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Author: Stephen Heathorn
Title: Quizbuilder, version 1.05a
Publication info: Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
November 1998

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Source: Quizbuilder, version 1.05a
Stephen Heathorn

vol. 1, no. 2, November 1998
Article Type: Software Review

Quizbuilder, version 1.05a

Stephen Heathorn

Department of History
Indiana University

Quizbuilder, version 1.05a, Copyrighted to Mark D. Johnstone, Chicago Illinois, 1997, Price $15.

The World Wide Web has been embraced by many history instructors as not only a new way to present material, but also as a tool for out-of-class interaction with their students. Indeed, given the potential of the Web for encouraging active rather than merely passive learning, it is positive to see that a number of attempts to provide interactive learning tools for use with Web browsers have recently been launched. The example evaluated in this review is a small webpage utility for Netscape browsers called Quizbuilder.

This software, designed by an independent software developer from Chicago, is an add-on utility that allows the creation of custom designed quizzes that can be uploaded to course homepages. It is written in HTML, so both Macintosh and Windows environments are supported. Once installed on a homepage, users who go to the site can take the prepared quiz online, have the scores displayed to them immediately, and/or have the scores emailed to their instructor. Quiz questions can be of the following formats: multiple-choice (with upto five choices), fill-in-the-blank or true/false. The quiz can be of any length, with as many questions, variety and combination of types and order as is desired.

Installation of the software is extremely easy. All that is required is that the user open up the main software application as a file from within their browser, the preferred being Netscape Navigator or Communicator 3.0 or above. Unfortunately (or not, depending on your perspective) Netscape's main competitor, Microsoft Explorer cannot be used with Quizbuilder, neither in quiz construction nor by users seeking to take the quizzes online. The embedded instructions for building quizzes are easy to follow and the actual process of 'quizbuilding' is simple and reasonably quick. In testing, and using a pre-prepared set of questions, it took less than ten minutes of typing to set-up a 12 question multiple-choice quiz. There is no special code or machine language needed to be learnt for the putting together or a basic quiz: one merely clicks on the desired choices given (using dialogue boxes and pull-down menus) and types in the text of the question and the correct (and in the case of multiple-choice questions, also the incorrect) answer. However, once constructed the order of questions cannot be changed other than through deletion, and editorial changes can only be accomplished by deleting what has already been typed in the question boxes and retyping them. Once the quiz has been assembled, the file has to be saved, linked to the course home or other Web page and uploaded to that page's server. This is all very straight-forward and will be easy for anyone already using Web pages. The software author, Mark Johnston, has also provided a generous number of 'frequently asked questions' with complete answers, in a 'help' section, that should satisfy all but the most inquisitive or inept users.

Unfortunately, the presentation of the quiz is quite limited unless the user constructing the quiz knows how to use HTML. Several instructions for use of HTML tags are provided with the software, in particular for the linking of images or sounds to the quiz (presumably so that students can see images or maps and then be asked questions on them). However, to use these tags does require some knowledge of HTML programming, which is a distinct disadvantage for this product given the increasing trend towards applications that code HTML for the user automatically.

Just as the set-up of the quiz on a home page is easy, so too the use of the quiz once online is very straight-forward. The most significant limitation for the user when visiting the quiz is the necessity to use a Netscape browser. This fact does pose real problems, as many students will not have easy access to Netscape, particularly on campuses that have special marketing relationships with Microsoft. Once in Netscape, the quiz-taker merely directs their browser to the quiz page, and enters answers to the questions therein. Results of the quiz can be displayed to the user and/or emailed directly to the instructor. There is no password facility with this program, so the quiz is open to all who visit the page. Similarly, any extremely keen and adept user who wants to find-out the answers to the questions without doing the work that would normally furnish them, could use Netscape's 'view document source' option to view the HTML coding and hence the correct answers. The programmer claims this is very difficult to decipher, and in testing (I had one of my more-computer literate students try this) this claim was found to be correct: certainly it took as much effort to figure-out the answers from the HTML code as it would to read the text on which the quiz was based.

In testing, none of my students complained of any bugs or problems with the program. This testing, however, suggested the limited usefulness of this program for historians. The drawbacks of having an online quiz as an actual means of evaluation are legion. Unless you have some way of limiting your students access to your pages, or have some way of monitoring their use, or of imposing some kind of time limit on individual use, then there is no way to control the conditions in which the student takes their quiz, nor of preventing many people from learning about the questions in advance. Of course, the importance of this also depends on what you want to use quizzes for. Arguably, putting a quiz online is useful only as a heuristic tool: one meant to help students with examples of formal test questions; or providing them with some guidance with regards to important themes in reading. Moreover, while it is possible to construct analytical problems using multiple choice and fill in the blank questions, it does seem that this program is best suited to questions of recall rather than analysis. This may have some usefulness if instructors require their students to visit web sites and want to evaluate how carefully the user examined the Web site's documents or images. Again, while there maybe some value in this - getting students to see the important elements of a reading - it does seem to be of little practical help for historians looking for a means of evaluating historical knowledge and analytical competency.

Somewhat ironically, and surely unfortunately for its developer, the idea for this kind of quiz-building utility has been widely imitated by the large text-book publishers (like Norton and Longman) who now include similar kinds of quiz-construction software, some with online application, in their American and Western Civilization survey textbook support materials. A convenience of these programs is that they usually include a 'bank' of already-written questions based on the text which they support, and which can be added to or modified at the instructors whim. And thus ultimately, Quizbuilder's only real advantage over these publisher's programs, is that you do not have to order textbooks to acquire it.