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I am elated to have finally found a mailing list which comes so close to a
long time interest: keeping educational software as free as possible (free
as in open source/ free software).
I am a gnu/linux-using (since 1993), K-12 teacher (specialty: math and
info-technology) as well system administrator for a handful of
debian/gnu/linux-based school networks including a french immersion
elementary, high schools and graduation completion education centers in the
Vancouver, B.C. area.
My hope is contribute/promote/use/debug an open standard for free
educational software so that we can move beyond the current ecclectic and
mostly inexistent collection of free formal educational software and create
what will become a standard linux education package complete with management
tools and databases as well as covering what can be computerized from the
K12 standard curriculum.
I wanted a quizzer which would randomly propose questions level by level,
randomize the multiple choice questions, include multiple alternatives to
short answers, time typing tests, and easily allow calls to other linux
programs in the spirit of the unix philosophy (make each program do one
thing well and combine them like lego), and send results to me by email to
be processed by procmail into a database for instant "markbook" update so
students and teachers can easily see where they stand at any time.
Over the past 4 years, one of my students, Jamie Marshall and I have written
simple scripts to get this going; first in awk, then in perl, then on my own
in Tcl/Tk. The PERL script (called jaq) is currently in use by over 100
students... and has not been touched in 2.5 years. We have included almost
half of the K-7 math curriculum (from BC, Canada) as well as most of the
Info Tech 11 course, which after 2 and 1/2 years is now out of date :-(
(guess what I'll be doing over Christmas holiday?).
The reason I have not deployed the TclTk version (called taq) is that many
of the students I work with don't have easy access to X-windows. They tend
to telnet to a "jaq" server from various machines inside and outside various
schools. Until recently, less than 50% of the students had easy access to
the internet so that has ruled out cgi-bin scripts or Tcl/Tk plugins.
So as you can see, I still think CLI (command line interface or text based)
programs are valuable in education and I hope we won't put all our energy
only in the GUI versions. BTW, I tried Micah's edulp perl/Tk script and I
like the concept ... it can be extended to pdmenu (the text based menu
system for Linux)... which brings me to the following point:
I think we should aim for a specification of educational data (be it
questions/answers or programs to run for appropriate learning outcomes, or
whatever the educational "object" may be) that is in an XML format or
something like that ... then any programs that wants to conform to the
standard should have its variable part (what I call the data or educational
objects) written with those "tags".
So the bank of questions we have developped for Math K-7 and Info Tech for
example, would then be re-usable in any other program that wishes to make
use of it. These questions often include snippets of code (in particular:
PERL snippets) and that should be part of the "DTD" document Type definition
for educational data ; specifying which interpreter to launch to execute the
particular snippet ... then everyone can use their favorite scripting
language to write interesting educational items... hopefully matching the
In a separate development, I've been writing "report card generators" for 4
years as well. The latest one is a combination of BASH/perl scripts which
produce fully anecdotal report cards as required by the ministry of
education of BC. This means teachers can select one of 6000 PLOs
(prescribed learning outcomes) provided by the ministry, and add their own
private collection of comments (which can then be plagiarized by other
teachers ...being available in a common database for all). The output is
either HTML or LaTeX. I hope to switch to SGML or XML next year for even
more options such as RTF output.
My hope is that we can completely automate that which can be automated in
K-12 education, leaving teachers/mentors/parents to concentrate on what
really matters; the educational relationships with their students/children.
Enough for now,