Reverse detail from Kakelbont MS 1, a fifteenth-century French Psalter. This image is in the public domain. Daniel Paul O'Donnell

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Differences between Moodle and Blackboard/WebCT short answer questions

Posted: Mar 27, 2011 20:03;
Last Modified: May 23, 2012 19:05

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There is an important difference between Moodle and Blackboard (WebCT) short answer questions that instructors should be aware of, namely that Moodle short answer questions allow only one answer field.

This means, for example, that you can’t easily import blackboard questions of the type “Supply the part of speech, person, tense, and number for the following form.” In Blackboard, you can present the student with four blanks for them to fill in, each with a different answer. When these are imported into Moodle, the question is converted into a form in which there is a single blank that has four possible correct answers.

There are various ways of asking the same kinds of questions in Moodle. The easiest when you are dealing with imported questions is to ask for a single quality in each answer. So instead of one question asking for part of speech, person, tense, and number, you might have four different questions, one for part of speech, another, for person, a third for tense, and a fourth for number.

A second way of asking this kind of question in Moodle is to use the embedded answer type. These are harder to write, but are arguably closer to the paper equivalent of the same type of question:

For the following Old English word supply the requested information:

clipode

Part of Speech: ____________
Tense: ____________
Number: ____________

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How to build a randomised essay/translation question in Moodle 2.0

Posted: Mar 20, 2011 16:03;
Last Modified: May 23, 2012 19:05

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In my courses I often use a question of the following format:

  1. Common introduction
  2. Two or more sample passages or questions requiring an essay response
  3. A common form field for the answer to the student’s choice from #2.

Here is an example:

Write a modern English translation of one of the following passages in Old English in the space provided below.

1. Hæfst þū ǣnige ġefēran?
2. Hwæt māre dēst þū? Hæfst þū ġīet māre tō dōnne?

[Essay answer box for translation].

The point of this format is to provide the student with a choice of topics. If students all write their essays or translations at the same time, you can build your choice of topics by hand and write them into a single question. The challenge comes if you want to be able to allow your students to write the test asynchronously, as is common with Learning Management Software. In such cases you want to be able to draw your essay topics or translation passages randomly from a test bank.

All the basic elements you would need to do this are available in Moodle, both 1.x and 2.0+. You can use the “description” question type to put in the general instructions at the beginning; you can use the essay format question to provide the answer box. And you can use Moodle’s ability to assign random questions to draw your topics or translation passage from your test bank.

But there are also some problems:

  1. Description questions are unnumbered, meaning your introduction will not start with the question number
  2. Although there was some discussion before the release of Moodle 2.0 about allowing description questions to be randomised, this appears not to have been implemented. All questions that can be randomised must have an action associated with them. This means that every topic or translation passage must ask the student to do something. And also that each topic or translation will have a number.

What I do is the following:

  1. I write the introduction as a description question (and just accept that it has no number assigned).
  2. I write my translation passage or topics as “true / false” questions. Each consists of the topic or passage, followed by the question “I am writing on this topic/passage…” as the prompt for a true/false answer.
  3. I use the essay topic question to provide the common answer box. Since you need to have some text in an essay question, I use an anodyne instruction like “Write your essay/translation in the following space” to fill out the question.
  4. I assign a grade value of 0 to the two random topic/passages and assign the full grade value of the question to the essay answer box. The result is not elegant, but it works.
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