program flags students for cheating if they press a key too many times in a row; in the case of one friend of mine, it was just a sticky key. She was locked out of her test ten minutes into it. And this experience seems to be almost universal. With a whopping 1.2 star rating in the App Store, LockDown Browser reviews span from “ruining AP exams” to “might as well not take the exam.” The UConn IT website has over one hundred pages just for LockDown Browser technical problems varying from being unable to open it to freezing, crashing and losing exams.
A staggering 2,000 plus institutions use LockDown Browser as advertised by their website, securing 200 million exams per year, as one of the most common, yet one of the least efficient ways to ensure exam integrity and security. Students have been taking exams online and off years before the pandemic and LockDown, so what changed that it still needs to be used now? Some schools have banned the use of it entirely due to its problematic nature, and plenty of professors within UConn don’t use it at all and still seem to combat cheating. All in all, LockDown Browser isn’t worth it and is hindering students’ education when it is meant to do the exact opposite. And while academic integrity is an essential part of these tests and universities, this ineffective method should not come at such a high cost.