New search interface, talks, and a mailing list

Last week I deployed the new question search and organisation interface to the mathcentre editor. We noticed that the global question database was becoming quite unwieldy now that we have so many users (not complaining!), and finding both your questions and good questions written by others was getting harder. The new interface downplays the big list, instead presenting you with a few different ways in to the most useful parts of the site.

numbas new question index

The questions index page now shows you a kind of ‘dashboard’, with links to the most popular tags, your recently-edited questions, as well as some highlights picked by us and your starred questions – you can save a question to this list by clicking on the star next to its name on the question edit page. You can still search the entire database by entering keywords or question titles in the search box at the top of the page.

It’s not a coincidence that we also delivered a workshop on using Numbas at eAssessment Scotland 2013. An hour really wasn’t long enough to do very much at all, but everyone seemed very positive about Numbas and keen to investigate it further. I asked for a show of hands at the start to find out who had signed up for the workshop because they’d already heard of Numbas, and I was pleasantly surprised by the response!

In future conference action, James Denholm-Price of Kingston University London will be giving a talk titled “Using Numbas for formative and summative assessment” at CETL-MSOR 2013 on the 10th of September. James used Numbas in his linear algebra course last year and has many interesting things to say about it. Also at CETL our two summer students, Hayley Bishop and Sarah Jowett, will be talking about their work on the maths support wiki we’re creating with Birmingham University, to complement our respective maths support centres. More on that later!

On the 23rd of October I’ll be giving a talk about Numbas at an IOP-sponsored event on “Promoting learning through technology” at Edinburgh University. I don’t think the event has a webpage or even a definite venue yet; I’ll give details when I have them.

Finally, we’ve set up a numbas-users mailing list on Google Groups. The idea is to have a place to discuss Numbas use, ask and answer questions about authoring, and talk about features you’d like to see. Bill has started it off by asking for comments on the new searching interface.

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

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 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

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.

Numbas v1.4

I’ve just released v1.4 of Numbas on Github. I increase the version number whenever there are significant additions to the system, and there are loads this time.

Here’s what’s changed since v1.3: Read the rest

Numbas is now properly open-source

Numbas, my web-based e-assessment system, is now available under an Apache 2.0 licence at github. That means it’s finally properly open-source, and anyone can do whatever they like with it.