Auckland University law students say this year's exams, which were held online amid continuing pandemic disruption, were a "technical nightmare".
In a letter addressed to Auckland University the Equity Council 2022 - which comprises of Te Rākau Ture, Pacific Island Law Students, Rainbow Law, Korean Law Students Association, South Asian Law Students Association, Chinese Law Club, Women in Law, and Auckland University Law Students Society - called on Auckland University to address the experience of students who were examined through Inspera invigilation - an online software programme - over the 2021 Semester Two exam period.
"Law school, undoubtedly, is extremely difficult, and this has been an especially taxing time for both students and staff alike. However, the impact of this exam season on student wellbeing is excessively unconscionable," the letter read.
On top of conflicting information around exam regulations, the main issue stemmed from software that was not fit for purpose, the letter read.
Technical glitches resulted in students losing up to an hour and a half of exam time, for example. The Equity Council received 28 complaints about the Torts law paper, 21 relating to Legal Foundations, 17 for Contract, and 16 for Legal Ethics.
"Issues experienced by students varied: several had not had the affected exam set up in their system, others could not enter the pin code at the start time, and there were instances of the system shutting down entirely both at the beginning and end of the exam."
For one student, despite preparation to ensure there were no hiccups, the software wouldn't allow them to complete the exam. After waiting for 15 minutes for IT support they started the exam in a panicked state and failed to finish it as a result.
"I generally hold myself to a high academic standard and the stress meant I couldn't think or operate properly. I didn't have the opportunity to show my capability and I'm absolutely gutted. It was a technical nightmare," the student said.
The other major problem was that students would be red-flagged and potentially disciplined for cheating if there was too much movement detected during the exam recording.
"Some of these were open-book exams, so it seemed impossible not to move around and not get red-flagged. I feel sorry for those people who didn't have a good wifi connection or had noisy flatmates or caregiving responsibilities. It was absolutely unequitable," the student said.
Another student said they were concerned about the ethical and privacy implications of these exam methods via the Auckland University Law Students' Society Facebook page.
"[It] would be concerning if pple[sic] are held up for disciplinary processes by virtue of quirks in the algorithms. What about students with disabilities especially anxiety and autism and such-like behaviours. What happen[s] if you need to go to the bathroom during an exam."
Another said: "Make sure u[sic] don't breathe or cry too loud k[sic]".
An Auckland University spokesperson said the university has been aware of the concerns.
"We know the circumstances weren't ideal but we are working with the students to resolve them as quickly as possible," the spokesperson said.
"A lot of the situation with the invigilated online law exams was out of our control. We had every intention of holding these exams in person but like the rest of the world were overtaken by the Covid pandemic conditions."
The red-flagging system known as invigilation - whether in person or online - is an important safeguard for the integrity of exams, but students should be assured that no decision was made without human assessment, the spokesperson said.
Nearly all exams in 2021 were held online, with this decision communicated to students and staff at the beginning of the year with the caveat that there would be a small number of invigilated on-campus exemptions due to professional registration, accreditation or selective entry requirements, the spokesperson said.
Compassionate consideration fees for exams are $30 up to a maximum of $50 for multiple applications. The university does not set compassionate consideration application fees on a profit or break-even basis; the cost of administering and processing these applications greatly exceeds the application fees charged, the spokesperson said.
Of the aegrotat and compassionate consideration applications received this semester, only 8.7 per cent related to technical difficulties arising.
"There was no intention of charging a fee for compassionate consideration when technical issues created a problem. We have and will continue to refund people who have been charged in this instance."