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.  Continue reading

The Crinkle-Free Pocket Map – Google Maps

Allison Turgeon 80By Allison Turgeon
University of Hawai’i at Manoa

Struggling with a cumbersome paper map is difficult and inconvenient, and then it begins to rain. Google Maps is a user-friendly alternative, a technological tool that can be accessed via a computer or a mobile device, compatible with both Android and iOS operating systems. This app offers users a variety of functions, increasing versatility and convenience. It is an innovative and handy tool that assists users in more than just arriving at their desired destination with great ease.

Google MapsWith Google Maps, users can type or say a street address, a point of interest, or a named location into the search bar. Kapi’olani Community College classmate, Kelsey Hardee, says, “Now that I have a moped, I love the voice option so I can be directed hands free!” Google Maps locates the destiantion on a map. From here, users have the option to seek driving, transit, walking, or biking directions. With multiple routes, users can select the one that is most convenient and meets their needs. After selecting their desired route, the application offers directions to the desired destination or an option to hear turn-by-turn navigation instructions, similar to those of a standalone GPS system. Additional features include satellite imagery, allowing users to access a street-view of the area, a particularly useful function that helps to increase visual familiarity of an area.

A recently added feature allows Google Maps users to explore nearby businesses, including eateries, hotels, malls, and other points of interest. This feature is complete with consumer ratings and reviews, business information such as hours and contact information, and driving, walking, biking, or transit directions to visit the point of interest. According to David Pogue of the NY Times, “Google’s points-of-interest database also excels.” While other apps offer a similar feature, many of them actually access Google Maps to provide location and directions. Google Maps is more effective and convenient since it reduces the number of steps in the process.  Continue reading

Reading, Vocabulary, Glogster, Funding, ESL Teachers, VoiceThread


Cutting to the Common Core: The Positive Side of the Digital Divide by J. Zorfass and T. Gray in Language Magazine: The authors make the case for using digital texts to support the reading process for all learners.

Computer games give boost to English. The University of Gothenburg in Science Daily Success in the world of computer games and a good English vocabulary go hand in hand. A recent study has shown that players who are good at computer games increase their English vocabulary. The study also showed a difference between the genders. Boys spend about twice as much time a week playing computer games as girls. However, girls spend about twice as much time a week on Facebook and other language-related activities.

Tools for achieving oral fluency by Marsha Appling-Nunez in Language Magazine: The author makes suggestions for helping English language learners with their speaking and presentation skills. Glogster is a graphical blog that students can use when doing oral books reports, or other presentations. She also recommends PechaKucha Prezi, which is a method of presenting information using pictures only which requires the speaker to focus on good pronunciation, filler reduction, and vocabulary.

For Public Schools, the Long and Bumpy Road to Going Digital by Kathy Baron in Mindshift: Equipment, software licensing, training. Funding – or lack of it – is the number one issue facing school districts as they convert to the digital learning world.

Preparing Teacher Candidates to Work with English Language Learners in an Online Course Environment by Stephanie Dewing in TEIS News: The author reports on a study she did on the efficacy of an online course for ESL teachers. She found minimal evidence of transformative learning experiences. She proposes several changes in course design to try to produce a context more conducive for transformational learning.

Using Web 2.0 Tools, Such as Voicethread™, to Enhance ELL Instructor and Student Learning by Kelly Torres In TEIS News: Torres advocates using tools such as VoiceThread™, a multimedia tool that can provide a slide show with pictures, documents, and videos to engage students in online course materials by allowing them to see and hear their peers.

VLC Media Player: Many Hidden Features

Chaz Baruela80By Chaz Baruela
Student, University of Hawai’i at Hilo

The first time I bought a laptop I used the default media player program, which is Windows Media Player. Unfortunately, there are some file types that do not work unless you download extra codecs for them. I didn’t want to download extra codecs, so I asked my friends what media player they use. That is when VLC media player was introduced to me. I have been using this program for the past five years, and in my opinion it is one of the best media players around.

VLC Media Player

VLC Media Player

First, the program is 100 percent free plus the download and install is quick and easy. When you install VLC, you don’t need to download extra codecs. Almost all video and music files such as mp4, mkv, avi, mp3, and ogg are playable as soon as VLC is installed. One classmate, Kai, commented on my post and said that he uses VLC media player to play flash video and matroska video files (Gilding). Another, Leleiohoku, said that she only found one movie that they couldn’t play (Stafford). My point is that VLC plays almost everything.

When you start up the media player, one of the first things you will notice is the interface. Reviews about how simple and attractive it looks are mixed. However, I think it is simple and has the basic functions covered such as a loop and a playlist. What you might not know is that there are some other “hidden” buttons that allow you to record, take a snapshot from a video, and a frame by frame button. I don’t see much use for frame by frame because all it does is stop the video and play it forward one frame at a time.  Continue reading

Give Your Phone a Voice!

M_Curcio_80By Mike Curcio
Student at Kapi’olani Community College
University of Hawai’i

Google Voice (Voice) is a telephony management service offered by Google. Like their other services, Voice is free-of-charge, with the exception of international calls. If you already have a personal Google account, and, with 425 million active Gmail users worldwide, chances are that you do, getting started with Voice can be very easy.


One of the initial steps in the setup process is selecting a phone number. Voice can assign users a phone number from most U.S. area codes (Alaska and Hawaiʻi users cannot currently obtain local phone numbers through Voice). Alternatively, users can choose their own phone number in many area codes. Let’s say you own a pet grooming company. You could check the availability of the number “DOG-WASH” or “364-9274.”

Voice is officially available to users in the U.S. only, but I have successfully used it in Japan with no problems, making and receiving free calls and text messages to and from the U.S. via Voice’s web interface. With the help of a WiFi connection and another free Android App, GrooveIP, I was also able to use my phone to send and receive calls and text messages, just as I would at home, without being charged for data or minutes. U.S.-based international students may want to set up Voice accounts for their families back home.   Continue reading

Triptico: A Powerful and Free Instructional App

Harrison and Gilmartin160By Kathlyen Harrison and Michael Gilmartin

As every teacher knows, there is an overloading number of websites and tools available to educators, some free and others with registration costs. Most of these tools are geared toward specific content, and the trick can often be trying to sift through all of the different types to find the ones that suit your needs, skills, and even your personality. Triptico offers a wide variety of creative, interactive, and visually engaging apps. The best part is that you have access to numerous apps for free. Not to mention that the developer of this program is constantly creating new apps to use for free.

Figure 1 - Triptico App Launch Screen

Figure 1 – Triptico App Launch Screen

About Triptico is a web tool that allows you to create and use various types of activities, tools, and quiz makers to help improve the classroom and engage students. Triptico is a free app available for download with an option to upgrade for a small fee. There are four different categories of programs: tools, timers, selectors, and quizzes. Each has interactive apps that you can use and adapt to your class. The different interactive modes allow you to bring creativity and uniqueness into the classroom, diversifying the ways in which students learn, review, and practice various skills. Triptico is simple to use yet sophisticated in content with apps color coded to denote type and categories.

Continue reading

Is Building Apps for Everyone?

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

[Note: This article was prompted by an email exchange initiated by Lynn Zimmerman on 1.13.13. -Editor]

This sort of question seems to be on my desk daily in many different guises. I began writing software in 1960 and never really stopped.

There’s no simple answer. Also, the “philosopher’s stone” of software, a way to create software without programming, has been sought after for decades without result. There are some teaching languages for elementary school that are like that but are too limited to be of much use in the real world. Do not expect to be able to drag-and-drop an “app” soon even though Eclipse for Java, and other GUIs (graphic user interfaces) for other languages, do something like that for the UI part of an application. It takes more to make the software really do useful work for you.


For the novice who’d like to have an application, you can use HTML5 and Javascript as long as your program is relatively short, maybe under 100 lines. For comparison, Smart Science® explorations uses a 20,000-line client-side Java program with around 20,000 lines of Java on the server and a substantial SQL database. Once you exceed 1,000 lines, Javascript begins to break down, and you must use something more robust. (Actually, I’d stay away from Javascript programs longer than two pages, about 150 lines.) The advantage of this approach is that your program will run essentially anywhere, including those tablets.   Continue reading

‘Stickies’ – A Prewriting Tool for Writers

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

I’m visual when it comes to verbal. With topics that are complex and new, I automatically doodle before actually sitting down at my computer to write sentences and paragraphs. With paper and pencil, I map out the relationships between and among ideas or units of thought. I usually begin with a word that rises to the surface of my mind. I write it down on whatever’s handy. Backs of envelopes or scraps of paper are the usual. I add another word that I associate with the first and position it in a way that reveals their logical relationship.

I add small rectangles around the words and connect them with lines and arrows to suggest causal links, or I use circles that overlap or contain smaller circles to show various set relationships. I continue to construct the picture by dropping in idea words and sketching in their logical connection to the parts and the whole. Some words surface but don’t seem to fit anywhere at the moment so I plop them on the side. Later, I work them into the evolving picture or erase them if they don’t seem to fit in anywhere. As you can imagine, with paper and pencil this means a lot of erasing and redrawing.

Stickies3My 32-inch desktop screen with Stickies.

In grad school, I found a huge blackboard at a thrift shop a couple blocks away from my apartment. I lugged it back to my small room and screwed it into one of the walls. It filled nearly the entire wall. I was in doodle heaven. This became my thinking pad. I could quickly sketch idea maps with chalk and revise with an eraser as I went along. I could step back at any time to see the whole picture, and step in to futz with the parts. When it was complete, I sat down with my typewriter (no personal computers back then) and wrote the paper.   Continue reading

Passport – Blurring the Lines Between LMSs, Game Environments, and e-Portfolios

By Jessica Knott
Associate Editor
Editor, Twitter

Today, we hear a lot on education blogs and in conference presentations about gamification and badging, especially in regard to how they challenge the current LMS structure and effectiveness. Purdue University has developed Passport, an app that blurs the line between LMSs, game environments, and e-portfolios.

Passport offers learning activities to students as a series of challenges rather than your typical pedagogical narrative.

“Digital badges create a new common currency for learning that enables us to identify smaller units of learning,” says Kyle Bowen, director of informatics for Information Technology. “Passport connects badges with an LMS-like interaction. In a ‘choose your own adventure’ style, students can self-select how to complete each challenge. Once complete, students are awarded digital badges that they can share as part of an online and mobile portfolio.”

Development on Passport began in May of 2012, and it was released in August of the same year. According to Bowen, developers are partnering with faculty members using the product to “assess the impact related to their use in an effort to find effective practices to teaching with digital badges.”

Purdue’s Studio projects have served as a mechanism for their initial immersion in the mobile market, and they are currently experimenting with the Passport Profile iPad app as a portfolio that can be used to demonstrate student work in interviews, meetings, and job fairs. Bowen notes that Passport is primarily a Web platform, and the Passport Profile portfolio app is currently the only component that is unique to mobile devices. The same functionality is also available online.

Passport is currently in a limited beta, and interested parties are invited to throw their hat into the ring. Bowen also invites those with passing interest to log in and try Passport for themselves. Two challenges have been provided to get you started in understanding how Passport works.