UA recap: General body discusses PennHelp, test-taking

Sunday's meeting was the first of the school year for the UA

· September 11, 2012, 12:38 am

After a long but productive summer, the Undergraduate Assembly held its first meeting of the 2012-13 academic year in Huntsman Hall on Sunday night.

The body focused its meeting on projects for the upcoming semester, including a new service called PennHelp and a preliminary discussion about whether students should be allowed to take written examinations on their laptops.

PennHelp is a project developed over the summer that is meant to serve as a universal help service for students.

The primary objective in launching PennHelp — an email service that puts students in direct contact with UA leaders — was to provide the Penn community with an accessible, easy-to-remember way of getting questions answered.

“The Undergraduate Assembly does address big problems that take years, but we can also take on student life concerns,” UA President and College junior Dan Bernick said.

The other main agenda item Sunday night was a discussion on whether Penn should allow students to use laptops for examination purposes in place of traditional, blue book writing.

“Essentially, instead of writing in a blue book, you’d be able to write [an essay] on your laptop,” Bernick said. UA members in support of the idea cited things like better legibility and clarity as potential advantages.

Wharton junior Alex Rattray, who is not on the UA, spoke at the meeting about a program he developed called EssaySafe. He gave a brief demonstration of EssaySafe, which allows students to take in-class tests on their laptops while monitoring for cheating at the same time.

“My handwriting is awful, and exams are important,” Rattray said of his motivation to create EssaySafe.

The potential shift from traditional, hand-written exams to completely electronic and digitized ones was a point of contention amongst parts of the general body.

While some, such as College sophomore and UA Representative Anthony Cruz, argued that using laptops would make the examination process smoother, others, such as College junior and UA Representative Ernest Owens, a Daily Pennsylvanian columnist, questioned whether students’ academic integrity would be compromised during the process.

The UA will continue to discuss the issue throughout the semester.

Sunday night, the UA also conducted an internal election to select new members of its Budget Committee. The body elected College sophomore and UA Representative Danielle Golub and College junior and UA Representative Nikolai Zapertov to the committee.

“Danielle and Nikolai are both strongly committed to giving students more resources,” Bernick said. “They both bring a wealth of experience and a diversity of perspectives and ideas that will add value to the Budget Committee.”

Overall, the UA made it a goal for the year to focus on addressing student concerns.

“This year is about returning to our mission which is to work for students,” Bernick said. “It’s simple, it’s direct and that’s our job.”

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