Today I’m talking with Johan Hägglund who is the CEO of a startup called Digiexam – who have built a digital-examination system that is currently being used by KTH, Viktor Rydbergs and the Stockholm School of Economics.
Johan, tell us about yourself and your background
My name is Johan Hägglund, I am 28 years old and I am CEO of DigiExam and one of the founders. I come from a typical Swedish small town called Eskilstuna. I have played handball almost my whole life and it is one of my greatest passions and I moved to Gothenburg on my own when I was 16 to play for the Swedish champions. I played professionally for a few years after college but an injury and a desire to start studying where the main reason why I left sports and moved to Stockholm instead. I attended Stockholm School of Economics (SSE), which is a rather tough business school, and I received a bachelor in Finance & Management. Although at SSE I was more interested in extra curricular activities and doing other projects than focusing solely on my studies. Me and Nima (one of the co-founders of DigiExam) started a project focusing on creating jobs for SSE students in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. It was a fantastic experience to see that you could create something out of nothing, that project really unleashed something within us and made us realize that you can really change things and also how much fun it is to be entrepreneurial and creative.
Tell us about the team and how the company got started?
We are overall 15 persons working with DigiExam and we are three founders and we have three active private investors. The three founders at DigiExam is me, Nima Marefat and Alexander Yngling. Me and Nima studied together at business school at Stockholm School of Economics and Alexander is currently doing his PhD at Royal Institute of Technology in Media Technology and Interaction Design.
Nima originally comes from Iran but came to Sweden as a refugee in his early 20s and managed to learn Swedish in very short time, get excellent grades at college and got a masters degree at business school after only ten years in Sweden. Alexander is from Norway and has lived in the UK for some years and came to Stockholm when he was starting his PhD.
We all have different backgrounds and experiences in life and in some sense I would say that we represent the modern Sweden; a small town boy good in athletes trying his luck, a refugee with strong desire to succeed in the Swedish society and an exchange student doing his PhD with a strong interest for education. What unites us the most is that we all have been dedicated to get a proper education and we believe that education nowadays is one of the most important aspects to get where you want in life. At least for us that have been the case. Since then, it is pretty logic that we all have a very strong desire and passion to change the quality of the Swedish education system since it faces so many problems nowadays. Teachers are stressed, students perform worse and so on. We felt that something had to be done and our contribution is DigiExam.
What is DigiExam and what problem are you solving?
DigiExam is a solution that enables students to write their exams on their own laptops instead of using pen and papers. On the examination day the student bring its laptop to the school and we have developed a program so when the student are writing the exam they can do nothing else. We have focused a lot on cheating and especially reliability since that is the basis to digitalize this process. On the surface it is an easy concept to understand but there are many pieces that need to be in place in order to cover every scenario that could appear during an examination. The Internet goes down, a computer freezes or even crashes. There need to be back ups and contingency plans for everything. We have worked hard in two years to ensure that we cover every scenario so that schools can feel safe moving into the digital era.
The main problem today is that students live in a digital world where everything they do in school is digital but when they come to the final examination and are supposed to prove their knowledge they are forced to use a tool, pen and paper, which they are no longer used to.
I remember myself as student getting cramp after half the exam and also writing with an awful handwriting. I always felt bad for those poor teachers who where suppose to grade my exams. Also when it came to structuring an answer I performed better using the computer. With the computer you can think and write dynamic and change words and the disposition of the text, with pen and paper you need to think linear from the beginning to the end and I think that is a large limitation.
Although the students perspective on this matter the largest problems today are for the teachers who is supposed to grade students’ exams. When we started DigiExam we quickly realized that grading unreadable handwritten exams is an enormous burden for teachers today and it consumes a lot of unnecessary time and energy. You could almost say it is a working environmental problem for teachers since it is almost impossible sometimes for teachers to transcribe different students poor handwriting. Our goal is to take away this burden and bring teachers back to the classroom. We think there is other things teachers should spend their time on instead of grading unreadable exams – teaching, meeting and inspiring students.
You have Stockholm School of Economics, KTH, Viktor Rydbergs on board already – have they used the service yet and if so, how did they react to it?
We have for the last two years been working very tightly with Stockholm School of Economics. Although DigiExam is a technical solution it is equally important mapping up the processes around the whole administration in an examination situation. Digitalizing this process brings new challenges and it is important to create new routines around how examinations are conducted and how the transformation should be implemented.
Over the last two years we have been conducting 10 exams digitally at Stockholm School of Economics and we have received very positive feedback both from the students and from the teachers. In our surveys 95 percent of the students are positive over the experience and want to write exams with DigiExam again. The teachers are also very positive and they have saved around 50-70 % of the grading time.
On KTH and Viktor Rydberg we are just in the beginning, we conducted our first exam a few weeks ago on KTH and we just completed a project phase with a small number of teachers at Viktor Rydberg.
Will this service work for all schools and universities and is it limited to certain age-groups?
Our ambition is to digitalize and change the quality through all age-groups so that every student and teacher can reach its potential. Although our prime markets in this phase is Universities and colleges but we can definitely cover examinations for all age-groups and we are going to do some pilots on younger levels this autumn.
Is there a global ambition or are you sticking with Sweden?
Our goal at the moment is to grow strong in our home market Sweden and within the Nordic region. We have just recently been in Norway and Finland and met both schools and government organizations since digitalizing exams is a very hot topic right now. We are now discussing starting pilots with some schools in those countries and we are also going to implement DigiExam on SSE Riga in Latvia this autumn. So in some sense we have already established an international expansion.
We see that this problem for teachers grading unreadable exams, students with bad handwriting and schools with quality problems is a global issue. Exams and assessments are conducted in all schools and educations around the world so of course we have a vision and dream to go global and change the quality in every school out there.
The main challenge to get there is to build a solid solution that is scalable and self-reliant so it easily can be distributed to and implemented by schools that want to move in to the modern digital world in conducting digital examinations. And step-by-step, piece-by-piece, we are working hard every day to get to there, but it is a long road!