Friday, 21 September 2012

Uniqurate: new release... the last big push of development

Today's release of Uniqurate represents what will most likely be the last big push of software development - at least development that will take place under the auspices of the Uniqurate project itself. Doubtlessly there will be bug fixes still to come, plus some little bits to come in QTI-PET down the line, and I'm sure there will be more development in the future on other projects and by others in the community. However with the start of the teaching semester next week and development officially ending in November, it's the end of the big stuff for now.

Without further ado, here's what's new:

  • Multiple choice component:
    • No feedback is now a valid scenario. A response will turn green if both feedback and distractor (answer) text has been filled in, orange if the distractor only is filled in (but which is now valid), and red when nothing's been filled in.
    • There is now an option to copy feedbacks. This means that if you don't want to have individual feedbacks for all your "wrong" answers, you can fill in one of them and use the Quick Feedback button.
    • There is a checkbox that will present a multiple choice component as a pull down list when delivered to the student. This might be useful for questions with lots of distractors!
  • Tests
    • You can now click on the edit icon next to a question edit that question in situ within the test.
  • General
    • There are now options to copy a component, and to move/drag a component into a different position within the question. Dragging is also generally improved (e.g. it will scroll properly if you drag a component towards the button or top of the browser window)
    • The much requested option to put feedback immediately after the component (rather than at the end of the question) is now in place. The slider at the top of the component pane toggles between Feedback shown with components and Feedback shown at end of question. The first option means that feedback will appear immediately underneath the component to which it applies. The second option will display all feedback at the bottom of the question.
    • Far too many bug fixes to list - but includes workaround for the Firefox issue where scroll bars weren't appearing on the QTIWorks preview.
    • Probably many interesting and exciting new bugs introduced :-)
It has to be said that the recent demo/workshops have been invaluable in providing me with a distillation of end-users' needs and issues. A special shout out to those who participated in the QTI-PET session in Oxford - much of what's gone into today's release came out of that session. Bug tracking and fixing in particular, while not a glamourous activity, absolutely depends on end users using the software and feeding back to the developer(s). Being physically there and part of the demo session gave that process an immediacy and dynamism that is lacking when reduced to emails bouncing back and forth.

So, with the bulk of software development done, and if you'll indulge me, I just want to take a brief moment to reflect on Uniqurate. 

Back at the end of last year, I had a very different vision for this application. The original intention was to create a loosely coupled set of mini-editors - i.e. one for a multiple choice, one for a a text entry, and so on. I also bandied about the term "de-maths-ing QTI". The intent there was that any questions likely to involve anything vaguely arithmetic would be generalised, the edges hammered off, and used as a baseline to create yet another mini-editor. We spoke about identifying questions with cross-disciplinary utility, so as to avoid those proverbial edges being too sharp and thus not needing that much hammering in the first place!

The real quantum leap for Uniqurate came just after Christmas. A discussion with Sue M early in the development of what came to be known as "friendly mode" saw the mini-editors become "components". The crucial difference was the concept of having multiple components per question. 

Laying the foundations to support this took some time, and was frustrating from my perspective - early releases of UQ looked nice but didn't do very much!  However, contrast what we now have with the original vision. You can create a question in UQ that tests the student's knowledge of a subject by having them engage in a variety of ways. The custom maths component which offers the potential for some very rich feedback scenarios.

The change of approach meant that we took a bit of time to get rolling but in the end, I think we have a much better application for it. 

I am really pleased with Uniqurate, even if I do say so myself. Certainly it goes light-years beyond what I envisaged at the start of the project. The short version of the Uniqurate project proposal was that Aqurate was too simple and Mathqurate too complex; our challenge was to create something in between. I think we've succeeded in that aim, but along the way something unexpected has happened: Uniqurate is in some respects more complex than Mathqurate, at least in terms of the content that one can produce. I think that's a good, no, a great thing. It means that those new to QTI can dive in and create some "clever" content without ever seeing a scrap of XML. In the long run, it can only help to encourage the adoption of QTI outside of the existing community.

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