Law Schools, Screw-Ups, Technology

MacGate Update: An Explanation from the University of Kentucky

Wow. Sorry for the delay in new posts, but you guys have been going wild in the comments, and have thereby crushed our servers. We suck. Anyway, here’s some more on MacGate:
University of Kentucky law students received a memo earlier this week explaining the school’s decision to use Exam Soft (and thus impact Mac users in the same negative fashion as American University). The long and the short of it is that Exam Soft is better than the other two choices, and that putting Mac users out is a necessary evil. The other choices rejected by Kentucky were Secure Exam (the company responsible for the New York Bar Exam Laptopgate clusterf**k) and Extegrity. Extegrity works with Macs, but Kentucky memo’s description of the company makes it sound pretty fly-by-night:

The company
itself is very small, however, and has a small number of users. When
we asked the owner about addressing problems that might arise during
the administration of exams, he suggested that he would give us his
cell phone number and we could just call him on the west coast.

So what have we learned? First, if you’re going to law school, it’s probably going to be easier on you if you have a PC laptop instead of a Mac one (also, you might consider remembering how to use pen and paper; we did it for all of our law school exams and the bar exam). Second, some real company needs to write a program for taking exams on laptops that is compatible with Macs.
The full memo after the jump.

To: All College of Law Students
From: Michael P. Healy
Associate Dean for Academic Affairs
Re: Explanation of Decision to Select Exam Soft Software for
Fall 2007 Exams
Date: November 12, 2007
Many students, especially students who are using Macintosh laptop
computers have expressed concerns about the decision to adopt a new
software system for Fall 2007 exams that is incompatible with Mac
laptops. I want to summarize our decision for all students.
As many of you know, Secure Exam, our previous exam software company,
decided to modify its software after the Spring 2007 exams had been
administered. The new Secure Exam software exhibited many significant
flaws when it was used at the Kentucky bar exam and other bar exams,
including the New York bar exam, this past July. Many of those using
the software at these exams appeared to lose the entire content of
their responses to particular essay questions. Some of these
responses were recovered from the laptop computers only after
extensive recovery work was done long after the bar exam had finished.
The College of Law was accordingly faced with the questions of
selecting an exam software for the Fall 2007 semester. Given the
critical flaws in the new Secure Exam program, we plainly could not
select that program. We also briefly considered the old Secure Exam
program. This was not an available option. In order to have access
to the software company’s exam-day support and the critical codes
necessary for decrypting and printing the exams, we would be required
to purchase a new annual license agreement for the current academic
year. Secure Exam is only offering licenses for the new software and
we are not willing to take the risk that the software will suffer from
the same problems experienced this summer.
Having decided to use a new exam software program, we had two choices:
Extegrity and Exam Soft. The Extegrity software is compatible with
the newest variety of Macs containing the Intel core2duo. The company
itself is very small, however, and has a small number of users. When
we asked the owner about addressing problems that might arise during
the administration of exams, he suggested that he would give us his
cell phone number and we could just call him on the west coast. Joey
Jackson, IT Director, also consulted with the IT Departments at
Louisville and Chase about this software. Both those schools shared
our concerns about the software. The conclusion that we reached was
that the company and its product did not inspire confidence. Final
examinations are too important to gamble on a software and company in
which we lack confidence.
The other company, Exam Soft, is the company whose product we
selected. This company has provided exam software to more than one
hundred law schools and many bar examiners, including California. The
company and product appear to be very professional. Mr. Jackson has
made contacts with clients of the company and all are satisfied with
the software product and the company’s support during examinations.
The only problem, albeit a very significant problem, with this
software is that it is not now available for Mac users.
As we considered whether to adopt the Exam Soft software, we
considered how we might reduce the impact for Mac users. We are
working with library staff to find additional laptops to be borrowed
by students. We are also considering the use of an overflow exam room
with personal computers for students who need to borrow computers.
Making these changes will involve significant commitments of time by
the IT staff. In short, our decision to use Exam Soft was made with
an understanding that significant costs would result. We made the
decision because we believe that when all considerations are weighed,
Exam Soft offered the best option for the successful administration of
Fall examinations.
I have sought to summarize our reasons for deciding to use Exam Soft
for Fall exams. You will note that the cost of the programs has not
been mentioned. This is because cost was not a consideration in our
decision making. Although cost would be a relevant and appropriate
factor for weighing in this decision, the costs of these programs are
similar enough that cost was not a significant variable.
Compatibility with the Microsoft Vista operating system also was not a
consideration. The software currently being offered by all three
companies is compatible with the Vista operating system.
We did not make the decision to adopt the Exam Soft software lightly.
We understand that Mac users have been greatly inconvenienced by this
change. We are taking steps that we hope will reduce the impact of
the inconvenience being felt. We are also hopeful that Exam Soft will
soon complete development of Mac-compatible software and that this
problem will be resolved by the time exams must be taken in the
Please let me know if you have any additional questions or concerns.

(hidden for your protection)

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