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For all its dependence on tradition and convention, the American law school has taken some technological leaps in the past few years. One of the most striking changes is that many law schools now allow students to take their final, grade-determining exams on laptop computers. To prevent students from pasting in answers from another program or doing a little last-minute research during the test, most area law schools use special software that cuts the students off from other programs. The software creates what’s known as an “armored word processor.” In an ideal world, the system allows students to write faster, but also prevents any cheating. In an imperfect world, the computer freezes up and students have a panicky moment during a final exam. That’s apparently what happened this year at Georgetown University Law Center, which had been using a computer program called SofTest, produced by ExamSoft. Normally, when students open SofTest on their laptops, the program restarts the computer in a secure mode that prevents them from accessing the Internet or any other word processing program. “The students were always scared to death the software was going to crash and lose their work — and with very good reason, given how often it did,” says Whitney Moore, a 2004 graduate. “The proctors were always scared they were going to have to deal with a crash, and the tech folks were always running around frantically trying to fix everything all at once.” After the Student Bar Association adopted a resolution to stop using the software, and the Georgetown faculty agreed, the school dropped the software and asked students to sign an honor pledge during exams. The school also added extra proctors to each exam classroom. Now students are allowed to take their exams using an ordinary word processor. Georgetown’s decision has elicited decidedly mixed reactions from students and faculty. “Sure, SofTest was not flawless, but I think that’s the price that we pay to ensure a fair, honest, and legitimate testing environment,” says third-year student Jeremy Sanders. “No one would be happier than I if we could rely on an honor system, but the fact is that the system we have now in the absence of SofTest is an open invitation to impropriety and cheating.” Registrar Scott Foster disagrees. He contends that there was “significant stress on students because of the problems they experienced during exams caused by malfunctions of the software” and that “the faculty did not believe that the elimination of the software was a threat to the integrity of the exam process.” Leah Schmelzer, secretary of the Student Bar Association, adds that “students appeared more relaxed, less anxious, and almost thrilled not to have to deal with the SofTest ‘nightmare.’ Furthermore, no cheating incidents were reported. It seemed that the elimination of [the software] made the entire examination system run more smoothly for both students and administration.” But Jason Gad, director of operations at ExamSoft, asserts that the school’s decision to abandon the program “definitely wasn’t a technical issue, because the product works very well.” Says Gad: “I know of no instances of the product being a problem at Georgetown. We liked working with Georgetown, so we were disappointed that they opted to go this route.” For many, concerns went beyond the technical issues. “If we are going to be lawyers, who are expected to self-govern and are bound by a host of ethical rules, we should be able to abide by the ethical rules of exam taking as well,” says Emily Arnold-Fernandez, another 2004 graduate. Not all law students are so optimistic about the propriety of their peers. “The most common allegation was that certain students copied their entire outline or model answers onto the clipboard just before entering the exam room, and then pasted them in MS Word as soon as the exam began,” says second-year student Christopher Cole. “Technically, these acts may not have involved accessing other programs, but there’s no doubt it violated the spirit of the honor code and gave such students a huge advantage” over the other students, particularly when the exam was not open book, he says. “If the administration thinks requiring a signed honesty statement or the use of additional proctors will prevent students from using the Internet or other questionable methods,” adds Sanders, “then I have a bridge in Brooklyn that I’d like to try and sell them.” Not all area law schools have had problems with this new technology. The George Washington University School of Law began using Exam4, software produced by Extegrity and similar in function to SofTest, in 2002. Says Roseanne O’Hara, director of Student Administrative Services: “We ran a pilot program, and it was very successful. Both students and faculty really loved it.” Any technical glitches? O’Hara asserts, “Since 2002, GW has had 1,300 students per semester using Exam4, and we have never lost one sentence of one exam.” The American University Washington College of Law has also had good luck with Exam4. “Use of Exam4 was extremely successful, and we plan to expand its use,” says Associate Dean David Jaffe. The Catholic University Columbus School of Law uses SecureExam, produced by Software Secure. Beginning this fall, students at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law will be able to take exams on their laptops using SecureExam. The Howard University Law School is the only law school in the area where all students still handwrite their exams. George Mason University Law School now uses SofTest, the exam software produced by ExamSoft. “We’ve had good luck with the program,” says Betsy Luckett in George Mason’s Office of Student Records. “We don’t yet have the resources to allow all classes to take exams on laptops, so right now we only use SofTest on a limited basis. But we have never allowed students to take exams on their laptops without an exam program.”

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