Frequently asked questions
This FAQ was developed to provide answers to student questions on topics like why Respondus is in use at McMaster, how to prepare for an assessment with Respondus, common “what if…?” scenarios and data privacy. You can also check out this infographic for a quick overview of how Respondus works and this infographic for a breakdown of how to prep for writing a test using Respondus.
What is Respondus, and how does it work?
Respondus can refer to two different online proctoring tools: Respondus Lockdown Browser and Respondus Monitor. These tools are often used together during a remote assessment, but Lockdown Browser can also be used individually. Respondus is a downloadable application that will need to be installed prior to the assessment, but there is no obligation to retain these programs on your computer after an assessment is complete.
Respondus Lockdown Browser is an application that locks functions of your computer during an assessment to discourage cheating. For example, while using Lockdown Browser, you won’t be able to open a Google search, access files on your computer or navigate away from the assessment screen. It also locks certain functions like copy-paste, messaging, screen sharing and print screen. For more information about how Lockdown Browser works, visit the Respondus website.
Respondus Monitor is an application that uses your webcam to record you during a remote assessment, and can be used as an extra feature on top of Lockdown Browser. These recordings are then analyzed using artificial intelligence to flag any suspicious activity that is consistent with cheating — for example, if the person taking the assessment switches to someone else halfway through. It’s important to note, though, that being flagged does not immediately lead to disciplinary action. Any activity that is flagged by the system is then submitted to your instructor for review. For more information on how Monitor works, visit the Respondus website.
What are McMaster’s terms for online proctoring?
McMaster reviewed seven online proctoring solutions before selecting Respondus. The use of Respondus will be continually evaluated throughout the one-year license agreement. Key priorities identified by the steering committee included:
- Use of artificial intelligence rather than in-person, human proctoring
- Validation of student identity
- Integration with Avenue to Learn for ease of access
- Compatibility with McMaster’s accessibility requirements
- Adherence to McMaster’s privacy and security requirements
Why is Respondus being used at McMaster?
Invigilation, whether online or in person, can be a useful tool for ensuring the integrity of the individual assessment and, by extension, your McMaster degree. While there are many avenues for assessing your learning during traditional assessments, Respondus helps promote integrity the same way an invigilator or instructor would during an in-person exam — by checking for activity that corresponds with cheating. It helps keeps everyone in the class honest, so that students enter an assessment on a level playing field.
Respondus was chosen after an in-depth Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) by staff in the Privacy and Information Security Offices. For more information, check the “privacy and data collection” FAQ set.
Will all instructors at McMaster use Respondus?
No — while instructors may choose to use Respondus, there are lots of other assessment methods that your instructor may use. The course syllabus will let you know if a course will use Respondus during assessments.
How does Respondus meet McMaster’s accessibility standards?
Respondus aligns with McMaster’s accessibility requirements and supports a variety of browsers and devices for assistive technologies. In addition to Respondus, Student Accessibility Services will rely on a mix of solutions, including Microsoft Teams and Zoom, to support human intervention from McMaster proctors. For more information on how to best meet examination accommodation needs, please visit the SAS website.
If you use assistive devices, contact SAS for testing before writing tests/exams.
Who can I contact with other questions or concerns?
If you have questions or concerns not addressed in this FAQ, you can always contact your course instructor about the use of Respondus. Specific questions and concerns can also be sent to:
- Data storage, computer systems, file corruption, etc.: UTS helpdesk
- Exam-related anxiety: Student Wellness Centre
- Assistive devices and accessibility: Student Accessibility Services
- How online proctoring supports student integrity: email@example.com
- Privacy-related concerns: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Other related concerns: email@example.com
Do I need to create a profile to use Respondus?
No, Respondus doesn’t require students to create a profile.
What identification do I need to verify my identity for an exam?
You’ll be asked to show your student ID at the beginning of an assessment the same way you would in an in-person environment. If you don’t have a student ID yet, make sure to contact your department to arrange for it to be sent to you prior to your assessment. The ID can be printed if you don’t have a physical card. It’s recommended that you don’t use other forms of identification, as these contain additional personal information that’s not provided on your student ID.
What should I do to prepare for an assessment using Respondus?
Prepare your assessment environment:
- Tell your roommates, parents, siblings or any other individuals in your home the date and time of your assessment and that you will be recorded. Ask them to stay outside of the area during the assessment.
- Find a room or space in your home with minimal personal information in view (e.g., photographs). The best location, where possible, is in front of a blank wall or closed door.
- Make sure you have everything you need for your assessment. This could include any study aids your instructor has approved, your student ID, a glass of water or a comfortable chair.
Prepare your computer:
- Make sure you have the latest supported updates to your operating system installed prior to your assessment date.
- Close all open applications, other than what will be allowed during the assessment (e.g., Avenue to Learn), prior to starting Respondus. Closing applications yourself before starting Respondus is preferrable to letting Respondus close them for you.
- Open Respondus and Avenue to Learn at least 10 minutes before your assessment begins.
I use an assistive device. Do I need to do anything extra to prepare?
If you use assistive devices, contact Student Accessibility Services for testing before writing tests/exams.
How do I prepare my computer to work with Respondus?
Check out this helpful article, written by University Technology Services (UTS): Preparing your computer to work with Respondus.
My laptop does not have a webcam. How can I use the proctoring tool?
If your laptop does not have a functional webcam, you can apply for support to purchase necessary technology via the COVID-19 Student Emergency Relief Fund.
Read this article to explore methods to use your mobile device as a webcam.
Please note: University Technology Services (UTS) does not provide technical support for devices not owned by the university. We recommend that you test a workaround in advance of your scheduled test.
What can I expect when the Lockdown Browser is in use?
- The assessment will be displayed full-screen, and you won’t be able to minimize it.
- The browser menu and toolbar options will be temporarily removed, except for back, forward, refresh and stop.
- You usually won’t be able to access websites, although your instructor may identify specific websites that will be allowed.
- Access to other applications including messaging, screen sharing, virtual machines and remote desktop will be temporarily blocked.
- Printing and screen capture functions will be temporarily blocked.
- You won’t be able to copy and paste anything to or from the assessment.
- Right-click menu options, function keys, keyboard shortcuts and task switching will be temporarily blocked.
What if my recording is flagged as suspicious — even if I wasn’t cheating?
While tests and exams in any environment can be stressful, we know that online invigilation can feel less flexible than in-person assessment. Will an involuntary movement, like an itch or sneeze, result in a flag? What if you catch yourself inadvertently gazing out a window, or if you need to drink water or use the bathroom?
While it’s possible these could result in a flag from the system, don’t worry — your instructor will review any flagged activity the same way they would survey the room in an in-person environment. This means it will be up to a human, and not a computer, which cases are investigated further.
What if something unexpected happens during the assessment?
Don’t panic. Remember that it will be your instructor who determines which recordings indicate academic misconduct. Sometimes things happen that are outside our control — and that’s okay. If possible, explain to the camera what has happened, note the time and email your instructor afterwards. We’ve put together some common “what if” scenarios in this FAQ more details on what to do.
What if I need to use the washroom?
Although it’s best to use the washroom before an assessment begins, if you need to use the washroom during the assessment, simply say to the camera “I’m going to use the washroom” before leaving the camera view. Note the time you left, and email your instructor after the assessment to explain — that way, when they’re reviewing the recordings later, they’ll know what happened.
What if the fire alarm goes off or another emergency happens?
If a fire alarm goes off or there is another emergency that occurs while writing your assessment, the first priority is your safety. If safe to do so, explain to the camera why you’re leaving, note the time, follow emergency protocols and email your instructor afterwards to explain the situation. If there’s no time to explain in the moment (again, your safety comes first!), simply connect with your instructor after.
What if I feel ill?
If you feel ill before you start your assessment, consider whether you need to submit a Request for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work (MSAF). If you start to feel ill during the assessment, and you don’t think you can complete it, exit the assessment and contact your Associate Dean’s Office or Program Office once your situation has stabilized.
What if someone comes into the room during an assessment?
Before your assessment, make sure to let everyone in your home know that you have an assessment and that you’ll be recorded. Sometimes, though, the unexpected can happen — a child could enter the room without realizing or a roommate could forget that you’re writing a test. Stay calm, ask the person to leave the space and send a note to your instructor afterwards explaining the situation.
What if I sneeze, move involuntarily or catch myself gazing out the window?
Keep in mind that, even if your recording is flagged as potentially suspicious behaviour, your instructor will review the recording before deciding whether or not to pursue an investigation into potential academic misconduct. Sneezing does not equate to cheating, unless there is other evidence your instructor observes that academic misconduct has occurred.
What if I need to take a drink of water?
It’s good practice to have something to eat and to drink some water before the assessment, but it’s also okay to drink water during your test or exam.
What are the minimum requirements for my computer to use Respondus?
To use Respondus, you should have one of the following systems:
- Windows: 10, 8.7; Windows 10S is not a compatible operating system.
- Mac: macOS 10.12 to 11.1.
- iOS: 11.0+ (iPad only). You must have a compatible Avenue to Learn login.
To use Respondus Monitor, you’ll also need to have a webcam. If you don’t have the equipment needed to complete your assessment with Respondus, you may be eligible for emergency financial support. You can also reach out to your instructor to discuss your situation and develop solutions prior to the assessment.
Will Respondus damage or corrupt files on my computer?
While there has been concern expressed on social media platforms, there has been no evidence of damaged or corrupted files on a student computer as a result of completing an exam using Respondus at McMaster. For more information on how to prepare your computer to for an exam using Respondus, check out this article from UTS. If you suspect that your computer has been damaged as a result of Respondus use in an assessment, contact the UTS HelpDesk. You will need to provide your device to assess the claim of damage.
What if I experience a technical difficulty during an assessment with Respondus?
For technical issues during an exam, you can contact Respondus directly via their 24/7/365 live chat. You can access this chat from within the application during the assessment. If you have any issues accessing Respondus or related to Avenue to Learn, you can contact the Avenue to Learn service desk. Your instructor may also be available to support you during the exam or provide you with additional support contact information.
Who will have access to the information collected while I’m using Respondus, and how will that information be used?
Audio and video recordings, as well as any additional data about computer use during the assessment, will be accessed first and foremost by your instructor. This information will help them identify if there is a possibility of cheating and if your case requires follow-up.
Other than your instructor, this data will only be shared with relevant University staff who require the information to perform their duties related to academic integrity. For example, staff involved with the investigation of academic misconduct may review your audio and video recordings and additional data to inform their decision on whether or not your case constitutes a breach of the McMaster’s Academic Integrity Policy. Other staff who may need to access this data include your teaching assistant, proctor(s) authorized by your Faculty and Avenue to Learn administrators.
Access to data collected through Respondus is restricted to instructors directly responsible for courses and other relevant university staff in the cases outlined above. It is stored in the Amazon Warehouse Solution (AWS) within Canada, which has dedicated oversight for privacy and information security activities.
Respondus does collect anonymized, aggregated data on the use of its service to help improve performance, diagnose problems, and detect and prevent fraud and abuse of its services and systems.
What security measures are in place to protect student data?
Respondus uses industry-standard Transport Layer Security (TLS) encryption to transfer data. Respondus uses independent, third-party security firms to perform “penetration testing” of the Respondus system. This includes a review of the Respondus architecture and testing for vulnerabilities and exploits. However, no data transmission over the Internet is 100% secure for any service or system. Find out more about data privacy protection for information stored at AWS.
In addition, if students access Respondus through Avenue to Learn, the University further supports information security with a secure firewall to protect student information, which is regularly tested and monitored for vulnerabilities.
What does the University do in the case of a security breach?
Respondus is required by law, as well as by the University’s agreement with them, to inform McMaster’s Information Security department if there is a suspected security breach. Information Security would then work with Respondus to investigate the incident and determine if any personal information was involved, in which case the McMaster Privacy Office also engages in the investigation. Any individuals who have been affected by a breach will be immediately notified by the University.
How long does McMaster ask Respondus to retain my personal information from the exam?
Your personal information will be retained by Respondus for 12 months after it is collected, in compliance with the Undergraduate Course Management Policy. McMaster may be required to request and retain a copy of the information collected by Respondus beyond this time period when it is related to a grade appeal or an allegation under the Academic Integrity Policy.
What actions has McMaster taken to review Respondus data security and privacy practices?
Is Respondus compliant with FIPPA?
Although Respondus is a private-sector tool and is not required to be compliant with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA), the university has a one-year, non-renewable agreement with Respondus to ensure that the university meets its compliance requirements under FIPPA and to protect student privacy when using Respondus.