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Education Programming Software Technology

Suggestions for Scriptable CAI Apps? 48

Corvus9 asks: "I am involved with a University project for creating a Computer-Assisted Instruction application. Currently, we have teachers writing the content and CS students working on the application, which is currently being developed in Flash. However, we would like to make something that would allow teachers and non-CS students to create their own applications. Can Slashdot readers suggest some kind of authoring system that would satisfy this? Commercial and open-source applications are acceptable."
"For this to be usable by teachers, we need to provide higher-level constructs like 'multiple-choice test' or 'kinematic model' as base objects, and a scripting model usable by non-computer people whose native language is not English.

I have been searching for an embeddable scripting language to use, and have found nothing satisfactory. Some of the requirements for the scripting language are:

1. Understandable to non-programmers. Our target audience is intelligent professionals who have neither the time nor interest in learning a computer language. Concepts like function calls are very advanced for our users, and things like inheritance or threading are totally beyond them. We need something where a humanities student can look at a script and at least have some idea what it is trying to do.

2. Usable by non-English speakers. Some of our target audience are native French and Spanish speakers. This means that we need to avoid English-language keywords and avoid culture-specific punctuation. For example, in French the decimal separator is a comma, not a period so we must allow users to type in real numbers with either decimal separator, without ambiguity. Also, some ASCII characters like '#', '\', and '{}' are not available on all our user's keyboards. We could allow a 'skinnable UI' that switches between languages, but a French script must be executable on an English document.

3. Extendable. The initial concept is to provide a number of complex scripts like 'multiple-choice test' and allow the end user to customize it. This means that the application must provide some kind of IDE, or integrate with one available for Windows.

4. Create stand-alone courseware. All authoring will be done on Windows PCs, but the created courseware should be executable on Windows and Linux. Mac OS X support would be helpful as well. Flash-compatible output would be preferred."
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Suggestions for Scriptable CAI Apps?

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  • Moodle (Score:5, Informative)

    by Red Alastor ( 742410 ) on Sunday January 29, 2006 @07:48PM (#14595357)
    Moodle has everything you are looking for. []
    • Re:Moodle (Score:5, Informative)

      by cbray_jadl ( 950551 ) on Monday January 30, 2006 @12:37AM (#14596302)
      Moodle and other open-source Learning Management Systems (LMSs) are your best bet. They are based on a set of open standards known as the Sharable Content Object Object Reference Model [], or SCORM. SCORM is the product of years of research and development by the Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative [] and is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense. There are lots of resources [] available on the ADL site to help you get started and to test your content for conformance. The nice thing about going with SCORM as the basis for your work is that you can move up to a supported, enterprise-level LMS if you need it. A lot of schools already have a SCORM-conformant LMS (like BlackBoard) in place.

      SCORM is composed of several component specifications like IMS Content Packaging [] and IMS Simple Sequencing []. You can also include (optional) metadata [] about the parts of your course, known as Sharable Content Objects (SCOs) and assets. Other standards like the Question and Test Interoperability Specification [] (QTI) are not officially a part of SCORM but can be incorporated using a number of established techniques.

      As far as tools go, there are open-source tools available that expose the SCORM specs in a form that is usable by computer-savvy users, like Reload []. There are other tools available that are intended for use by users who are less technical, like InSite Studio [] by Mississippi State University. Other tools are also available from commercial vendors. Some LMSs even have web-based tools built-in, and are known as Learning Content Management Systems (LCMSs).

      SCORM is a mature set of specs that are designed to meet the needs of organizations that are in your exact position, and are widely accepted -- some Asian countries have adopted it as a national standard. The SCORM community is growing quickly and new complimentary specs are being leveraged within SCORM-conformant courses all the time. Tool support should also expand quickly now that the SCORM 2004 spec has been in circulation for a while and vendors are getting thier products certified by the ADL.
    • I tried Moodle myself on several ocassions and I think it is a great. However I doubt it is what they are looking for, i.e. "Flash-compatible" stuff. I would rather recommend them OpenLaszlo (or Macromedia Flex).
    • Thanks for the ideas everyone, they are valuable. Moodle was mentioned in the project and I will investigate it.

      The specific project is for language instruction, and the type of data we wanted instructors to insert included videos of conversations, though I had hoped to provide more versatility.

      The current favorite technology is WinCALIS []. It's ideal for what we want to do right now, but I felt it was too limited as a general-purpose CAI program. I don't suppose there are any unbiased users of both Mood

  • Moodle (Score:3, Informative)

    by TeachingMachines ( 519187 ) on Sunday January 29, 2006 @07:59PM (#14595401) Homepage Journal
    Use an existing environment, such as Moodle []. You'll need to stick with the web browser and what the browser can present if you'd like to have people developing their own materials. True programming is probably out of the question for your users; they're interested in content development. I'd suggest Moodle version 1.5 (also integrates with Hot Potatoes, etc.)
  • Squeak? (Score:4, Informative)

    by mrchaotica ( 681592 ) on Sunday January 29, 2006 @08:38PM (#14595576)
    Squeak [] is a cross-platform Smalltalk environment that has a lot of features for non-programmers: For example, it is it's own IDE. For another, it's got lots of different drag-and-droppable widget things that can be programmed (graphically, even). In fact, it's mostly designed for education [] (computer science and otherwise).
  • courseware (Score:3, Informative)

    by jefu ( 53450 ) on Sunday January 29, 2006 @08:43PM (#14595599) Homepage Journal
    Are you aware of Sakai? []

    HTML and Web based courses provide much more flexibility than Flash. Flash would mostly be useful, as it is usually used on the web, to force students to sit through piles of crap, but is otherwise probably overkill.

    Why not markup multiple choice questions and tests in XML format? Last I looked there were several such to choose from (and using a database to save the questions and statistics provies for all kinds of nice features).

  • I predict they are going to get flamed for using flash...
  • I've used Toolbook [] before for stuff like this. It's not Free, but it's good software and I believe it meets all of the requirements you listed.
  • Well!, I for one really enjoyed the naive mix of arrogance and ignorance scattered thru this post. Apparently they are going to throw together a quick solution to a few of the most intractable problems of CS and HCI, so a few so called "intelligent professionals" dont have to do anything as mundane or boring as learning to control the worlds most complex information systems.

    I am mildly concerend that these same "intelligent professionals" who have "neither the time nor interest in learning a computer la

    • You want an idiotproof, multicultural, multilocale, extensible, IDE enabled, cross platform, multimedia script authoring tool, that can be integrated into a content creation system developed by a university "team:of CS students using Flash!?
      Oddly enough, this actually describes Squeak (except maybe for the "integration with Flash" part).
    • by flipper65 ( 794710 ) on Sunday January 29, 2006 @10:55PM (#14596005) Homepage
      Wow, got a bit of an anger issue with academia do ya? Give the guy a break, he was given a task and he turned to a self professed community of ubergeeks to see if they had an answer.

      Reading through some of the early responses it looks like they gave him at least one path to follow with moodle which looks like a pretty nice solution. I do feel that he threw out a bit of unintentional flame bait when he stated that they wanted a tool that would allow non-programmers to program when what it seems like he meant was he wanted a system where the users could add their own content without involving programmers.

      For an alternative solution he might also want to take a look at [] which is a solution heavily grounded in a commercial product by ab initio, after all, if it's good enough for MIT it might just fit his needs for flexability and scalability. Not only that, but I believe (and I could very well be mistaken) that OCW itself is available in an open source license format.
      • Ok, yeah, fair point, the academics do wind me up sometimes, on re-reading this I was a bit too cynical with the student dude himself, so sorry for that guy, just ignore the grumpy geek effect.

        That said, I really do think university academic faculty get away with way too little criticism for dumb stuff. How much has the software and computing industry been moved along by this kind of project. Not too much springs to mind huh...

        Just seems to me that most of the deep and cool stuff is coming out of comme

    • Generally, non-programmers have little or no idea what they would do with a full programming language. You give them something much, much smaller, based on what they want to do.

      For instance, you could allow them to create multiple choice tests, even somewhat complex ones which allow more than one answer to be correct, or only certain combinations to be correct, and still shield them completely from having to write the code that drives multiple choice tests. Sure, if they want to do something else, like an
  • Be VERY Careful (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) <> on Sunday January 29, 2006 @10:23PM (#14595895) Homepage Journal
    However, we would like to make something that would allow teachers and non-CS students to create their own applications. Can Slashdot readers suggest some kind of authoring system that would satisfy this?

    No. There have been billions of research dollars and millions of man-hours spent on trying to develop methods whereby non-programmers can become programmers. While some of them have had application-specific uses, not a single one has suceeded. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.

    The key is that, it's not that hard to program. With a little bit of instruction, just about anyone can be taught to change the oil in their car. The same is true of programming. Many of the home computers purchased in the 80's were bought so that the users could develop straightforward programs in BASIC. If hundreds of thousands of owners could accomplish that back then, why can't they accomplish it today?

    The answer is that they can. Anyone can still be taught to program. The problem that you're facing, however, is that the average program complexity has increased considerably. Which means that your average program is no longer like changing the oil, but is more like rebuilding a carburator. Still something that can be taught, but an order of maganitude more complex.

    At the end of the day, what you need is a custom configuration file or scripting language that is targetted with the project-at-hand in mind. That way you can simplify it down to only the components that absolutely NEED to be exposed to the users. But consider this route carefully! You need to analyze how much the teachers really need to be doing this, and decide if the time you will save them significantly outweighs the amount of time it would take for you to just do the work yourself. Otherwise you're just wasting valuable project time that could be spent elsewhere.

    Good luck!
    • No. There have been billions of research dollars and millions of man-hours spent on trying to develop methods whereby non-programmers can become programmers. While some of them have had application-specific uses, not a single one has suceeded. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.

      There is also billions of dollars spent on re-inventing the wheel and patenting it. People look for ways to make non-programmers become programmers so they can write from scratch applications that already exist.

      In this case t

  • by edremy ( 36408 ) on Sunday January 29, 2006 @10:26PM (#14595904) Journal
    Dokeos [] is an Open Source courseware system. (e.g. Blackboard, Sakai, Moodle) It has a simple, web-based SCORM lesson builder which allows you to build scripted lessons from content on the system such as documents, links, tests, etc. It will import Hot Potatoes tests as well, and many SCORM lessons from other systems.

    Reload [] is a SCORM editor. This might be a bit beyond what your people want, but it will build quite complex lessons from various bits of content

  • You should really consider giving it away to everyone.
  • ...I was a programmer for CAI coursework. We used Authorware Professional, née Course of Action (IIRC). This was about fifteen years ago. I have no idea what happened to that app/framework, but it thoroughly kicked ass IMO.
  • Web technolgies are definitely the way to go, just don't get vendor lock-in and make sure that every tool is standards based and can easily be moved away from if need be.
  • My experience in this area was for a computer lab that supported a foreign language department (of a state university). We used Authorware [] to make drills and quizes. While Director [] does more, Authorware was easier to use by the non-experts. Neither of them are inexpensive, and the academic versions weren't significantly cheaper than the "grown up" price. The lab that I was in charge of running was completely Macintosh oriented: at that time, Windows had a very hard time supporting non-ascii character sets.
  • The options you have when you want full cross platform availability for your courses, doesn't leave you with much choice apart from Flash, Java or HTML, or a combination thereof, since the others either don't allow you to write your own applications, or are not fully cross platform.

    I would suggest actually writing a simple visual programming environment in Flash or Java, since it seems that your students won't be needing complex features (I presume simple procedural with conditionals and media integration).
  • A commercial solution is Exact [] from Giunti Labs, which lets you build content from a library of reusable components as you suggest. Though they recommend you take a course to learn how to use it, imagine a complicated point and click interface. I have not used Moodle though it seems popular, as another poster mentioned the key seems to be SCORM compliance. You will also need an LMS (learning management system) to manage scoring history of students over time, exams, etc. in particular ways for teachers to
  • Macromedia had an EXCELLENT product called Authorware. Unfortunately it has since been discontinued. It was basically a scriptable GUI with nodes, icones, and such. Easy to use, and once mastered, one could really create some amazing computer based training programs.
    • I just visited macromedia's site, and it seems Authorware7 is still alive and kicking! Get that. Your students can build a really customizable script, and content editors can plunk in images, video, sound bites, text, etc.
  • Most courseware these days SUCKS! Most of it is re-hashed overheads and powerpoint presentations with a few clever illustrative multimedia tricks to try to keep people interested. How about an instructional format that guarantees that the participant learns?

    IMO, the elements of good self-teaching courseware are Information, Simulation and Feedback. Back in the '60's B.F. Skinner and Norman Crowder developed the principles of Programmed Instruction. The web is an ideal medium for PI. In the early days, many
  • You may or may not find the scriptable language that you're looking for. Your real problem is minimizing the effort required to produce custom programs, right? How about define a few narrowly scoped types of courseware that the teachers want and create some wizards that guide them through building it?

    Instead of making them script a multiple choice test, have an option in your TestBuilder application to make one. Then provide them with a wizard that steps them through each step, allows previews, scoring c
  • Sounds ambitious. Maybe moodle is what you need, or maybe you could hack something together (e.g. user created slideshows and other presentation stuff) with something like Catalyst [].

"Never face facts; if you do, you'll never get up in the morning." -- Marlo Thomas