As of publishing, a petition that calls for the removal of ExamSoft software from Otago examinations has raised almost 600 signatures. Students are reportedly so unhappy that they are considering transferring University. Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), Professor Pat Cragg, denies many of the petitioner's claims.
Multiple students have called the software “problematic” and “invasive”. They are unhappy with the lack of consultation with students as well as what they perceive to be an impending privacy invasion. The petition creator intends to submit this petition to Otago Uni, OUSA, and the Vice-Chancellor Harlene Hayne.
The day after the exam timetable was announced, the University told first year Health Science students and some accounting students that they needed to download exam supervision software Examplify, which belongs to the company ExamSoft. Before this email, students claim they had no idea that this kind of “invasive” supervision would be implemented. Jamie, Lauren and Bella were some of the many unhappy first year students that got in touch with Critic. They also created the petition.
“When it was first announced we were like, how is this even legal,” Jamie said. These students all attend the same college. They said that everyone else they had spoken to were “just as pissed as we were”. Some students have gone so far as to refuse to download the software entirely.
Before the announcement on exam supervision, students in professional courses were asked if they had a functional video camera and microphone. Jamie, Lauren and Bella all assumed “it might just be a Zoom call”.
“Most students have never even heard of [ExamSoft], so no one trusts it,” they said. Bella said that when they downloaded the software, they had to disable their antivirus software and give ExamSoft permission to control every app, and it “wasn’t a vibe”. Cragg clarified to Critic that students shouldn’t need to disable their antivirus software entirely, but should instead just whitelist ExamSoft so that the computer can ‘recognise’ it.
“It kind of like semi-hacked my computer,” Bella claimed. “After installing it, I'd fully quit out of it and logged off, and it spontaneously changed the background of my computer to its logo and I couldnt get rid of it. I had to restart my computer like five times.”
“My camera [was hijacked] as well,” another student said. “I was just studying and I looked up at my video camera and the little light was on. And I was like, why is this on? It was just after I had downloaded it.”
Cragg said that Otago had not received any reports of hacking or hijacking. Anyone who experiences this should go to AskOtago, she said.
The students looked into the software online and saw articles about a lawsuit from 2014 about the software crashing in the middle of the bar exam.
Cragg said that “those references are six or eight years old, and the ExamSoft software has moved on a lot since then and no longer has those problems”. There will be two practice tests to ensure the app works, and students whose devices cannot work with the app will be loaned a laptop by the University.
“We’re just confused as to why OUSA would be in support of it,” Jamie said. “I am yet to meet one student who has taken these exams who are in support of it. Everyone is freaked out, everyone is uncomfortable using this software and everyone is pissed off at the University’s decision.”
OUSA Academic Representative Emily Coyle had been involved in the decision-making process of whether or not to use this software. She told Critic that she backs it, but said that students “have every right to petition”. “[OUSA’s] first priority in this process is ensuring we best reflect the views and interests of students – that means bringing feedback like this into the decision making process. We have made [Pat Cragg] aware of this,” she said.
The students compared Otago’s exam plan to Auckland Uni. They know fellow first year Health Science students who, like all other Auckland Uni students, are able to complete an open-book exam. “[Auckland Uni’s response is] overall, a more compassionate response,” the students said. They added that this seems like one of many “cold shoulders” that the University has given students, beginning with “really late notice when classes would be online, and then the late exam timetable coming out”. “I know multiple students who are considering transferring universities because of this,” one of the students said.
“I’m regretting [coming to Otago] to be honest, having to put up with this kind of stuff… I'm a first year. I’m not getting a good first impression. It's not a good vibe.”
“Our University has chosen to hold exams this way for competitive entry and accreditation papers because those papers must be invigilated,” Cragg said.
In her comment to Critic, Cragg addressed other concerns listed on the petition. Firstly, that Examplify “Does not access students’ personal data stored on their computer, including their files, social media information and browser history. Only interacts with a student’s computer during exams. Can be completely removed from a students’ computer after exams.”
On the concern that students cannot use the bathroom during their exam, Professor Cragg said, “We encourage students to go to the toilet before the exam because any toilet break will be flagged.” Students who need a toilet break should make a ‘T’ in front of the camera so that when their exam is inevitably flagged, reviewers will easily be able to tell why they left. Cragg also said that students should eat or drink before, not during, their exam. “If they have a medical condition that requires them to eat or drink, we ask they contact our University’s Disability Information & Support service.”
Cragg emphasised that the University does not want students to feel “more restricted than in a normal physical examination environment”. While unusual behaviour will be flagged, it will not be an automatic fail.