Christian Lawson-Perfect

Numbas v1.5

I’ve just released v1.5 of Numbas on Github. While there have been loads of changes since the last time I remembered to bump the version number up, the biggest change recently is that I have rewritten the default theme to use the knockout.js framework. It makes the underlying code a lot simpler, and allows us to do a few new things that would have been very complicated. In particular, there is now a Review mode which is made available when you have finished an exam – you can click on any question on the feedback page to go back to it and compare your answers with the expected answers, as well as seeing any marking feedback and the model solution in the Advice section.

The version numbers in the Numbas source code repository don’t mean too much since we push updates to the stable branch as soon as they’ve been tested instead of lumping them together, but it’s good to mark progress every now and then.

The mathcentre editor tracks the stable branch, so you can try the new features there now.

The Review mode was something we had in the previous system we used at Newcastle, and it was the one thing that many of the students asked for in a survey conducted at the end of the first semester by Dr. Nick Parker. I’m glad it’s finally in Numbas!

When you finish an exam, you can click on any question to review it.

Marking feedback and the correct answers are shown for each part.

And the model solution given in the Advice section is also revealed.

Better organisation and user profiles in the Numbas editor

I’ve just deployed an update to the Numbas editor which makes searching a bit easier, and gives everyone a user profile.

I’ve replaced the old question/exam index pages with a new system which is a lot quicker when the database contains a lot of items (for example, the mathcentre database, which currently contains over 600 questions).

It’s now possible to filter questions by tag, which should make organising and finding questions you’re working on a bit easier. The tags on the question editing page are now clickable, so you can easily find related questions.

Every user has a profile page where they can provide a bio, along with links to their exams, questions, and the tags they’ve used. You can edit your bio by clicking on the “edit your profile” link on your profile page.

Thanks to Joshua Beals for giving me a prod to sort out the searching interface – it was beginning to creak a bit!

You can try out the new features at the mathcentre Numbas editor.

Control who can see and edit your questions and exams

Many people have asked for the ability to hide questions from public view, and to share editing privileges with their colleagues. I spent last week implementing sharing and access controls on both exams and questions in the Numbas editor.

To define who can see and edit your questions, click on the Access tab on their edit pages. For an explanation of the various settings, see the Numbas documentation.

Editor and revision questions now on mathcentre

We’ve finally put a news item on the mathcentre front page that the Numbas editor is available for anyone to use. We’ve uploaded over 300 of our own questions to the database for you to pick and choose from, or you can create your own questions using the browser-based editor.

If you just want to run some questions for revision, we’ve put some tests on a few first-year maths topics to Numbas in the main mathcentre database; you can find them by searching for “Numbas” at mathcentre.ac.uk.

HESTEM project to put Numbas exams and editor on mathcentre

Over the Summer we had a project, funded through HESTEM, to put Numbas material and the new editor on Loughborough University’s excellent mathcentre site.

We’ve run quite a bit behind schedule for various reasons but we now have some material on the site for students to use, and a fully functional question editor for teachers, stocked up with over 300 questions from our database developed over the past few years here at Newcastle.

The tests for students are available under the “Test Yourself” header for a few topics. For example, this test on completing the square allows students to try randomly generated questions on the same subject over and over until they feel happy with it. This is exactly the kind of thing e-assessment is good at: repetitive practice at basic skills at the student’s pace.

The Numbas editor is a much bigger deal. It’s online at numbas.mathcentre.ac.uk. It allows a few levels of interaction:

  • Anyone can browse the database of questions and tests on the site, and download packages for uploading to VLEs or wherever.
  • If you create an account on the site, you can select questions to make into exams suited for your particular needs, or…
  • You can write your own questions, using the same tools we use to make our highly successful in-course assessments.

We’re still working on the documentation, and the interface is still being tweaked, but we think that the material and tools we’re making available will be of real use to both students and teachers. If you’ve got any questions, please write a comment here or send an email to numbas@ncl.ac.uk.

Numbas in operation in 2012

Bill has written this report about how Numbas is being used this year for a University committee. I thought it was worth sharing.

School of Maths & Stats

Numbas will be used for all first year modules and service teaching in Maths & Stats in 2012/2013. This is in formative mode with an in-course assessment component.  Will be extended to all second year modules in 2013/2014. Note that presently this is the most extensive use of formative e-assessment in UK HE and is based on our original award winning use of formative e-assessment.

Transfer to other Universities

Two universities are transferring the technology from Newcastle as part of an HE STEM project: Chemistry at Bradford and Maths at Kingston. This will be finished by August 2012.

Birmingham University are talking to us in early April about using Numbas in their foundation courses and in their maths support system.

Mathcentre

There is now a new project starting April 2012 to embed Numbas in mathcentre.

OER and Numbas

We are running an HEA/JISC workshop on preparing OER materials using Numbas on April 10.

This is free and open to all.

Maths-Aid

We are developing new materials for Maths-Aid using Numbas as part of e-learning and support packages. Also preparing materials and resources (eg DVDs) for revision.

Using Numbas with Blackboard

With version 9.1 SP6, Blackboard finally fixed their SCORM player. That means that you can upload Numbas exams to Blackboard and it will save students’ grades into the Grade Center, just like any other assignment. Earlier versions claimed to support SCORM, but the implementation was quite broken.

In this post I’ll walk you through the process of putting a Numbas exam on Blackboard. Read the rest

Vector and matrix support

I’ve just added support for matrices and vectors to Numbas’ JME system. You can now do some very simple linear algebra calculations. This is mainly useful for generating question statements.

For more information, have a look at the relevant commit message.

Interactive revision problems for engineers

Maths-Aid at Newcastle University commissioned some worksheets to help first-year engineering students with commonly-requested topics, so we’ve been making some quick revision tests with Numbas to go with them.

So far we have one test online, to go with the simple second-order ODE worksheet. Because a Numbas test is just HTML, we could just upload the test to our FTP and it worked without having to do any fiddling with servers or asking for help from an admin. The turnaround from deciding to make the test to having it online and working was just a few hours.