Online Educa in Berlin is one of the biggest ed tech conference in Europe. I’ve been a couple of times and was going to attend this year, mainly for the gluhwein. But I see on their website that proctoring company Proctorio is now their platinum sponsor.
I genuinely appreciate that running conferences is a difficult balancing act, made even more precarious in post-pandemic times when travel is still uncertain for many. Getting sponsors for a conference is often the difference between it being feasible and not. But equally, one must ask, what would it take for a sponsor to be deemed unsuitable? And for me, Proctorio are some way over that line.
This is not because they are a proctoring company – I have reservations about proctoring, but I know that in some cases they may be required, and not all proctoring methods are the same (for instance, UniWise seems less intrusive). Others I know will take a stronger stance on this and reject all proctoring, and I respect that. But personally, if another proctoring company was sponsoring I might hold my nose and attend.
But the difference with this particular proctoring company is their, in my view, aggressive legal stance towards criticism. They are currently suing a student and their protracted case against Ian Linkletter. As I’ve argued before, these are actions which I see as antithetical to core values of higher education. For any conference that aims to be serving the needs of those operating in higher ed, giving a platform and legitimacy to such a company undermines their validity.
There are people I admire on the OEB speaker list, and many of these will have signed up prior to Proctorio being announced as the key sponsor. The reasons people have for attending a conference are varied and I wouldn’t want to argue that no-one should attend, but I don’t feel comfortable going and it’s a question you might ask yourself too. I guess it’s homemade gluhwein this year then.
[Update: I noticed that the theme of the conference is “Learning Resilience”. I would argue that one form resilience could take is for higher ed not to be forced to align with companies it finds unethical in order to fund conferences. A second form of resilience might be redesigning assessment and education so that intrusive proctoring is not required.]