7 mins

Online Proctoring With AI Causes Anxiety for Students—Here's a Solution

Proctoring with a poorly designed AI-based system can result in a host of complications for students, educators, and institutions. From failing to identify test-takers to flagging benign behaviors as infractions to violating student privacy, the risks of substandard solutions are serious—and no one is more aware of this than students. Placing their academic and professional futures in the hands of potentially flawed software can make students feel profoundly vulnerable. It is no wonder then, that online proctoring AI anxiety has become a concerning issue.  

Some level of concern about test performance is normal. But for many students, the anxiety about online exams proctored by AI-driven software goes far beyond that and can have a devastating impact on psychological health. It can also damage academic performance.  

Anxiety, including non-clinical anxiety, has long been known to impair cognitive function and diminish motivation. A 2018 study also found that test anxiety specifically can lead students to exhibit motor agitation during online exams proctored via webcam—a discovery with serious implications for online learning.

  • Participants were eLearning students from a large public four-year university in the Midwest and a community college in the Midwest.
  • The observed behaviors included eye gaze shifting to the right/left, propping their head with their hand, scratching some part of the head or face, lip licking or lip biting, rubbing or picking at the lips, shifting or squirming in their seat, and lip reading the exam questions.
  • Lip licking or biting and clearing the throat (motor agitation associated with test anxiety) were correlated with lower exam scores.

Upon analysis, the researchers identified two pedagogical strategies that can support student needs and lessen anxiety:

  • Behavioral coping skills helped support students while taking their exams resulting in decreased anxiety.
  • Familiarizing students with virtual proctoring technology can lessen students’ anxiety.

Ideally, these strategies should be encouraged in any online testing environment. However, there is a significant barrier: poor AI proctoring technology may flag the student’s coping behaviors as infractions. In other words, the technology that is causing the anxiety also prevents students from taking meaningful action to address that anxiety.

With some systems, even the smallest movements, such as looking up or adjusting a seat, can be interpreted as potential acts of academic dishonesty. This not only keeps students from using the behavioral coping skills that could help them ease their anxiety, it may also intensify that anxiety.

Many students report fear of moving even an inch while taking exams, as it may trigger highly sensitive software with poorly trained AI. This raises questions regarding the ethics behind AI-based proctoring software. A student unable to move naturally during an exam is not being set up for success. In fact, their right to learn is being compromised. Institutions that understand and account for motor agitation associated with anxiety can give students the support they need to perform at their best—and it doesn’t mean avoiding online proctoring with AI. Rather, it means finding the right kind of AI and combining it with human insight.

Rosalyn’s human-in-the-loop proctoring system marries state-of-the-art AI with human wisdom to create more comfortable exam experiences, reduce anxiety, and remove barriers to learning.  

Our solution is trained on a large and diverse dataset that includes a broad spectrum of genders, ages, skin tones, ethnicities, and abilities, continually sharpening the system’s ability to treat all students fairly. This greatly reduces the risk of algorithmic bias and incorrect flagging of benign behaviors. But we don’t rely on AI alone; all flagged events are reviewed by a human proctor, and final decision-making rests with them. They can differentiate between movements caused by anxiety-related motor agitation or coping mechanisms and those that point to academic dishonesty. This means that students are safe to engage in anxiety-reducing behaviors. It may also mean they are less likely to experience anxiety in the first place.

Many students heading back to school this fall are already feeling an overwhelming sense of uncertainty and worry. Institutions must take great care to reduce the potential for online proctoring AI anxiety and encourage self-care throughout the testing process. In doing so, you are not only supporting better academic performance, but greater health and well-being.

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