UW-Madison disabled the pause feature on its Honorlock software on March 11 after students stated that it failed to recognize their darker skin tone.
Officials from Honorlock, an online exam proctoring service meant to detect cheating, said the students were looking down or away from their screens during their exams. This then caused the software to pause the exam because it couldn’t detect the students’ facial features, according to NBC26 News. Honorlock has tried to discredit claims from students that the pause was activated because of skin tone.
“We’re disappointed that someone would attempt to make this connection, and we have no indication it is a valid concern,” Honorlock spokeswoman Tess Mitchell said to NBC26 News.
According to the Wisconsin State Journal, the university has been using Honorlock since last spring when classes went online.
“We shared the concerns that emerged here with Honorlock and they indicated that they have no data from our campus or others to indicate that the tool has difficulty recognizing certain skin colors,” UW-Madison Director of News and Media Relations Meredith McGlone said Monday. “Nonetheless, because of this and other concerns and out of an abundance of caution, we asked them to disable the exam pause feature for our campus and they did so.”
The software uses tools such as browser lockdowns, room scans and voice and face detection to monitor students during exams. The UW-Madison website describes the software feature as one that “flags certain behaviors that may be acts of academic misconduct, which the instructor can review after the student completes the exam.” The pause feature is an optional tool for instructors to enable.
“The university continues to offer support and training for instructors regarding Honorlock to improve students’ experiences and ensure it’s being used as effectively and fairly as possible,” McGlone said.
McGlone reiterated that the university is committed to academic integrity, noting that thorough reviews of student and faculty experiences will be conducted to inform future decisions about academic softwares.