Monday, 23 July 2012

CETL-MSOR Conference / New Partners

Following on from CAA, we put in an appearance at the CETL-MSOR Conference in Sheffield. Although we were not presenting, it was useful to join the meeting and hear about delegates' experiences in assessing mathematics, statistics and operational research.

A recurring theme was the need for assessment resources in statistics in service teaching across a wide variety of disciplines and at all levels. A selection of resources which would begin to address this need will be rebuilt from the CALMAT question collection for a Glasgow University module this autumn.

We were able to add another informal partner to QTI-PET following a lunch-time discussion during the conference. So during the week we welcomed 5 new partners on board, bringing us to a total of 12 QTI-PET partners who will help us to pilot the tools and feed back to us about their experiences. We are arranging a series of training sessions to get everyone up to speed with the tools in time to get some material in front of students this coming semester.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

QTI @ CAA 2012 / new Uniqurate release

Last week's participation in the 2012 International Computer Assisted Assessment (CAA) Conference was a great success for all of the QTI projects. QTI was clearly positioned front and centre throughout the conference, with stream A on Wednesday almost exclusively devoted to it. The closing speaker, Paul Bailey of JISC, went out of his way to stress the importance of QTI and open standards within the field of electronic assessment, and to talk about JISC's commitment to this area of research.

The conference was preceded by a QTI Workshop on the Monday, which was most productive, particularly from the perspective of Uniqurate in that it allowed us to get some new faces using the application - and exposed some new bugs! Consequently, a new version of Uniqurate has been released today that addresses the following bugs:

  • Adding an image into a question causes invalid XML to be generated
  • Using IE causes invalid XML to be generated (regardless of images!)
  • Inconsistent behaviour of watermarked input fields - sometimes the watermark remained when you tried to type into the field, meaning that what you got was a mismash of what you wanted and the watermark text

The version of UQ released today addresses these issues and represents quite a significant change under the hood, which should hopefully resolve any remaining inconsistencies across browsers in the XML that gets produced. As a bonus, while I had the image insertion code open, I also added the ability to not only add an image from a URL on the public internet, but also to push an image from your local hard disk and have it bundled as part of the eventual question content package. (This itself meant a big change under the hood with respect to the way the app handled content package manifests, but you end users don't care about that!)

Upcoming work will probably be to add a component that gets the student to place/drag items into a correct order - this seemed to get some appreciative nods for a "next up" suggestion, but if you have any other ideas, particularly if they're cross disciplinary in nature, fire them at me!

Saturday, 7 July 2012

QTIWorks snapshot 10 has been released

I'm pleased to announce that the 10th snapshot of QTIWorks is now available for you to play with:

This release has been timed squarely to coincide with the CAA conference in Southampton next week and focuses on showcasing QTI, as well as lifting the wraps on some of the functionality that people will use to actually deliver and integrate their assessments.

New look and feel

The first thing you'll notice is a new (albeit rather) minimalist look and feel. This is likely to evolve over time as I'm a terrible graphic designer, but I have to say I do like the font I've chosen. (Yay for Google Web Fonts and CSS @font-face!)

Public demo/showcase area

I have moved all of the functionality that doesn't require a full QTIWorks account into a new "Demos" section, which we'll develop over time as a nice public showcase of QTI. Currently you can do 3 things here:
  • Try out our bundled samples: I've bundled a selection of QTI 2.1 sample items into this area for people to try out... and this bundle now includes some nice examples from UPMC. I've made a bit of an effort to pick appropriate "delivery settings" for these so that they are showcased in a sensible way, though I have a wee bit more work to do in this respect. I think it looks quite nice, so go and have a play!
  • Upload and validate your own item or test: This is the validator from snapshot 1 with a lick of paint, and some minor improvements.
  • Upload and run your own item: This lets you upload your own QTI 2.1 assessment item for running, using a number of pre-defined "delivery settings". QTIWorks will automatically validate your item and divert to the validation results page if it finds any errors.

Logged-in area

Potential users of QTIWorks can now request a free account that will give them access to their own logged-in area (which I'm currently calling "the dashboard" but will probably change very soon). This is where people will eventually be able to use the full functionality provided by QTIWorks though, of course, we've still got some way to go in this respect. That said, there's already enough to cheer up a wet weekend in Skegness, including:
  • Assessment management: you can now upload and store new assessments in the system, list and view ones you've already uploaded, validate them, update their QTI data and try them out.
  • Delivery Settings management: Delivery Settings are a new concept in this snapshot. These allow you to specify exactly how an item (and later a test) should be delivered to candidates. For example, in formative assessment you might want to let the candidate have an unlimited number of tries, access a model solution and to be able to reset (and even re-randomise) the question freely whereas, in summative assessment, you probably want to prevent most of these things happening. Delivery settings provide a way of controlling all of these details. I have a feeling we'll refine this a bit more over the next few iterations, so feedback on the ones we've chosen already would be most welcome.
So that's it for this snapshot! The public area should be pretty stable (and rather slick now) so please give it a go and report any issues. On the other hand, I'd recommend wearing a hard hat and goggles if you want to try out the "dashboard" area at the moment. Because of this, you'll need to email me if you want an account created for the time being so that I can give you a bit of a pep talk.

Monday, 2 July 2012

CAA release for Uniqurate

A new release of Uniqurate has just been issued, which (as always) can be found at

One of the problems was that UQ seemed to be turning into three discrete sub-applications:
  • The "Friendly" WYSIWYG drag-and-drop mode, targeted at those who just want to create e-assessment content and have no QTI expertise - or inclination to acquire it!
  • The "Intermediate" mode, for pre-existing content that couldn't readily be crammed into UQ's "Friendly" mode, enabling these novice users to alter the human-readable aspects and make changes to a question's context;
  • The "Expert" mode, for the old hands at QTI who find the support mechanisms of the other two modes confining and obtrusive.
Given that it's a fairly quiet period, with little coming from the client institutions in terms of new components, I thought I'd use the time to address this splintering of the app. This is doubly important with CAA coming up, particularly with our pre-conference workshop where we'll have new victims users exposed to UQ. I believe it's important that the journey that an application requires of a user is logical, and can be followed by those of all levels of expertise.

UQ now opens up with an initial landing/menu page, which invites the user to create or load new content:

Depending on the content, the user will be seamlessly routed to the best mode for them. If they're creating a new question or editing an existing UQ one, then clicking the Edit icon will take them to the "Friendly" mode. However, if the question was authored outside of UQ, it will offer them the "Intermediate" mode:

There have also been a lot of changes "under the hood". Most significant of these is the ability to support foreign characters, which will be invaluable for some of our colleagues on QTI-PET...

...although it's all Greek to me :-)

We've also got a new component, the simple text response (i.e. the student types some text, and it's either wrong, or right). Simple is the operative word, but it's a fairly elementary and basic component that  - bottom line - is going to be expected by end users even if it's so basic they don't think of articulating it as a requirement!