Conversations with those affected revealed that several students are so dissatisfied about the way things have gone that they have engaged a lawyer to appeal to the Central Examination Appeals Board (CBE, a university appeal body, ed.) against the decision. The Examination Board is also thinks the current situation is very unfortunate and hopes to find a solution in discussion with the students.

Wenda Sleijpen (21), Criminology student: ‘We’d already opened the Prosecco’

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They’d popped the cork on the bottle of Prosecco in the Sleijpen household when Wenda (21) suddenly heard that the criminology degree certificate she’d already celebrated was invalid. “It was such a huge disappointment,” she sighed. “And stressful. I only heard halfway through August and needed to retake the exam ‘preferably within a week and a half’. And that was while I was wanting to start my minor.”

What went wrong? The Erasmus School of Law (ESL) Examination Board announced that there were problems with the proctoring images. The Examination Board explained in an e-mail that ‘unfortunately’ her Formal Criminal Law examination could not be assessed: “From the proctoring images it appears that from 3:51 minutes after you logged onto ProctorExam and before you started the examination, the screen you shared failed. This meant that it was impossible for the examiner and/or the ESL Examination Board to check your examination for fraud.” They wrote that they also find the situation unfortunate.

Resit on Chromebook with proctoring

“I was really shocked,” stated Wenda. “I’d already had my marks for a few weeks, so I thought everything was fine. It was the last mark I needed for my Criminology bachelor, which meant it was in the bag. Or so I thought. But then I received this e-mail on 17 August. The preference was that I would do the exam again on 27 August and that was to help me. I had until 10.00 pm to register, so I rushed to do that and then I had to start delving into my books again during my holidays.”

When Wenda did the resit, she wanted to do it without proctoring. “I’d realised during the last exam that something had gone wrong, but when I asked the helpdesk that was set up specifically for this, they said that the problem had been resolved. Afterwards, this proved not to be the case. The Examination Board informed me that I could do the resit without proctoring, but I’d have to sit the exam at the university. Once I was there, the invigilator stated that we had to do the exam on a Chromebook with proctoring. That stressed me out again. In the end, the invigilator came again after fifteen minutes to say that it wasn’t necessary after all. I left it switched on, just in case.”

Sophie Boeringa (22), Law student: ‘As a student you’re 1-0 behind these days’

“I can understand that the university needs to devise something to enable examinations to take place as usual. But it’s clear that the current proctoring system no longer works,” stated Sophie Boeringa, a third-year Law student whose exams in Law of Civil Procedure and Law of Criminal Procedure were both rejected due to the proctoring images. She feels unfairly treated. “As a student you’re 1-0 behind these days if errors occur.”

Why? “Well, it’s because the burden of proof against fraud is suddenly on us. Normally the invigilators check whether we’re cheating, but now we need to prove with our webcams that we’re not cheating. And it’s already been a considerable intrusion into my personal life: I’m revealing my personal life via the webcam, I’ve got to ask my flatmates to be quiet, and I click on the correct links. I did the compulsory check a few days beforehand. And now, we’re the victims because the program that the university itself selected has problems.”

Two-month wait

During the examinations, Boeringa hadn’t noticed the technical problems in one of the two exams that led to her examinations later being rejected. “The webcam lamp was on the whole time and I could see that my screen was being shared. And yet, I received an e-mail that some matters had been rejected and, what’s more, that took over a month. I did notice something during the other exam, but I thought that this was resolved because I followed all the necessary steps. It’s really difficult: you get your marks fifteen days after the exam, but you’re still not sure whether you’ve passed or not, because it takes so long for the proctoring images to be viewed. I know students who have had to wait for two months, only to then hear that their exam was rejected. People are facing study delay because of this and need to resit their exams.”

“I think it’s unreasonable. The university also has a responsibility here: they chose this program and if there are technical problems that are out of my control, they need to find a solution for this. But now, as students, we’re the victims.”

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Examination Board response: ‘It is very unfortunate’

The Examination Board also thinks the turn of events is very unfortunate, they stated by e-mail. “The Examination Board certainly understands the dissatisfaction about this, but from our legal task and responsibility to safeguard the quality of the examinations and their various components, we cannot (for whatever reason, even if the cause is outside the student’s control) declare examinations that we are unable to assess as valid. The Examination Board is unfortunately unable to judge whether a technical error has occurred that is outside the student’s control; after all, intentional fraud is another possibility if an examination candidate switches off their own camera. Ultimately, it is in the students’ own interests that there is no question or doubt about the quality of their diploma.”

That it took so long before the examinations were approved or rejected is due to the late delivery of the images by ProctorExam, stated the Examination Board. If a student wants to know why a technical error occurred, so that this can be prevented the next time, they can contact the Examination Board. “Students can request screenshots of the relevant proctor images or make an appointment to come and view these at the faculty. We are also investigating other possibilities regarding sharing images with students. It is difficult for us to determine the exact cause of the technical problems but this is often a result of the internet connection and not necessarily related to the quality of the hardware.”

‘An investigation needs to be conducted into the technical shortcomings and it is correct that our delivery time was longer this summer’

Daniel Haven, CEO ProctorExam

However, the Examination Board does not see any option of stopping with proctored examinations, as long as the coronavirus outbreak continues. “Considering the Examination Board’s legal task and responsibility to safeguard the quality of examinations (and components of these), and therefore also to prevent fraud being committed during examinations, we prefer proctoring as long as we continue to set remote digital examinations for subjects that do not lend themselves well to oral or take-home examinations. It is also extremely important that the company involved optimises its organisation and capacity. We would like to emphasise again that, although problems did occur here, in the majority of cases, things went well.”

ProctorExam response: ‘investigation into technical shortcomings’

The CEO of ProctorExam, Daniel Haven, said that he thinks it’s really unfortunate for the students affected by this. “We are doing our utmost to improve our system as far as possible. It is also good to know that thousands of examinations did go well, partly due to the hard work of the Erasmus University lecturers. An investigation needs to be conducted into the technical shortcomings and it is correct that our delivery time was longer this summer. This was due to the scale of the proctor examinations that were taken as a result of the coronavirus outbreak and the processes relating to proctoring, which need to be improved.”