The University of Otago needs to reconsider the examination of competitive entry papers.

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The University of Otago has employed the use of Examsoft’s Examify software, which monitors a student’s gaze, background noise and activity using artificial intelligence and biometrics. This software is problematic, as it requires the disabling of antivirus software in order to operate. As well as this, the app has hacked into cameras and hijacked the computers of some of the students who have downloaded it, which is concerning for students’ privacy. The use of this software also means that students cannot take bathroom breaks during their exams, as this would flag the student for suspicious behaviour, leading to an automatic zero on the paper. Because of the nature of the software, the student’s eyes will be strained from having to look at their screen for too long without break, which may result in decreased productivity. Other universities in New Zealand, such as the University of Auckland, have changed their examination styles to accomodate for the disruptive nature of the COVID-19 outbreak and the effects this has had on the students of their institution. We believe that the University of Otago should follow suit. 

 


The University of Otago is now requiring all students in competitive course entry papers (ACCT211, ACCT222, ACCT223, ACCT302, ACCT315, ACTP311, ACTP411, BLAW211, CELS191, CHEM191, HUBS191 and PHSI191) to download and use ExamSoft’s Examplify for their final examinations. The University of Otago’s correspondence with students enrolled in these papers were as follows: “The invigilation file - recording of you during your exam - is reviewed for any abnormalities using an artificial-intelligence system that analyses your activity, gaze, background noise, and more. A person will review unusual activity and issues will be referred to our University. Penalties for breaking exam rules include getting a zero mark for your exam, being disqualified from your paper, having your other passes during the semester cancelled, or being excluded from our University.” However, Examplify has been widely recognized as a problematic software by a variety of different institutions and people. Sources that support this statement vary from formally published articles and by reviews from other users on the software’s official website, and the content of these articles are concerning for students as the app behaves as a virus within the computer. 

Upon downloading Examplify, the user is prompted to disable their antivirus software. The official website reads, “the user is required to get rid of any pre-existing antivirus software in order for it to work.” (ExamSoft, 2018). This is concerning for the health of the exam-taker’s computer, as it implies that the software is designed to be harmful for the computer. This is further supported by personal experiences from the student body of the University of Otago and from outside parties that back this up; there have been many instances found in user reviews and complaints where in order to use the software without incident, the exam taker had  to get rid of any anti-virus software on your computer in order for it to work. As well as this, the use of this software for exams would cause the computer to slow down or freeze significantly (Wadley et al., 2014). This has implications for the grades of students, as it means that exams may not be handed in within a reasonable timeframe, especially if the software or computer crashes (Bussières et al., 2012). This means that the student may be flagged for suspicious behaviour, and their grade may be unfairly changed, as was the case in Rangi vs ExamSoft 2014, where their exams failed to upload, resulting in a zero on the paper of all affected students.   

In addition to the technical implications of this software, there are also implications for the students’ wellbeing during the exam. One student [redacted] emailed AskOtago, inquiring about bathroom breaks in the midst of the exam. Figure one shows that there is no official protocol for this, which is a violation of the human rights declared by the UN in 2000. As well as this, it further implies that students shouldn’t eat or drink within twelve hours of the exam to prevent them from needing to use the bathroom. This is problematic, as food is important for the physical health of the student, as well as impacting their performance within the exam. Another issue with this is the potential for eye strain for students during the exam. Examplify gives two options for the exam administrator; option one is that the app will flag any instance where the student looks away from their screen, forcing the student to look only at the screen for the entire exam period, which is approximately three hours. Option two is that the student will be allowed to look down from your screen for brief times in order to do calculations to answer questions. The former is problematic for exam takers for two key reasons: eye strain from looking at a screen begins after three hours (Blehm et al., 2005), and that because of this, students will have developed a habit of looking up during exams in order to regain focus. 


Many students enrolled in the University of Otago are dissatisfied with both the software and the exam style. If all students were able to access notes and resources during the exam, all students would have an equal chance to succeed in their competitive papers; open-book exams do not make exams easier, as the student needs to understand the concepts they are taught in class. Furthermore, there is a strong possibility that the ExamSoft software, which monitors the gaze of the students during their exams, could result in many students being wrongfully accused of cheating and wrongfully being failed. The University of Auckland has shown a much better approach to final examinations - their competitive course examinations  are open book or are take-home assignments which remain open for completion for 24 hours (University of Auckland, 2020). This ensures that students are not disadvantaged by their location, or by other circumstances. This approach recognises the difficulty of this semester on its students, due to the worldwide pandemic of COVID-19. The University of Otago has already been heavily criticized by their students for their handling of previous situations related to Covid-19, such as delaying the decision to move classes online so that students who wished to go home for lockdown could do so. 


The University of Otago should reconsider the exam format and software for the competitive paper exams, as Examplify is potentially harmful for the student’s computer, as antivirus software interferes with the exam software. Furthermore, the effects of eye strain due to extensive computer time and the AI aspect that will flag students for giving themselves a break from their computer screen is not fair on students, and this makes it more likely for students to fail their exams, whether they’re cheating or not.