Volume 11, Issue 2, 1997
The NetQuest Project:
Question Delivery over the Web using TML
- Jane Williams, Paul Browning, Dan Brickley and Helene Missou
- University of Bristol
NetQuest is a project enabling tutors and students to create sets of
questions for student self assessment. The project aims to provide a large
questionset which will act as a central resource, accessible over networks
including the World Wide Web, marked up using TML (Tutorial Mark-up
Language) so that the user can request a set of questions on any given
Initial development work has been made possible by grants from the
Teaching & Learning: Excellence & Innovation and Continuing Professional
Development Funds of the University of Bristol and the charity Baby
Lifeline. NetQuest plans to compile indexed and searchable "questionbanks"
and is producing question sets in the subject areas (initially) of
geoscience, chemistry, medicine, veterinary science and engineering.
TML is an interchange format designed to separate the semantic content of
a question from its screen layout or formatting. The language supports
several different types of question within the same content model and is
essentially a super-set of HTML. Various tools allow the questions
contained within TML files to be delivered to students via the World Wide
Web and for responses to be tracked and analysed. Fuller details and
example question sets are available from: http://www.ilrt.bris.ac.uk/netquest/
The interchange format is based on work initially done by Neil Holtz from
the University of Carleton. It has, however, been extensively re-written
and extended, principally via the addition of scoring and hot-image type
questions. The core of this work was undertaken by Joel Crisp whilst
working at the Institute for Learning and Research Technology. We are
indebted to Neil Holtz for releasing his original work into the public
domain. In the spirit of the best traditions of the Internet, TML remains
During the development of this interchange format, a program was written
to convert the information in a TML file to raw HTML which could be
delivered to a standard WWW browser. This program is a CGI-compliant
program currently working with the Unix NCSA Web server; ports to both
Windows/NT and Mac systems are in progress.
A TML file is a plain text file containing only HTML and TML. A number of
"tags" are defined which act as semantic descriptors. These tags allow the
definition of several different parts of a question, including scoring,
and optionally the defaults for any section.
So far, four different types of question been implemented
(Multiple-Choice, Poly-Choice, Word-Match and Hot-Image), and from the
experience with these a much wider range should be possible. A typical TML
file has a number of sections which comprise: a title for the tutorial, a
section describing defaults, the actual question text in HTML, the correct
and incorrect answers, a set of responses tied to the answers, a set of
scores tied to the answers and a set of hints.
The limited number of sections provide a simple format for the file but
are capable of representing a wide range of question types. Any standard
HTML 3 mark-up may be used for the question type, answers, responses and
hints; links to other documents, images and equations (when browsers
eventually support them) may be included.
To illustrate the results of some of the development work in economics see
set up for Biz/ed. Anyone who is willing to
contribute questions (and answers!) for the project should contact Dan
Brickley at the ILRT.
The program which has been used to test the TML format is a Perl
script which runs on the WWW server to convert the TML file into sequences
of normal HTML pages. It takes the information in the tutorial, the
feedback from the student and the saved state for the real (in
"authenticated" mode) or fake (in "anonymous" mode) user ID and constructs
a suitable response page. The flexibility of the program is extended by
its modular architecture. Each question type is implemented in a small
module, and a core set of functions exist in an `engine' file which
handles logging, navigation and TML parsing.
A reporting program can analyse the results from the tests. At the time of
writing, this program reports the number of questions attempted, the total
score and the number of hints for each ID. It is being extended to report
also on a per question basis, which can help to identify areas of
knowledge which are lacking across all the students, in addition to
questions which are inappropriate or incorrect.
Password Protection Program
When the tutorial engine is used in authenticated mode, an auxiliary
program to enable lecturers to quickly and easily set up student passwords
and classroom groups is being developed. This program uses a WWW-based
Tutorial Authoring Tool
Presently TML files are constructed using any editor. We are investigating
other tools for authoring (e.g. wizards in Word/Excel/Access, a forms-
based Web tool).
Image Map Authoring Tool
A JAVA applet is being developed to allow hot-image type questions to be
authored quickly and easily.
We wish to provide searchable catalogues of questions to enable
"intelligent" selection from a database.
TML is in fact an SGML DTD. The development of XML offers the prospect of
presenting (and processing) TML as a client-side XML application (without
having to use CGI scripts on a server to render tutorials).
We would like to provide filters to allow the easy exchange of question
content from one assessment delivery system to another via the medium of
the TML interchange format.
We are presently documenting a port of the TML system to Windows/NT and
will then consider doing the same for MacOS. Other sites have already
completed ports of TML to both these operating systems.
TML and NetQuest are open, easily modifiable,
networkable and - by virtue of being Web-based - independent of platform.
They offer the potential to:
- facilitate the exchange of question
content between different computer-aided assessment systems
- deliver low-cost student assessment and (especially) student
self-assessment in any networked computer environment.
TML and the support utilities are being used within a growing number of
departments at the University of Bristol to delivery self-assesment
materials via the WWW and it is anticipated that this form of question
delivery will become very significant over the next few years.
The hardest thing about TML is constructing good quality questions to
deliver with it!
Jane Williams, Dan Brickley and Helene Missou are members of the Institute for Learning Research at the University of Bristol; Paul Browning is in the Department of Geology, University of Bristol.
The authors may be contacted atThe Institute for Learning and Research Technology
University of Bristol
8 Woodland Road
Bristol BS8 1TN
Telephone +44 (0)117 928 7096
Fax: +44 (0)117 928 7112