Do Lockdown Browsers Prevent Cheating?

As schools and universities make the shift to online exams, they are looking for ways to effectively protect the integrity of assessments. Some universities have opted for expensive online proctoring services while others are choosing lockdown browsers instead. 

What does a lockdown browser do exactly? Each has a slightly different function, but generally, they take control of the students’ computer during an exam and prevent actions which could result in cheating. The most used lockdown browser is the one designed by Respondus. According to their website, the Respondus LockDown Browser is a “custom browser that locks down the testing environment within a learning management system.” The website also lists specific methods such as: 

  • Assessments are displayed full-screen and cannot be minimized 
  • Browser menu and toolbar options are removed, except for Forward, Back, Refresh, and Stop. 
  • Prevents access to other applications. 
  • Print and Screen Capture functions are disabled. 
  • Copy/Paste functionality prevented. 
  • Right-click menus, function keys, keyboard shortcuts, and task switching is disabled. 
  • Assessments cannot be exited until a student submits it for grading 
  • Assessments set for the LockDown browser cannot be accessed from other browsers. 

But there are flaws that arise with the LockDown browser. First, it is optional to use webcam monitoring with the browser. Webcam monitoring does seem like a stronger way to enforce the anti-cheating by including features like eye-tracking, but webcams can be hard to come by, especially now with the demand for them being extremely high, but the global supply somewhat depleted. Second, the licensing for the LockDown browser can be too expensive for some universities. Those universities who cannot pay for licensing just pass the cost to their students to pay (or overpay) for. 

The biggest threat to lockdown browsers is the availability of other devices. Most students have access to another internet-capable device of some kind. While their primary computer may be locked down with the browser restrictions, any student who wishes to lookup answers on the internet could do so on a secondary device, such as a smartphone. Even with the webcam monitoring available, those who wish to use their smartphones to look up information can do so without being detected. In other words, the smartphone can greatly reduce the effectiveness of browsers like the Respondus LockDown Browser.  

Since most college students have access to another device which will circumvent most lockdown browsers, universities should look to some alternate solutions if they wish to be more thorough in preventing cheating. Some might even say, if there is a will, there is a way.

Author: Quinn Johnson, Tech Assistant