Apr 032014

It’s not as testing as it seems

It was anticipated that students studying their first year of the new Mathematics for Scientific Computing module would take four tests on paper but newly appointed module leader, Dr Sarah Greenfield, had other ideas.

Sarah recognised that the nature of the tests; multiple choice with single correct answers, lends itself to an online format. This not only means that Sarah can have the tests marked by the system but it saves paper and makes the tests re-usable year on year with minor amendments.

One hurdle that was overcome was the use of pictures in one of the tests. The fourth phasetest is a thirteen question test in which each of the questions and each of the four options for each question are presented in picture format.

Sarah talked to the relevant specialist and it was decided that to create this test using the Blackboard Learn Virtual Learning Environment would investigated as this was anticipated that this platform would add the most value by way of time saving and recycling the tests.

With support from the ELT Project Officer, Sarah has been able to efficiently create a bank of questions for Phasetest 4 which comprise of the question image and four answer images per question. It took a few hours to create all of the images so that they all appear consistently but this up-front investment is far out-weighed by the time saved by having the tests marked by the VLE and on an ongoing basis, there is no longer a need to re-write and re-print paper tests every year.

Two issues were encountered:

Firstly, when adding pictures (.jpg format) to the test in the VLE, the default permissions do not include any access for students. This means that although the test appears to be fine for instructors, when students take the test for real, blank spaces appear where the pictures should be.

To overcome this, as the pictures were created, they were saved to a single local directory with meaningful filenames and following an agreed structure/hierarchy. Once all of the pictures had been produced, the entire directory was uploaded to the VLE and the folder permissions were changed to include students with read only permissions. Before submitting, the ‘overwrite’ option was selected and the new student permissions automatically percolated through to the sub-directories and files.

The second issue was how to create the thirteen questions in an efficient manner. Sarah could have created each question individually and browsed for each question and its respective four options images as the questions were created but it was estimated that this would represent the best part of a day’s work.

Instead, Sarah created the first question and using the Edit Test screen twelve copies were taken. Sarah then went into the editor for the second question and amended the question title and so on. However, at this point the images in the copied questions were still showing the images for question one. To save time, instead of removing all of the images and browsing the course for the correct image, Sarah made use of the HTML mode in the editor to point the existing code to the correct image.

For example, this code points toward the third answer option for question one:

<div class="vtbegenerated"><img src="https://vle.dmu.ac.uk/bbcswebdav/courses/IMAT1205_2014_Y/Phasetest4files/Sarah%20G_Phasetest4images_March2014/Sarah%20G_Phasetest4images_March2014/Q1/Q1C.jpg" alt="" style="border: 0px solid rgb(0, 0, 0);" /></div>

The key part here is the “Q1/Q1C.jpg” section of the code. This represents the sub-directory and the filename of this particular image.

Using the HTML mode, Sarah was able to copy and paste this code into each of the questions and amend only the sub-directory and filename to show the correct picture for the correct question and its respective answer options.

For example, this code represents the first answer option in question eight:

<div class="vtbegenerated"><img src="https://vle.dmu.ac.uk/bbcswebdav/courses/IMAT1205_2014_Y/Phasetest4files/Sarah%20G_Phasetest4images_March2014/Sarah%20G_Phasetest4images_March2014/Q8/Q1A.jpg" alt="" style="border: 0px solid rgb(0, 0, 0);" /></div>

Note that the code is almost identical with the exception of the sub-directory and filename which is now “Q8/Q1A.jpg

Using this technique of copy and paste with the HTML mode on, Sarah was able to quickly re-point the links to the relevant picture files in around an hour. This use of HTML mode requires absolutely no knowledge of HTML programming or tags, just a well organised folder to begin with.

Sarah’s students will now sit this phasetest in a computer lab whilst logged into the VLE rather than on paper. This will save Sarah time as there is no longer a need to manually mark the tests and Sarah now has a bank of questions that can be easily added to or amended over the next few years.


Ian Pettit