Respondus and Sakai: The Answer to Online Quizzes

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

You’ve been using a course management system (CMS) for your courses, and it doesn’t matter whether they’re completely online, completely onground, or somewhere in between. The CMS has some advantages, and you’re making use of them. If you’re like me, then you’ve also toyed with the idea of putting quizzes online.

It makes sense. It frees you from the drudgery and loss of class time associated with paper ‘n’ pencil tests. Students can take the quizzes on their own time, 24/7, as long as they complete them by a specified date. You can set it up for mastery learning so they can take it as many times as they need to before the deadline, with only the highest score being recorded.

Scoring is done automatically, instantly, and the scores are recorded in the gradebook automatically, too. Students can log in to check their scores. You can log in, too, to look at their scores. Sounds great – until you actually tried to set up a simple quiz and found the klutziest interface in the world. So you remained with paper ‘n’ pencil or did away with quizzes altogether and replaced them with discussion forums geared to readings.

But the problem of students refusing to complete required readings unless there’s a quiz attached to them persists. The top third of the class will do the readings, but the rest will wing it. It hurts their performance, but they can’t or won’t make the connection. For these students, reading is a means to avoid the pain of flunked tests, not a means to learn, to improve performance.

So I returned to the testing function built into our Sakai CMS. It’d been a few years since I last tried it. Maybe it’d gotten better. But after a few minutes of poking around in it, I found it was just as klunky as ever. After rooting around for a bit in our university’s IT help files looking for a miracle, I found something called Respondus.

Respondus is an app. Our university system provides it free to all faculty. Yours probably does, too. The IT help page provides a click-here trail that leads to the site, followed by a download and set up on your computer’s desktop. Click the new icon, and, voilà, your test and quiz creation woes are over.

Respondus is a relatively simple to use test development app. It allowed me to create a ten-question multiple-choice quiz quickly and, dare I say it, naturally. This is done outside the CMS — which at once explains the ease of use and highlights the shortcomings of CMS environments.

After you’re done, the next step is to get the test into the CMS so your students can take it. The process is logical. You need to convert the quiz into a format (QTI) that Sakai can understand. Respondus does this for you when you click on the button to “Preview & Publish.” It walks you through a few steps and creates a folder where you want it. I chose the desktop. In the folder is the quiz file in the required QTI format. 

Next, you log into the CMS and the target course. Look for “Tests & Quizzes” in the sidebar. If you don’t see it, then you need to activate it. Click on “Site Info” and “Edit Tools.” One of the choices is “Tests & Quizzes.” Click it. While you’re at it, click on “Gradebook” and “Assignments, Tests and Surveys,” too, that is, if they’re not already in your sidebar. You’ll need them.

In “Tests & Quizzes,” click on “Import” and take the steps that lead to the folder on your computer and the QTI file. Click on the file, and it’s transported into the CMS workspace for your course. And there you have it, ready for your students.

To fine tune the quiz, click on “Select Action.” The dropdown menu will give you all the tools you’ll need to edit, review, and futz with settings.

In this article, I’m consciously avoiding bogging you down with step by step details and technical jargon that boggle the mind. I’m assuming you’ll fare better with a simplified overview of the process, first, one that will give you the big picture. Once you grasp the whole, you’ll be better able to understand the parts and how they all fit together. At this point, detailed instructions begin to make sense.

For detailed instructions, I found the University of South Alabama Innovation in Learning Center’s “How to Transfer Exams From eCollege to Sakai Using Respondus” quite helpful. Also do a search on “Respondus” in your University’s IT site for additional information.

As always, the caveat with all instructions for applications is to expect disconnects. Apps are constantly being upgraded so manuals and how-to files are always going to be outdated. Be prepared to play it by ear, to guess at the next step when the instructions are obviously incomplete, missing, or incorrect. Keep the big picture in mind, and you’ll be able to make pretty good guesses about the smaller steps.



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