By Sam Brunson
A couple weeks ago, one of my students emailed me. This semester, he bought the ebook for my BizOrg class, and didn’t bother buying a physical copy. And he wanted to know if he could use his ebook on the final.
My finals are all open-book; students can bring in and use the casebook, the statutory supplement, and any notes that they create (on their own or in their study group). So in theory, I’m totally fine with it.
In practice, though, I had to send him to our Dean of Students. Because, like many law schools (and some bar examiners), we use ExamSoft for tests.[fn1] Now. I haven’t personally used ExamSoft since I was in law school (it was fine back then, though it was apparently not Mac compatible back in those days). Basically, when I used it, it was a basic word processor that saved your work every minute and blocked access to the rest of your computer while you took the exam.
Glancing through ExamSoft’s website, it looks much more robust these days. One thing’s the same, though: it blocks access to the rest of your computer for the length of the exam. Which means that my student with an ebook won’t be able to access it during his exam.
And our IT people couldn’t find a workaround. Maybe that’s because they didn’t have enough time, or maybe it’s because one doesn’t exist. (I mean, searching the internet, ExamSoft does have a non-secure mode that allows internet access, but I don’t really want one of my students to have unlimited internet access—I just want him to be able to access his textbook. It’s not that ExamSoft serves no purpose if it’s not blocking the internet. I mean, it still automatically saves the exam on a regular basis. But so does Google Docs.)
When I asked, it turned out that three of the forty-eight students in my BizOrg class didn’t buy a physical casebook, using the ebook exclusively. But I suspect, as ebooks become more accepted and more robust (and, frankly, more heavily emphasized by publishers), that number will go up. I hope ExamSoft has something in the works that will allow students to access their ebooks.
In the meantime, has anybody run into this? And what did you do about it?[fn]
[fn1] Did you know ExamSoft memes were a thing? Me either.
[fn2] To be frank, I’m not entirely convinced that not being able to access the casebook is actually detrimental. I suspect the time it takes to look something up in the book is costlier than what students find is detrimental. That said, just knowing they have the book available probably acts as a security blanket for at least some students. And maybe it provides a substantive benefit.