/ 23 March 2021

STUDENTS of the University of San Carlos in Cebu questioned the school’s policy that requires them to turn on their mic and camera and use a customized browser that prevents them from cheating during online examinations.

Rise for Education-USC chapter said that professors immediately required the students to install the Respondus-Lockdown Browser without prior notice and without addressing the privacy issues of the browser.

“First and foremost, SAS Bulletin would like to raise the concerns of privacy and the browser potentially damaging an electronic device (i.e., a personal computer and laptops), concerns which were largely ignored. Some even dismissed it as mere hearsay, and that this would not happen if the browser is installed correctly,” the group said in a statement.

“However, as some SAS students can attest, the browser has succeeded in slowing some students’ devices down, with effects ranging from slight reductions in performance to sudden self-restarting,” it added.

R43-USC also noted that some students don’t even have personal computers or laptops and only use mobile devices for their online classes.

“Not all students can afford to download the browser considering the risks that come with it. Computers are not cheap, and most certainly are not homogenous enough in quality to ensure that there will be no risk whatsoever that the aforementioned damage would completely lock a student from schooling,” R43-USC said.

However, Fr. Jesuraj Anthoniappen, vice president for Academic Affairs, explained that teachers were advised to consider students’ concerns such as lack of gadgets and internet connectivity.

“Non-compliance due to technical issues will not affect the performance or grades of the students. And faculty members will exercise utmost leniency towards students in this troubling time,” Anthoniappen said.

Anthoniappen also pointed out that Respondus-Lockdown Browser has been used by educators for over 13 years and is being used in administering at least 100 million online exams annually.

“There has never been a situation where Respondus has distributed a version of Lockdown Browser that had a virus/malware attached to it. It does not access the student’s webcam outside the examination environment. As soon as the student submits the exam, the camera stops recording and is effectively disconnected from the Respondus application,” he explained.

But R43-USC reiterated that institutions are not liable for computer or gadget damages as what is stated in the “Respondus Terms of Use for Students.”

They also said the university must first seek the students’ consent “as the software collects a lot of data and modify users’ registry extensively.”

“The fact that data about students’ homes and potentially even their IDs are collected and saved online is alarming. Even more alarming is the fact that Respondus waives liability for any security breaches,” the group said.

“The USC administration should likewise consult students first in policies that directly affect us, as students have the right to be heard and be part of the decision-making process. We hope that, in a time of socioeconomic insecurity, students are not placed in a precarious position, where our rights are infringed,” it added.