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Computer Aided Assessment Blog

Trevor Hawkes is writing a blog about his activities with computer aided assessment in a third-level science context (University of Warwick). There are some valuable insights and practical suggestions here and here,

"The level of security in exams only needs to be proportional to the weight of the assessment"

"A vanishingly small amount of course credit seems to get most learners engaged"

There's a lot of value in the comments too, where different perspectives are frankly offered and a real discussion of CAA is going on between the different participants.

Posted by Alexander on November 25, 2005 | Computer Aided Assessment Blog | Comments (0) | TrackBack

CD boots any PC as arcade machine

I've been finding out more about bootable CDROM operating systems over the weekend. First of all, they're called 'LiveCDs' - that made me wonder if Microsoft hadn't called it's new service Microsoft Live just to co-opt the name. Booting up with a LiveCD might come to mean booting up a 'Microsoft Live CD'. Or that might just be my enthusiasm running away with itself.

I tried out the Ubuntu live CD, that's a Linux distribution. I downloaded the CD image file, and burnt it onto a blank CD. It worked fine, booting my PC and configuring all the hardware and the network connection. It nearly worked fine on an old Dell laptop too, but needed a bit of tweaking to get the video display right. It was very slow to boot on both machines. Somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes.

Much faster to boot was KnoppixMame - that's a bootable games CD, again Linux, with the Multi Arcade Machine Emulator loaded onto it. The download isn't supplied with any games(ROMs), so the CD needs to be remastered to add the games - that's a real hassle, but once it's done, the CD boots any PC as an arcade machine with a custom selection of classic arcade games. It's more limited in the range of hardware it picks up and you'd want to keep your hardware configuration simple to get sound working.

So that's just two, but LiveCDs have subtly altered the way I think about PCs - before my PC was a 'Windows XP box' - now it's a PC that happens to have WinXP on the hard disk. The OS doesn't own the PC anymore.

Posted by Alexander on November 22, 2005 | CD boots any PC as arcade machine | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Google Analytics supports Flash event tracking

Google Analytics, the newly-free web-page stats tracking service has a support page detailing how to track Flash events. No special magic required, the Javascript just needs to be embedded in the HTML page before making a getURL Javascript calls to the 'urchinTracker' function with an identifier for the event. The event id needs to start with a '/'.

This could be helpful for making Flash applications more usuable - Flash developers tend to have less of an idea of how users interact with their Flash applications than website developers - simply because tracking HTTP requests has always been very well supported, but the interaction that goes on within a Flash movie delivered to a user has usually stayed on the user's computer.

Posted by Alexander on November 18, 2005 | Google Analytics supports Flash event tracking | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Questionnaire / Survey design

Detailed blog post here about best practices in questionnaire design. Jakob Nielsen also has an alertbox on a similar subject, "Keep online surveys short".

Posted by Alexander on November 16, 2005 | Questionnaire / Survey design | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Bootable CD-ROM OSes to challenge Windows desktop dominance

I mentioned a while ago that computers are the next big thing. It's being getting a little clearer for me now what form that's about to take. We'll call it 'Office 2.0' - it's an AJAX/Flash based MS Office replacement that exists entirely within the browser. The software and your documents are remotely hosted on the Office 2.0 webserver.

It's got a lot of benefits for the corporate and home user
- no upgrades - you're always using the latest version
- no location dependence - you've always got access to your documents
- no backup - all your documents are remotely stored and backed up by the service provider
- easy to share - share documents with co-workers and on the WWW easily

So it's a bit like using Gmail instead of Outlook except applied to Office. This service allows you to upload all your existing documents where you can easily search them. It's supported maybe via advertising for the home user, paid subscription for the corporate user.

What's interesting is what comes next. With the reliance on remote services provided through the browser, the OS(and i mean Windows here) becomes irrelevant. With all documents stored remotely, the hard disk becomes irrelevant. This, again, is a boon for the home and corporate user. The home user is usually incapable of the kind of maintenance required for an internet connected windows machine - maintaining a firewall, configuring virus protection, scheduling defragmentation and backups. There are big costs there for the corporate user too.

With the reliance on remote services provided through the browser, the OS becomes irrelevant.

Without the reliance on hard disk based applications, and the underlying operating system, we're going to see the increased adoption of bootable CDROM operating systems. Here's the scenario - your ISP provides you with a bootable CDROM. Contains maybe Linux, MacOS, or a cut down Windows. It bypasses your hard disk, boots your computer, detects your hardware, configures your internet access and gives you a browser. You've got everything you need and your PC is noticeably faster because there's no spyware, no trojans and no place for them to hide next time you reboot your system. 'Dead' computers come back to life. 'Slow' computers become sprightly. It'll maybe need a few more applications than just the browser, but there's no need for homogeneity here - many different OS flowers can flourish, it'll be easy to try out other CDROMS, users will stick with the ones that suit them best.

It's not for you, obviously. You're a computer professional or developer who needs a hard disk for video compression or Flash authoring or whatever. But it's for your Dad or your boss or for those guys in the accounts department who won't stop opening those darned e-mails no matter what you tell them.

Posted by Alexander on November 15, 2005 | Bootable CD-ROM OSes to challenge Windows desktop dominance | Comments (3) | TrackBack

ELNA - E-Learning News Aggregator

I mashed up two ideas over the weekend. One is the Pareto principle, or the 80-20 rule. In software, that means that eighty percent of the functionality comes from twenty percent of the effort. The other idea is simply creating maximum value. That's not maximum income or profit or functionality - and not with a view to the future, just maximum value right here, right now. What I came up with is 'ELNA - E-Learning News Aggregator'. I used Planetplanet, it took a few days and it's 80% of what I'd like it to be.

Posted by Alexander on November 07, 2005 | ELNA - E-Learning News Aggregator | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Component Questions Source Available

When writing code to fit into an existing framework, a specification is useful, but a working example is much more helpful. It's usually much easier to modify something that already works rather than to create something from scratch relying on the specs alone. With that in mind, I'm making the source code to all the Question Writer GUI widgets (scrollbar, timer, button, media control) and Flash Component Questions (Ranking, Slider, Combobox) available for inspection. They're still copyright, but you're free to look at the code to see how they work. If you plan to create new question types or customize the UI components for a quiz, you'll find these a useful starting point.

Posted by Alexander on November 02, 2005 | Component Questions Source Available | Comments (0) | TrackBack

On Writing Well

If I were to do another degree it would be an MBA. I've academic interests, the P's - psychology, philosophy, physics - but the business P's (that's Purpose, Position, Promotion, Performance and Seth Godin's Purple Cow) are a better complement to selling software. I don't have the desire or means to spend 2 years and 50K on an MBA so this reading list fits my circumstances better. I've chosen my first book - On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Non-Fiction. Two of my favourite thinkers, Joel Spolsky and Paul Graham empahasise the need to write well to succeed in practically anything. So I'll get started - you'll see the results right here.

Posted by Alexander on November 01, 2005 | On Writing Well | Comments (0) | TrackBack