Massey University forced to cancel online exams due to technical problems

By John Gerritsen for RNZ

Stressed and panicked students have reported significant problems with Massey University's online exam system forcing it to cancel today's online supervised exams.

The decision comes just days into Massey's two-week, mid-year exam season.

The university's students' association, Te Tira Ahu Pae, said "a distressingly large" number of students encountered problems including being unable to log into the exams or being shown other students' names and student IDs.

Students sit online supervised exams from home or work, but were monitored via the cameras on their computers.

The association said many students were affected because in-person exams were no longer standard practice at Massey.

The association said the problems began on Monday and the university informed students that night and the following morning that they had been fixed.

But on Wednesday morning Massey staff told the association they were holding "an emergency meeting" and shortly before midday announced the university was cancelling online supervised exams for the day with an update due at the end of the day.

The error message.
The error message. Photo credit: Supplied to Newshub

The message from the university, seen by RNZ, said there were "technical issues" with the university's online supervised exam provider.

"The university is deeply disappointed by this failure of service, and I appreciate the exam period is already a stressful time. Many of you are likely to have made arrangements to sit these exams, taking time off work or needing childcare, I acknowledge and apologise for this disruption," university provost, professor Giselle Burns said in the message.

"A full investigation into how this issue occurred is underway. Decisions around next steps for the remainder of the exam period are being prioritised and we will be in touch via email by close of business today with an update."

Te Tira Ahu Pae distance president Flynn O'Hallahan said the association had been calling for changes around online supervised exams since early last year.

He said the latest problems showed the software could not be relied on.

"Of serious worry is how students can access the personal details of other students - including first and last names, emails and student ID numbers. We believe this constitutes a data breach. Through this accessing of personal details, students can sit other students' exams which poses serious concerns for both accidental sittings as well as malicious action," he said.

"Students reported en masse having to wait for hours to access exams while not knowing if they were at fault and would be penalised. Communication was poor across the issue, simply telling students to keep trying again within their 24-hour period with no regards to, or understanding of, outside commitments."

Student reports shared by the association showed that many students were upset by the experience.

"This was a very stress experience," wrote one. Another said "I'm so disappointed with it all and really upset that I may fail this paper."

"I had gone to sit my exam for hours it did not let me set it up. I had to take the exam a lot later on in the day. It also kept on logging me onto other peoples accounts. Each time I refreshed I would get someone different," wrote one student.

"Unable to access, 504 message, then when I did get on once, someone else's details and exam showed. Have 4 children I had made arrangements for, paid extra for childcare, made sure no one else would be home to interrupt. Very frustrating that I then had to wait until children were all asleep to do the exam. So at 9pm I finally started, tired, grumpy and stressed," another student said.