I'm posting a message to provide an update of our progress in developing the STACK computer aided assessment system. I appreciate at this time of year people's attention (in the Northern hemisphere at least) is turning to priorities for the summer and upgrades in anticipation of a new academic year in September 2009.
Simon and I are coming to the end of a major phase of redevelopment of STACK. This will result in better, more reliable features and a fuller integration into Moodle. In particular this phase of development has done the following
- STACK now uses Moodle's TeX filter to render the mathematics client side. To use all the features, in particular the use of answer boxes in equations, JSMath is preferred. (We will stop supporting TtH and TtM in the very near future.)
- STACK now uses a cache for increased reliability and scalability. Details of this are online at http://stack.bham.ac.uk/wiki/index.php/Question_state_caching I believe this will address many of the load problems which users of earlier versions of STACK encountered when large classes logged in and all wanted versions of a test. The cache will also allow better reporting and data analysis, although we have a lot of work remaining to implement all these features.
- STACK items now include tests for quality control. In previous versions the teacher had to test items by hand. This was time consuming, unreliable and difficult to do over random versions. Now this process is semi-automated with the test items being included with the question when imported and exported. These are similar to unit tests in software development.
Because the development cache had such profound implications for the database design Simon and I have been working in a different branch of the CVS. It would be best not to attempt to install STACK at this time from the HEAD CVS branch!
Our tasks are as follows
- Finish deployment within Moodle, to allow the teacher to undertake all processes though the Moodle interface.
- Merge branches of the STACK code and prepare a release candidate for STACK 2.1
- Upgrade our server http://stack.bham.ac.uk/ with a demonstration.
Therefore, we would ask anyone interested in using STACK to be patient for a week while we finish this round of development.
Simon and I will post an announcement here as soon as we have code which we are confident others can install and use. We will still have a large number of small bugs to fix, and also some features to add to smooth the question authoring process through Moodle. But, we hope this will be a useful contribution in the very near future.