Author Archives: Anthony Cressey

Creating Tests Using Question Pools and Random Question Blocks

In this video we’re going to look at how to build a test in Blackboard, using Blackboard’s Test creation tools. Rather than simply build a test, we’re going to show how you can use question pools and random blocks of questions to make it more difficult for students to cheat through collaboration and answer sharing.

If the question-creation process looks too time consuming, IDS can create question pools of some question-types for you if you provide us a properly formatted Word file. This walkthrough outlines how to create a properly formatted word file.


The next step is to deploy the test to give your students access!

Zipping/Unzipping files & folders

Zipping files can be a useful way to send multiple files to someone as one attachment. Sometimes companies or institutions may even require it when sending multiple files depending on their workflow. There are many software companies you can use to zip/unzip files, but your computer has the function built into the operating system.
Zipping files is a quick process.

First, create a folder and name it to describe it’s contents.

Next with your mouse, right-click on the file, put your mouse over the “send to” option, and select “Compressed (zipped) folder” from the list.

Your computer may ask you where you would like to save the new zip folder. The default is to save it where the folder you are trying to zip is currently. ie., the folder is on the desktop so the new zip file will also be on the desktop.
When you select a location, your computer will create a new file/folder.

You may then distribute the new zip folder as you see fit.

To use the files inside of the .zip, you will need to unzip the folder.
Simply right-click on the zip folder and select “extract all”.

You will get a new window that looks like this
Click the “Extract” button.

Your computer will extract the files.

Troubles recognizing the join.jnlp file?

Update May 13, 2014:

IDS has released a tool for Windows which automates the process of associating JNLP files with Java.

Click here to download the JNLP Fix tool. When the program has finished downloading, click run or double-click the “jnlp-fix” program icon to start the process. The “jnlp-fix” program can be deleted once the process is complete.

If you run the program and JNLP files still do not open with Java, please follow the steps below to fix the problem manually.

Is your computer having difficulties associating the join.jnlp file to Java? When a session is opened, the join.jnlp file should try to open using Java. You should get a prompt that looks like the following:

If the Java file isn’t being recognized, you may have to manually associate the “.jnlp” file to Java. Next to the “Open With” option, it should read “Java(TM) Web Start Launcher (default)”. If you get a screen that does not have this option, that would indicate that Java is not properly associated with the .jnlp file type that’s needed to launch Collaborate.

When Java is normally working, you would “Open” the file. But we need to save the file this time in order to get to the properties panel for that file type. Select “Save File”, then click “OK”, and save the .jnlp file to your desktop.

Find the join.jnlp file on your desktop that you just downloaded, Right-click on the file and select “Properties”.

Under the “General” tab, next to “Opens With”, click the “Change” button.

Browse to locate the file : “javaws.exe” Usually the Java web start launcher is located in: C:\Program Files\Java\jre7\bin – (jre7 if you have Java 7, jre6 if you have Java 6).

It should look like this: (Click “OK” on the “Open With” screen below once you have “Java Webstart Launcher selected.)

Then “OK” again on the “Join Properties” window.

Java should be associated with the Webstart Launcher now.

Academic Integrity, Testing, and Blackboard

More and more courses are being taught online or at least have an online component in the course work. Testing is often a part of online courses, just like it is in traditional, face-to-face courses. When administering an online test, there are a few strategies you can employ that will encourage honesty.

Random Questions, Random Answers

The first and most effective strategy is to provide students with a randomized test. IDS recommends putting your test questions into one or more question pools. When you create the test, use the REUSE QUESTION item to create a RANDOM BLOCK of questions. You should consider putting more questions in your pool than the students will have on the actual test. For example, if your test is 25 questions, consider drawing those questions from a pool of 30-35 questions. This way, not only will each test have the questions in a random order, each test will actually have different questions. If you want everyone’s test to include a handful of specific questions, you can still add individual questions alongside random blocks.

Tips for using Question Pools effectively:

  • Remember, when adding random blocks, you can only use a question pool once per test. You can re-use the pool in a different test (say, adding questions from the Quiz 1 pool into a cumulative Midterm Exam).
  • If you want to make sure there are a certain number of questions on a given topic, create a separate question pool that topic (e.g., a Chapter 1 pool may have 12 questions on chapter 1, 10 of which will be pulled into the Midterm Exam).
  • Similarly, if you want to make sure there are a certain number of question types (true/false questions vs multiple choice questions vs multiple answer questions), put each question type into a separate pool.
  • If you have multiple questions that depend on a single figure or example make sure you include that figure or example with each question. Alternatively, you can create a pool with just questions that relate to that example. When you’re building the test, add a first question that includes the diagram, then the a random block of questions after it. For example, if I want 5 questions on Figure A, I’ll create an 8 question “Midterm-Figure A” pool. When I’m building the Midterm Exam, I’ll add 1 multiple choice question that starts with Figure A, then I’ll add a random block of 4 questions from the “Midterm-Figure A” pool.

In addition to randomizing the order of the questions, you can also randomize the answers. In the options for Multiple Choice / Multiple Answer question types, you’ll notice a checkbox for “Show answers in a random order.” If you select this, then not only will the questions be randomized, but the answers will be randomized as well. So while two students may have the same question text, answer A will not be the same for both students.

If you’re particularly concerned that your students may be collaborating on a test, you may also want to include answer numbering (or lettering) option. By including numbering with the answers, you provide students with a short-hand for sharing answers that doesn’t actually work. For example, a student may make a note that for this particular question the correct answer is b and pass that information on to a peer, not realizing that on another student’s test the answer option they saw as b could easily be any other letter.

Narrowing the Options

The TEST OPTIONS page contains a number of features that can make it significantly more difficult for students to look up answers in a book or their notes or collaborate on answers. Under the TEST AVAILABILITY heading, make sure you check FORCE COMPLETION. This will ensure that a student has to complete the test in a single sitting. Once a test is opened, your students must submit the test. They cannot save their work, go have a sandwich (and flip through their notes), then return to finish the test.

Setting a timer is also an important way to discourage students from collaborating or researching answers. Consider roughly much time a student should need to read, consider, and answer each question, then set the timer accordingly. You’ll notice that you also have the option to AUTO-SUBMIT an exam when time expires. By default, tests do not close when time expires. The timer continues to run, and students can continue to work on a test. For these situations, IDS recommends you establish a standard scale for point loss after the time expires. You may tell your students: if you’re 30 seconds over the time limit there will be not penalty, but for every 15 seconds over the 30 second mark, you’ll lose 10 points. Alternatively, you could set the exam to Auto-Submit when the time expires.

Most faculty provide students with a window of at least a few days to complete an online exam. The ability to schedule their exam around work, day-care, or other responsibilities is one of the advantages of online testing (and online courses more generally). However, this also means that some students will be seeing the test (and finding out how well they did) before others. For this reason, consider limiting the feedback on an exam to score while the test is open. After the test window has closed, you may return to the options page and allow students to see their answers and even the correct answers.

TEST PRESENTATION can also help limit a student’s ability to research answers and share information. Providing the test in a question-at-a-time format that prohibits backtracking (the student sees question one, provides an answer, then advances to question two) makes it impossible for students to skim through a test, answering the questions they know and leaving time with an set amount of time to research more difficult questions. Obviously, this presentation style will not work for questions that share resources (as in the Figure A example above). Unfortunately, this presentation style also makes it impossible for students to answer the easier questions first, then give more consideration to the more difficult questions without doing any outside research.

Finally, selecting the RANDOMIZE QUESTIONS box on the test options page will shuffle all the questions in your test. If you’ve used a single random block to create a test, then this option is redundant. However, if you’ve created the test from multiple random blocks, selecting this option will mix up the questions from the blocks (so your questions from the Chapter 1 Pool and the Chapter 2 Pool will be mixed together).

The Alternative: Proctored Exams

If none of the above options are sufficient and you are teaching a course that contains a same-time, same-place element, you may consider giving a proctored test. To run a proctored test, you will need to schedule a date and time for the exam with your students. You will also need to reserve a computer lab in which the students will take the exam (or a classroom, if you plan to give the students a traditional pen-and-paper exam). Then you or a Teaching Assistant will need to be present to observe the students’ test taking. Depending on your students’ availability, you may need to provide multiple time slots for your students.

Remember, if you are teaching a fully online course, offering a proctored on-campus exam is not an option. It is not reasonable to expect students to drive in from across the state to take an exam. Also, please remember that proctoring these exams is your responsibility. At this time, the University does not provide test proctoring services for online or hybrid students.

Additional Resources:

Creating tests using pools

Creating tests or pools in Blackboard using Respondus

Deploying a test

Avoiding locked out students in proctored Blackboard tests

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