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DATA Plugin General Information

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DATA for Beginners

D.A.T.A. stands for Distributed Access Teaching Assistant. It was developed by Dr. John Koch and Dr. Bill Van Der Sluys in 1998 and converted to a Manila Plugin in 2002. Dr. Koch is a Professor of Computer Science at Wilkes University and Dr. Van Der Sluys teaches Chemistry at Wyoming Seminary Preparatory School.

DATA is a scripted program designed to facilitate the submission and grading of quizzes, exams and laboratory work by way of the internet. It also handles collecting data for surveys. This program allows instructors to easily write forms that will automatically evaluate, reply to and save submitted results. It should be noted that in our experience the hard part of using DATA as an effective teaching aid is not the time that you will invest in programming (We already did that!). The hard part is designing effective evaluation materials (quizzes, exams and labs). Using DATA does not require that you have an understanding of hypertext markup language (HTML), however, it is possible to access all of the files that DATA creates and to modify them using standard HTML tags. In our opinion the biggest advantage that this approach has to offer is the nearly instantaneous reply that students receive concerning their work. This facilitates student/teacher interactions at the most important moment, when the material is still fresh in the student's mind.

The easiest way to learn to use DATA is to start slow and take advantage of the "user friendly" interface that we have designed to make life easier. Once you feel comfortable with the program you may want to invest some time and effort to enhance your exam/quizzes with additional HTML.

Getting Started

The first thing you should do is create a Manila site on a server that has the DATA plugin enabled. Then check the DATA Plugin Startup page. You will then be ready to create your first multiple choice quiz and key by creating a new category (i.e., Fall2002) of tests (by the way, the terms "category" and "test" are used throughout; these can mean "course" and "survey" or whatever use you are making of DATA). Look for your category, e.g. Fall2002, which will have no spaces in the name.

Click on the link for "Create a new test for Fall2002". This will give you a page where you can begin to create your quiz. Notice that this page has a table that contains three basic parts:

  1. Text boxes where you can specify the name of the category (this should already be filled in with the name of your category) and the name of your quiz (enter a name such as quiz1).
  2. A text box for questions. Read the instructions below the box for the format of questions. The text box for the questions should already contain a question that you can use to try the system. To create a different quiz simply delete what is in the box.
  3. A text box for the key. Read the instructions below the box for the format of the key. Similarly the text box for the key will contain the answer for the default sample question. This can also be deleted and replaced.

Now the hard part (not for you, but for DATA!!!), click on the send button. DATA will create a number of files that it needs for the quiz. You should receive a response indicating that these files have been created successfully. These files will be stored in your category folder on the server. Click on the "Try Test" link and take your quiz. It's that simple. You should receive a response indicating your answers, the correct answer in the key and your score for the quiz.

Now you are ready to get the results of your quiz. Close the test results window. You should see the page of what was converted. Click on "Edit" and choose the "answers and grades file". Click and drag to select all the text in the box. Open a spreadsheet (like Excel) and paste. The data should each go into its own cell. This box is tab delimited information that can be pasted into any standard spread-sheet program. Examine the contents of the file to see how the quiz results are organized.

Set the Parameters

Click on DATA in the Editors Only menu. Click on the link Set (Parameters) for the quiz that you created. On this page you have options for setting parameters that provide various levels of security. You can restrict (1) access to certain users (those students in the class); (2) Certain computers (IP addresses); and (3) the date and times that quizzes/exams are available. Set the desired parameters and click on the send button.

A Real Quiz

Now you are ready to create a real quiz. We suggest that you use a text editor (like NotePad or BBEdit) to write your questions and the key. Copy and paste the appropriate text into the boxes and create as many quizzes and or exams as you like. Better yet, you may even have some old quizzes/exams. All you have to do is copy and paste.

How do Students Get to the Quiz/Exam?

You must create a page containing {DATAMacros.currentTests()} This is where students can access your quizzes/exams. Depending on how you have set your parameters, the links will automatically appear when available and ask for login IDs and passwords.

DATA for More Advanced Users

Once you have become comfortable with this format and have learned some HTML you will probably want to try some more sophisticated exams by entering various tags, i.e. images, links, glitz, etc., into the questions prior to creating the quiz. This can be done easily using an HTML editor like BBedit. DATA will seamlessly incorporate the HTML tags into your documents and provide a very polished looking exam.

DATA for the Experts

The most elegant part of DATA is the access that we have provided to the three main files that are required, (1) the quiz/exam/test/lab (*.htm), (2) the formulas or answers used for grading (*_frm.txt), (3) the response (*_rsp.txt). These files can be retrieved from the server using the Edit (File) link. This means that "the sky is the limit" for creating web-based teaching materials. Instructions are also available for advanced users that want to incorporate formulas similar to those used in spread-sheet calculations.

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Last update: Thursday, May 2, 2002 at 12:01:45 PM

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