Draft briefing paper on IMS Question and Test Interoperability v2.1 now available

With IMS Question and Test Interoperability v2.1 almost ready for final release, this draft briefing paper provides an introduction to the specification based on the most recent public draft available.  It covers the structure and purpose of the specification, and looks at the history and background to it as well as reasons for its adoption and some common concerns and criticisms.  A final version will be released with the final version of the specification; in the meantime, we hope this paper will provide a useful guide to this significantly improved specification.  It is likely to be of particular interest to IT managers, learning technologists and developers interested in online and electronic assessment and new to QTI.

Any comments, corrections or requests for additional content are very welcome, either by commenting here on this blog or by email.

IMS QTI implementation survey results and implications

IMS have now released (registration required) the results of the QTI 2.1 implementation survey launched in January, looking in great detail into current implementations of the specification.

Twenty-one implementations are covered by the responses, representing a wide range of approaches to implementation, and the actual responses are available for download for those interested.  The responses support the notion of a core set of basic features implemented by all respondents, with broader parts of the specification being implemented on a more individual basis.

The results are feeding in to the development of profiles for QTI 2.1:

  • Base QTI Profile, covering the features available in the most comprehensive implementations;
  • CC-QTI, which updates the functionality covered by the QTI 1.2.1 profile within Common Cartridge 1.0 and which will be integrated into a later version of CC.

Profiling work, including the CETIS QTI working group activities, and subject-specific activities such as profiles for maths are also discussed.

This information will be very valuable for developers of tools and content, and it’s great to see IMS making it available to the community.

IMS QTI v2.1 Implementation Survey

IMS invite developers to participate in an IMS Question and Test Interoperability (QTI) v2.1 implementation survey.

The survey is designed to do two things:

  • establish the ‘state of play’ with regard to QTI v2.1 tool capabilities
  • establish whether there is sufficient overlap in tool capabilities to define one or more profiles.

IMS will publish an anonymous summery of the survey outcomes to all participants.  Survey results will be strictly confidential and data from this research will be reported only in the aggregate.  Your information will be coded and will remain confidential, however if you wish you may supply your email address if you are willing to be contacted to follow up or for additional information.

The survey only poses questions about QTI v2.1 capabilities, which means that it is not relevant for developers of earlier versions of QTI.

The survey will only take around 20-30 minutes to complete.  Information about the QTI project group and results from this survey will be posted in the IMS QTI forum.

This is a great opportunity for QTI v2.1 developers to help steer the future of the specification.

IMS withdraw QTI v2.1 draft specification

Over the last few days a new notice has appeared on the IMS Question and Test Interoperability webpage in place of the QTI v2.1 draft specification:

The IMS QTIv2.1 draft specification has been removed from the IMS website. Adequate feedback on the specification has not been received, and therefore, the specification has been put back into the IMS project group process for further work.

QTI v2.1 was under public review for more than 2 years and did not achieve sufficient implementation and feedback to warrant being voted on as a final specification. Therefore it has been withdrawn for further work by the IMS membership. IMS cannot continue to publish specifications that have not met the rigors of the IMS process.”

IMS GLC has convened a set of leading organizations to take the lead on this new work – which will be considered to be in the CM/DN draft phase in the IMS process.  Therefore, we are very encouraged and hopeful that a new version will be available in due time, possibly a QTI v2.2, along with the necessary conformance profiles. However, we cannot assume that it will be a linear evolution from QTI v2.1.

Until that time the only version of QTI that is fully endorsed by IMS GLC is v1.2.1, that is supported under the Common Cartridge Alliance: http://www.imsglobal.org/cc/alliance.html . While QTI version 2.0 has been voted on as a final specification by the IMS members, it’s deficiencies are well known and IMS does not recommend implementation of it.

This was clearly completely unexpected, not only for us at CETIS but also amongst a number of commercial and academic developers who have been working with the specification as can be seen by posts to the technical discussion list hosted by UCLES.  In particular, I’d encourage you to read Wilbert’s response on behalf of CETIS.

Concerns from the developer community addressed a number of the issues raised in IMS’s statement.  In response to the claim that ‘adequate feedback on the specification has not been received’, several commentators argued that this is because of the high standard of the specification; while the suggestion that ‘QTI v2.1 … did not achieve sufficient implementation … to warrant being voted on as a final specification’ sparked the addition of a number of implementations to Wikipedia’s QTI page.

There is agreement that work will progress on the basis of the public draft, so it is still perfectly possible that the outcome will be a mildly amended version of the public draft with some small profiles.

CETIS will be following this up, and will of course keep you all informed about progress.  In the meantime, we’d be very keen to hear any thoughts or comments you have, although I would encourage you to sign up for both the UCLES list and the official IMS QTI list to ensure your voice is heard as widely as possible; it would be most beneficial for the wider QTI community I feel for discussion to be focused in one place, i.e. the UCLES list.

Assessment meets Enterprise meets Portfolio: three way SIG meeting ahead

The room’s booked, the agenda’s confirmed and lunch has been ordered, so it must be time for another SIG meeting.  This time, the Assessment SIG is joining up with the Enterprise and Portfolio SIGs on 22 May at the University of Strathclyde to look at issues that affect all three domains and areas of overlap between the domains. 

The agenda includes the usual mix of news and updates, project presentations and discussion sessions, plus a special themed requirements gathering session focused on the pressing issue of student retention.  Myles Danson of JISC opens the day with a heads-up on forthcoming Invitations to Tender in the assessment domain, a topic that is always of great interest.  Nicola Wilkinson of the WebPA project, based at Loughborough University, will introduce their Learning Impact Award-nominated system, while Alan Paull will discuss the University of Nottingham’s DELIA project on admissions.

The admissions process is also the focus of proposed BSI standardisation work for the transmission of digital evidence and assessment data between schools and awarding bodies to be presented by Karim Derrick of TAG Learning.

The afternoon will feature presentations and discussions on student retention aimed at gathering requirements, recommendations and priorities for future activities, led by our own Simon Grant and Helen Richardson and building on the work of the STAR project and the National Audit Office.

As always, the meeting is free to attend, with lunch and refreshments provided.  It’s open to all, and we just ask that you register in advance to secure your place.  We look forward to seeing you there!

IMS release QTI v2.1 public draft 2 Addendum

IMS Question and Test Interoperability v2.1 public draft 2 was released almost two years ago.  Since then there have been a number of implementation activities, including the JISC Capital Programme projects demonstrated to the community last February.  Insights and lessons learned from these development activities have contributed to the QTI v2.1 public draft 2 Addendum now available through the specification webpage.  The Addendum incorporates ‘bug fixes and updates to some of the examples, the specification documents, and the XML schema’ and now offers the best version yet of the specification.

Feedback can as always be submitted through the ‘specification problem and suggestion reporting’ section of the IMS website (registration is required so I can’t link to it directly in this blog) or through CETIS.


Assessment and Educational Content joint meeting review

Slideshows and mp3s from last week’s joint JISC CETIS Assessment and Educational Content SIGs meeting are now available on the wiki.  It was a lively and interesting day, covering a wide range of topics of relevance to both communities.

Steve Lay of CARET, University of Cambridge, who had kindly offered to host the event, provided an update on the IMS QTI specification.  Steve is co-chair of the IMS Assessment SIG which is responsible for the development of the QTI specification, and provided attendees with background information and an update on the current position of QTI v2.1.  The specification was released in public draft form in July 2006, and it was hoped that the final version would be released in early 2008.  Delays to the interoperability demonstration required before the specification can be released have set back release to later this year, with an addendum to the public draft scheduled to appear earlier.

Steve also described some of the issues around profiling specifications and the role of IMS’s Application Profile Management Group, particularly in relation to the IMS Common Cartridge specification which currently includes a profile of QTI v1.2.1.  His examination of the pressures put on the scope of the specification is particularly useful.

Wilbert Kraan from CETIS complemented this with an update on content packaging specifications, covering OAI Object Reuse and Exchange (ORE), Content Packaging v1.2, IEEE RAMLET and a proposed packaging transcoding service.  CP v1.2 is still in draft stage and will, like QTI v2.1, be released to the public once IMS members have developed implementations and shown them in interoperability demonstrations.  There is quite a lot of updated material in the new version but the lack of current implementations mean that it’s immediate future is uncertain. 

RAMLET is an ontology which enables mapping between IMS Content Packaging, METS, MP21 DID and Atom.  Wilbert raised the particularly interesting question of the applicability of this approach to question and test materials, not just in QTI but also other formats, potentially including html.  Steve confirmed the ease with which content should be able to be transformed to QTI, as well as highlighting the potential value for enhancing accessibility.

CETIS’s Deputy Director Adam Cooper presented a postcard from the IMS Quarterly meeting in Long Beach held the week before.  This was an extremely useful update on recent developments within IMS and current work in progress, which includes Enterprise Web Services v2.0, Learning Tools Interoperability v2.0, Common Cartridge and Common Cartridge Schools (CCK12), Digital Interactive Content Exchange and various ‘odds and sods’ including QTI v2.1.

Moving away from the more abstract topic of specification development to their real world uses, Ross Mackenzie and Sarah Wood of the Open University discussed their experiences with creating Common Cartridges for the OU’s Open Learn, releasing free content under a Creative Commons licence for use worldwide.  Content, largely drawn from OU archives, was transformed into XML, an approach which allows the subsequent rerendering of material in multiple formats.  After hand crafting a small number of cartridges, an automated process was developed which has so far produced around 400 cartridges for download; assessment material has not yet been covered but is of obvious interest.  Issues around certification and validation were highlighted, with proposals by some Common Cartridge Alliance members that costs of up to several hundred dollars would be appropriate for cartridge testing being inappropriate for an initiative which aims to give content away for free.

Cartridge creation tools mentioned included OU Publisher (which it’s hoped will be made available in Moodle at some point), eXe and Microsoft Grava; desktop players include UCompass based on Adobe AIR and a Microsoft development based on Silverlight; it’ll be interesting to see how this particular battle works out.

Assessment SIG regulars will be familiar with the work Niall Barr of NB Software has done around assessment and QTI, including some valuable developer resources.  He’s now moved into the area of working on the IMS Common Cartridge and Tools Interoperability specifications with particular reference to assessment and the QTI specification, and presented some of his work to the meeting.  An mp3 recording of his talk is available and we hope to have the slides available shortly.

Linn van der Zanden of the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) closed the meeting with a fascinating look at some of the more innovative assessment activities the SQA have been piloting in recent months.  This particular project, led by Mhairi McAlpine, has introduced blogs and wikis to support assessment of a PBNC in Health and Safety.  This course places heavy emphasis on collaborative work which raises difficulties in assessing individual contributions.  The use of a team wiki enables assessors to evaluate individuals through the use of the history function, with discussion pages providing evidence of debate and dissent.  This approach also helps to identify ‘freeloaders’ who contribute little, and stronger personalities within the group which may take over activities.  Personal blogs support reflective learning, while traditional eassessment facilities support the submission of project plans.  Login requirements provide a degree of authentication of contributions, and students have responded positively to the approach.  The current small scale project involving fifty students in two colleges is likely to be scaled up for rollout on a wider scale over the next few years.

Our thanks go to our friendly and helpful hosts at CARET and to all our speakers who helped to make this such a useful and interesting event, and my thanks go to Sheila, our Educational Content SIG coordinator, for collaborating on the event and chairing the meeting so effectively on the day.  You can read Sheila’s discussion of some of the issues raised by the meeting on her blog.

Joint CETIS Assessment and Educational Content SIGs meeting announced

Registrations are now open for our next Assessment SIG meeting, and you’re warmly invited to book your place for this event hosted by the University of Cambridge.  It’s a joint meeting with the CETIS Educational Content SIG, something we’ve been planning to do for some time, looking in particular at two standards of interest to assessment: IMS Common Cartridge and IMS Tools Interoperability.

Common Cartridge hasn’t even been released yet, but has already generated significant interest amongst content vendors and publishers and has been heavily promoted by IMS.  It combines profiles of a number of different standards, including IMS Content Packaging v1.1.4, IMS Question and Test Interoperability v1.2.1, IMS Tools Interoperability Guidelines v1.0, IEEE LOM v1.0 and SCORM v1.2 and 2004.  The resultant learning object package or ‘cartridge’ is intended to be fully interoperable across any compliant system allowing content to be delivered to any authorised individual.

The appeal of Common Cartridge coupled with authentication and digital rights management systems to content publishers is clear, and the specification is particularly suited to the American educational system where there is a closer relationship between content vendor and courses than in UK Higher Education; in the UK, its primary impact may be in the schools and Further Education sectors where there is more of a history of buying content from publishers than HE.  The inclination of many UK HE lecturers to produce their own content and the bespoke nature of many higher level courses are issues we’ve already encountered when looking at topics such as open content and item banking, but there is some interest within UK education, in particular from the Open University.  As a major content producer whose resources are used far beyond their own courses, Common Cartridge has clear potential, and Ross McKenzie and Sarah Wood of OU OpenLearn will offer an insight into their experiences of implementing the specification and developing cartridges.  There has been very little work to date on the delivery of assessment material through Common Cartridge, a topic which will be addressed by Niall Barr of NB Software.  Our own Wilbert Kraan and Adam Cooper will update delegates on the current position of Common Cartridge.

IMS Tools Interoperability has received rather less fanfare, but is a valuable specification which takes a web services approach to seamlessly integrating different tools.  It allows specialist tools to be ‘plugged in’ to a learning management system, such as integrating a sophisticated assessment management system with a VLE which only provides limited native support for assessment, or discipline-specific tools such as simulators.  It also supports accessibility requirements through the (optional) incorporation of the user’s IMS Accessibility Learner Information Package profile to allow silent interface configuration.  Warwick Bailey of Icodeon will be discussing his experiences with the specification.

In the morning, Steve Lay of CARET, University of Cambridge, will be providing an update on the current state of IMS QTI v2.1.  Steve is co-chair of the IMS QTI working group (with Pierre Gorissen of SURF and Fontys University).

The afternoon will feature a presentation by Linn van der Zanden of the Scottish Qualifications Authority on the use of wikis and blogs in education and assessment, picking up on an increasing interest in the use and potential of Web 2.0 technologies in this domain.

The meeting is colocated with a workshop by the three JISC Capital Programme projects focusing on assessment to which you are also invited

Capital Programme dissemination workshop announced

The three JISC Capital Programme projects working on assessment will be hosting a dissemination workshop at the University of Cambridge the day before the joint CETIS Assessment and Educational Content SIGs meeting at the same venue.  The workshop will feature demonstrations of the tools, discussion on future directions for the programme and explore ways of building an open source development community to support it.

In the morning, participants will have a chance to see the tools demonstrated and the role of web services in delivering an end-to-end assessment process. The afternoon session will split into two tracks.  Track I, Building an Open Source Community to support QTI-based tools, will have a technical focus, incorporating discussion on implementation issues and introducing participants to the projects’ open source development support.  Track II, Innovation and Interoperability in Assessment, will look at some of the issues around assessment and evaluation software within the community together with more innovative and imaginative uses of QTI.

The projects on display will be of considerable interest.  Offering the first implementations of IMS Question and Test Interoperability v2.1 freely available to the community, they provide functionality to support assessment from authoring to delivery.  AQuRate, based at Kingston University, supports item authoring, with one particularly notable feature being its attractive and friendly user interface.  Minibix, based at the University of Cambridge, provides item banking functionality suitable for both high stakes private item banks for summative assessment and low stakes item banks for resource sharing and formative assessment.  The trio is completed by AsDel, based at the University of Southampton, which provides a range of small web-based tools for test delivery, test validation, test management and basic test construction.

As with the SIG meeting, registration is free and open to all.