Friday, 29 June 2012

LTIQuizzes and updates to APIS

When I was prototyping our Java Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI 1.1) implementation for QTI-DI I needed a tool to connect it to so that I could try out features in a more meaningful way than a simple duplication of the IMS test suite would achieve. I used APIS, the QTI 2.0 item engine that I developed many years ago as part of JISC's first QTI 2.0 project. I also added on very simple assessment support (APIS only supported individual items) which I had developed for CCPlayr, my desktop Common Cartridge player. Although APIS was superseded by other JISC funded QTI players many years ago, I have continued to occasionally use it to experiment with ideas as we moved towards the final QTI 2.1 release, including the changes we made to ensure that the full functionality of the Common Cartridge was supported.

The combination of my LTI library code, the necessary code to link it to an assessment system and provide enough functionality to fully demonstrate how it could be used, my common cartridge assessment player and the updated APIS item player actually makes a fairly useful quiz system. I briefly demonstrated a development version of the system, LTIQuizzes, at the JISC/CETIS conference in Nottingham, and will be making it available as an extra deliverable from our current projects.

My initial plan for LTIQuizzes was that it would just be an QTI 2.1 Entry Level player - i.e. it would support the questions and tests from the QTI 2.1 version of Common Cartridge, but not much more. APIS does excede the CC requirements by supporting multiple interactions in a single question and flexible response processing and feedback, however I felt that Entry Level+ was a reasonable target. A burst of development activity on APIS over the last week has made me change my mind - I now plan to go well beyond QTI 2.1 Entry Level.

Until recently APIS did not support adaptive items, and had no concept of template items which were not part of the first QTI 2.0 draft. Because LTIQuizzes is the only tool we have that integrates with VLEs using LTI at the moment, I have been trying to extend the range of items that we can demonstrate using it at workshops. I particularly wanted to support the items generated by Uniqurate. Over the last week I have finished support for adaptive items (basically a bug fix) and started to add template item support.

With these improvements to the APIS item player, I now think that rather than labelling LTIQuizzes as an entry-level player I should now aim to make it an intermediate system that is capable of delivering any quiz that can be written with Uniqurate without invoking the expert mode. LTIQuizzes will probably never be able to deliver the full range of items that QTIWorks, JAssess and SToMP II support, however it will be able to deliver a useful subset of them, and may well find a niche market with users who do not need the advanced maths features of the other players, but are looking for a simple and robust system that integrates well with their VLE.

I'll be making LTIQuizzes available for download from the APIS sourceforge site within a few days, once I've integrated the APIS updates and added some installation documentation.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Invitation to Pre-Conference Workshop at CAA2012

You are invited to a pre-conference workshop before the CAA 2012 Conference at the De Vere Grand Harbour Hotel, Southampton on Monday 9th July 2012, 10:00 – 16:00. This is the announcement that we are circulating:

We have recently been funded by JISC to disseminate the results of a number of recent projects on standards-based Assessment through the QTI-PET project, and as part of this activity we are holding a Workshop on the day before the CAA 2012 conference ( ), at the same venue.  

The workshop will include introductions to some new tools being developed under the JISC funded projects QTIDI and Uniqurate:

  • A user-friendly editor called Uniqurate, which produces questions conforming to the Question and Test Interoperability specification, QTIv2.1,
  • A way of connecting popular VLEs to assessment delivery applications which display QTIv2.1 questions and tests – this connector itself conforms to the Learning Tools Interoperability specification, LTI,
  • A simple renderer, which can deliver basic QTIv2.1 questions and tests,
  • An updated version of our comprehensive renderer, which can deliver QTIv2.1 questions and tests and also has the capability to handle mathematical expressions.

There will be an opportunity to discuss participants’ assessment needs and to look at the ways these might be addressed using the applications we have available and potential developments which could be part of future projects.

We shall also demonstrate the features of the QTI Support site, created under the QTI-IPS project to help users to get started with QTI. This collection of tools, content and documentation is still growing, and we expect to add more features, prompted by the needs of our partners in the projects who are adopting the tools in their teaching.

Participants in the workshop are most welcome to join us as informal partners in QTI-PET.

Places are limited, so please register to attend the workshop by emailing Sue Milne with your details as soon as possible.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Intermediate Mode for Uniqurate

I am pleased to announce the first release of the Intermediate mode of editing for Uniqurate.

The idea of a "halfway-house" mode came back towards the start of the project, and came about after consideration of what we could do with content that was authored in some other way (e.g. another editor, or by hand). The difficulty is that QTI is essentially a programming language for electronic assessment and there is always more than one way to skin the proverbial cat. For example, there are many ways that a multiple choice question could be implemented in QTI - Uniqurate does it one way, but there are many, many others. It would be impossible to map every single possible permutation of QTI that might represent an MCQ onto UQ's appropriate question component. Thus, at an early point it was decided that any content that was not created in UQ would have to be restricted to the XML-based Expert Mode editor.

Some time ago, Wilbert Kraan suggested a layer on top of the Expert mode that would hide certain aspects of the QTI XML, and supplement what was left with a few additional aids. Ultimately you'd still be editing the QTI directly, but it wouldn't seem so "frightening". We took to calling that the "halfway-house" mode.

With the launch of the QTI-PET project and the need to be able to provide a means of adding new context to existing content, this became even more important. We've presented a number of papers and demos on this theme. The tl;dr version is that we've got lots of QTI content, but much of it is written from a generic point of view, and is too dry to be truly engaging. Our colleagues at (say) Harper Adams could use much of it, but their students would react much better if it could have a few subject-specific hooks added just to give it an appropriate context.

Hence, the "halfway-house" or what we're now calling Intermediate mode. If you switch to expert mode and load a question, you'll noice a little icon at the top right of the screen. Click this, and all of the XML will be hidden apart from the human-readable parts.

The overall "tree" of the question is preserved and delimited by the dotted red lines - so, in the example above where a multiple choice question is being edited in Intermediate mode, you can see where the distractors' boundaries are with respect to the question body itself.

The rich-text editor is also brought over from the "friendly" mode editor, so that you can modify the style as well as the text, along with any maths components (you can add new maths components, too).

This has been tested in the big three browsers - i.e. relatively recent Firefox, Chrome and Internet Explorer 8 (don't get me started on the latter - had it not been for IE you could have had this yesterday! Is anyone still using IE?!).

As always, the latest version of Uniqurate can be found at

which will take you into "friendly" mode, so you will need to switch to Expert mode to find this new feature. This URL

will take you straight into expert mode.

Please give me as much feedback as you can! Reports on bugs, problems etc are always "welcome" :) but of particular interest is the user experience. I am not convinced that a little button in Expert mode is the best place for Intermediate mode, and would welcome suggestion on where and how to place it.