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Our first instalment of CDTL Brief for 2011 is all about the various Teaching Tools our educators use to engage students and stimulate their interest in the subject. Whether commercially procured or developed by the educators themselves, these tools serve to enhance their students’ understanding of abstract concepts and ultimately enrich their learning experience. We are pleased to have colleagues from the medical, science, design and environment as well as engineering faculties share their teaching experiences in this area.

June 2011, Vol. 14 No. 1 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
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The Examination Library Folder (ELF): A Courseware to Manage Examination Questions
 
Dr Kang Lifeng
Department of Pharmacy
 

Introduction

Students’ expectations of the type of exam they may take have greatly influenced the way they study. If students expect an exam which places greater emphasis on the application of knowledge instead of memorising it, then they will learn more deeply (Stanford, 1992). From this point of view, it is crucial to recognise the importance of assessment in the whole process of teaching and learning (Fink, 2003; Searcey, 2006). However, student assessment is a complicated procedure and may lack objectiveness and fairness if there is no proper management of test questions. Many coursewares have been developed to facilitate the assessment process. For example, the test authoring software Questionmark™ provides sophisticated assessment functions for education institutions. These types of courseware are powerful and multifunctional. However, they generally require well-trained personnel to run the programme and are prohibitively expensive for personal users. Alternatively, some universities provide in-house exam courseware to faculty members. For example, the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) e-learning portal, the Integrated Virtual Learning Environment (IVLE) includes a ‘Question Bank’ resource. The Question Bank provides functions such as allowing users to input questions and generate exam papers. However, it has its limitations. First, as it is a web-based application, its users must have internet access, which in turn may cause security concerns such as the potential danger of exam question leakage. Second, it does not provide question descriptors, such as the question’s level difficulty and other properties.

Through this research, the author has developed a courseware for personal users to manage exam questions. The courseware provides a database and several applications to help users manage exam questions. In addition, the courseware would be easy to learn and use.

Developing the courseware

The courseware, named the Examination Library Folder (ELF), was developed using the Microsoft Visual Foxpro 9.0 programming language. The courseware consists of three parts: a database containing exam questions designed by users, tools to manage these questions and a few types of graphic interface from which users can generate exam papers from the database.

The database contains seven types of questions: multiple-choice questions (MCQ), true-or-false, fill-in-the-blanks, short questions, long questions, matching questions and calculations. To manage these questions, a simple graphical interface was provided to facilitate the adding and editing of questions. To create exam papers from the database, ELF provides two modes (automatic and self-selection) which users can choose from. The automatic mode allows questions to be randomly selected from the database, while the self-selection mode allows users to browse the database and manually select questions from it.

The functions within ELF

To start inputting questions, ELF provides a database to contain all the exam questions. The question and its answer are kept separately. Two properties of each question need to be defined—the chapter where it is from and its difficulty level (Figure 1). The difficulty of each question has to be defined for users to gauge its ability to differentiate students’ performances. A simple interface was provided to locate, add and edit the questions. The seven types of questions share a similar editing interface, as shown in Figure 1. Folders which contain questions of each difficulty level and type are stored in the database.

Figure 1. The interface for managing MCQs.

Next, exam papers can be generated after the database has been populated with questions and answers. The process of generating exam papers involves selecting a subset of questions from the database (Figure 2). Two modes were provided for users to create the exam papers. In the automatic mode, exam questions are randomly selected from the database based on chosen difficulty levels and types. The whole process takes only a few minutes to complete. The database should contain a sufficient number of questions for the courseware’s automatic mode to generate exam papers. Questions from previous exams may also be reused if the database contained enough number of questions. The reuse of test questions, though controversial, is common practice among lecturers (Gehringer, 2004). Copious test questions will ensure that the same questions will be less frequently selected in the automatic mode. In the self-selection mode, users can select the questions one by one. This mode is similar to the conventional way lecturers set exam questions. It takes a longer time than the automatic mode and the user has full control of the selection process. It is useful when the user is trying to draw students’ attentions towards a certain topic.

Figure 2. The interface for the automatic mode to create exam papers.

Lastly, exam papers are generated by ELF in two text files. One of the files contains both the questions and answers while the other contains only the questions. Both files would be generated and stored in a folder of the programme. A sample file is shown in Figure 3. Each type of questions is numbered and listed in sequence for further editing and formatting.

Figure 3. A sample exam paper generated automatically by ELF.

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Inside this issue
Using Routine Workplace Audits as Educational Tools: Teaching Hand Hygiene to Medical Students
The Use of Simulation in Paediatric Undergraduate Education
The Examination Library Folder (ELF): A Courseware to Manage Examination Questions
Personal Experiences in Teaching Chemical Engineering Thermodynamics
Using Full-sized Construction Models to Teach Construction Technology