RC Final Exam IT Glitches Explained

During last semester’s RC LEAD final, approximately 300 students experienced difficulty uploading completed exams to the HBS intranet. HBS IT and the MBA program reacted quickly to the situation, and the deadline for uploading the LEAD exam was extended.

Cammie Wynn, Technology Advisor, IT Client Services, explained the root cause of the problem, “Some of the code in the file upload tool required two simultaneous database connections to proceed.” With more and more users logging on to the HBS intranet during the LEAD exam upload, all of the available connections were gradually taken up. “As a result, when users who were midway through the upload process got to a point where the application needed two simultaneous database connections, those connections were not available and they couldn’t proceed. Much like a grid-locked traffic rotary, suddenly no one could get in because no one could get out,” Cammie continued.

Based on the LEAD exam experience, HBS IT requested that the TOM faculty modify original exam upload plans by dividing the class in half and staggering start times. IT developers discovered and corrected the simultaneous database connection issue before the TOM exam. As a result, uploading for TOM proceeded smoothly. “The TOM final also led us to an unprecedented (and very successful) test of the wireless capability in Aldrich, because we offered the opportunity for everyone who had a wireless card to upload their exam from the classroom,” Cammie added.
The use of the HBS intranet to upload final exams is but one part of an overall integrated HBS IT strategy that focuses on the use of open standards with web-based, interoperable solutions. In its December 2001 issue, Business 2.0 named HBS as one of the top 20 technologically savvy business schools. This ranking focused on technology use in the curriculum. In addition, the School’s intranet is inextricably woven into the fabric of daily life for students, faculty, and administration alike-from pre-matriculation Accounting and Finance modules, to navigating the EC Add / Drop course registration process and scheduling job interviews with HBS Career Link. Many schools look to the HBS on-line resources and information systems as a model for the innovative use of technology in education.

A HBS task force recently completed a review on IT strategy. Current projects for the MBA program include an evaluation of the course platform-with a view to moving off the existing version, which was created in August 1996. Courseware projects in the form of on-line materials for use in Finance, BGIE and FRC also are under development.
The number of courses using intranet uploading as the primary exam submission method is planned to increase. In future, the technology will exist to potentially allow the EC to take exams on a self-scheduled basis, with the use of electronic timestamps permitting students to sit exams at their convenience. In the near term, the focus on intranet uploading will translate into greater consistency in exam formats (with fewer instructions and announcements to be read before each subject’s exam), and less time spent by students standing in line for print labs. “Wireless capability will be required for the Class of 2004, which opens up the possibility for more in-class exam uploads-saving the print labs for only the most Excel-intensive exams, ” concluded Cammie.

HBS IT welcomes student feedback at mbaitsupport@hbs.edu. The IT group maintains a website at www.hbs.edu/it, which contains information on the role of technology at HBS.