Come to Barcelona for the European Users Conference November 10 – 12

Joan Phaup HeadshotPosted by Joan Phaup

Getting together with fellow users of Questionmark technologies is one of the best ways to learn best practices and discover new uses for online assessments. So we’re delighted to announce plans for the Questionmark 2013 European Users Conference in Barcelona November 10 – 12.

Mark your calendar now for this important learning event, and register as soon as you can. Here’s what you can expect during this gathering:conf-photo-collage2

  • Real-world case studies by Questionmark users
  • Introductions to new solutions and features
  • Sessions explaining Questionmark features & functions
  • Presentations about testing and assessment best practices
  • Opportunities to influence future solutions
  • One-on-one meetings with Questionmark technicians
  • Plenty of time to network with your peers

The conference will take place at Hotel Fira Palace in the heart of Barcelona — between the famous Plaza de España and Gran Via Avenue and within easy reach of other parts of the city as well as the airport.

The call for presentation proposals is open until July 1st — so take this opportunity to share experiences and generate discussion among colleagues.

Early-bird registration discounts available until June 30th 2013, so sign up soon and start making your plans for Barcelona.

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Back from Brussels: Remembering a great conference

Posted by Jane Townsend

Returning  from European Users Conference in Brussels, I am amazed at how quickly the time has gone by since we arrived there a few days ago.

This being my first conference, I found it really insightful and would like to thank our many guest speakers for sharing their knowledge and time. Without them there would be no conference.  I’d also like to say a big thank you to all the Questionmark staff who were so supportive throughout…Great Job!

We covered so many topics during our two days together— everything from news about Questionmark Analytics and Mobile Apps to a fascinating general session on ways to balance flexibility, participant experience, logistics and security when considering test authoring and delivery options. Getting together with customers gave us the opportunity to take stock of the innovative technologies and techniques that are changing the world of learning and assessment. 

The closing session went down well with staff and clients alike, emphasizing constant improvements to our technologies and services.

Our conferences are never complete without some fun, and we had plenty during our  “Speak Easy” event,  where fortunes were won and lost in seconds. Who will forget being  enveloped by a very large snake or losing ties, wrist watches and even their minds to a skillful pickpocket?  For more photos from the conference, check out our flickr page.

How to integrate (socially) with Questionmark

Posted by Steve Lay

Earlier this week I finished booking my travel for the forthcoming European Users Conference.  This year’s conference is being held 9 – 11 October in Brussels, which gives me a great opportunity to use the Channel Tunnel.  With so many cheap flights available from my local airport, I’m ashamed to say that I have never been through the Chunnel before, despite walking past the terminal every time I travel to Questionmark’s London Office!  (And guess what: the train turns out to be just as cheap as the plane!)

But it isn’t just the journey I’m looking forward to: it’s the conference program!

To start with, our Dutch distributor, Stoas, will be running a bonus session on using QMWISe, our web-service interface.  Last year’s session was so popular there was standing room only.

As someone who has been closely involved with the development of technical standards for assessment content, I’m also intrigued by Gregory Furter’s session on using Notepad++ and regular expressions to import large numbers of questions.

For less technical delegates, John Dermo will be giving tips on large scale deployments in the Case Studies strand.  John recently won best paper award at the CAA 2011 conference in Southampton; there are pictures and a link to John’s paper on the CAA website.

Continuing with the theme of large deployments, Michel Duijvestijn from Rotterdam will be talking about the use of JMeter to test and optimize an OnPremise deployment of Perception.

On the second day of the conference, David Lewis will be talking about his Blackboard integration at the University of Glamorgan and Onno Thompson will be updating us on the way ECABO use QMWISe to help create their integrations.

I’ve highlighted just a few papers from the programme.  The Product Management team will of course be available in Product Central.  I’m also talking in the Best Practice track on “Using Web Services to Integrate with Questionmark Perception”.  In fact, I spoke last month to Jane Townsend, our Marketing Coordinator, about that session, which you can read about elsewhere on the blog.

As always, we’ll be extending the conversation through the use of various social networking streams so don’t forget to pack your mobile.

See you at #qmcon

Conference Close-up: A corporate perspective on global learning

Posted by Jane Townsend

As the Questionmark European Users Conference draws closer, we are looking forward to many customer presentations along with sessions on using Questionmark technologies effectively and following best practices.

We’re pleased to have Matt Bushby from HSBC – a multinational banking and financial services organisation –  on the conference program. Matt will present a case study on the challenges HSBC faced consolidating its global learning programs while at the same time upgrading to a newer version of Questionmark Perception. This new system will put content at the fingertips of employees throughout the world, but a secure, integrated deployment on such a large scale presents some special challenges. I talked with Matt this week to find out about his plans for the conference.

Matt Bushby and friends!


Tell me about your work at HSBC.

I am the UK assessment specialist, which means I’m responsible for the consultancy, design and build of online assessments within HSBC’s UK bank. Any assessment we do, any or question we do, basically comes across my desk. I’m also the global subject matter expert for Questionmark within HSBC, so if anyone has any issues, has a problem or wants to know how to do something, they come to me.

So you’re very, very busy!

Yes, that’s the word I’d use!

How are you using assessments at the bank?

Within the UK we use it for Regulatory testing. So job roles that fall under the governance of the Financial Services Authority take compliance assessments via Questionmark, through our SumTotal learning management system. We also use Questionmark assessments for non-regulatory, high-stakes testing too.  Elsewhere in the HSBC Group, some of our people also use Questionmark for quizzes, but here in the UK we focus on higher-stakes, secure assessments.

What are you going to talk about at the conference?

I’ll be describing the special challenges of working with a corporate environment – from the point of view of a large multinational corporation. In addition to upgrading to a new version of Questionmark Perception, we joined up numerous different learning management systems into one global system. This has will enable the sharing of content in a far more effective way, but it was a massive task.

The challenges involve how you scale the system so people still have access to it while, at the same time, IT maintains centralised control of the servers. How do you efficiently update the database from one version of Perception to another? How do you manage multilingual assessments?  How do you handle test security? How can the global SME best share knowledge about assessment management  with colleagues in Hong Kong or South America? And what issues are involved in collaborating with test authors from many different countries?

I’ll talk about some of the pitfalls and challenges we’ve faced and the solutions we’ve worked out.  I’ll also talk about the support Questionmark has given us to make a template customisable for different languages.

What are you looking forward to about the conference?

The thing I like most about the conference is the networking. It’s sitting with other people. It’s talking about our experiences. It’s a chance to catch up with people from Questionmark. I have a really good working relationship with Questionmark support, and we talk on the phone – but it’s important to take time to put faces to names, to link up, to work on the relationship. I like being involved with the product, the company and the customers – and to find out how they do things.

Click here to learn more about the conference and register soon!

Conference Close-up: Sustaining large-scale e-assessment

Posted by Joan Phaup

The University of Bradford in the U.K.  is delivering four times the number of e-assessments now as it did four years ago – about 60,000 annually these days.

John Dermo from the University’s Centre for Educational Development will tell how this came about – and how the university sustains this high level of assessment – during a case study presentation at the Questionmark European Users Conference in Brussels this October.

John Dermo

John’s session will build on some tips he shared in a previous blog article, but I asked him for a few details about what’s happening at the university and what he’ll be sharing at the conference.

Tell me about your work.

I’m responsible for technology-enhanced  formative and summative assessment  at the university.  I work with a range of people involved in assessment in different ways:  academic staff, administrators, IT support, the exams office and the invigilators. As well as initiating changes, I’m the go-between for the different groups.

A couple of projects that took place between 2007 and 2009 have paved the way for expansion and innovation in the area of assessment. Before that, we had limited, ad hoc use of e-assessment, but demand was building up so we built support systems to meet it.  We created a workflow model and figured out exactly who did what, and we aimed to make the whole thing scalable. We also built a new e-assessment room to help build up the summative, high-stakes side of our assessment programme.

How has e-assessment at the university changed in the past few years?

With summative assessments, we’ve seen an increase in the speed with which we can get grades to students.  Also, it’s now possible to use more multimedia, particularly high-res photographs.  The sort of the thing that’s too costly on paper is more practical on the screen. We can also run more authentic types of assessments:  we might combine a standard multiple choice assessment with some other online or computer-based tool.

For low-stakes and formative assessments the impact has been slightly different. There has been an increase in the amount of feedback that can be given, and certainly where that’s used it has been very popular with students. There has also been an increase in regular low-stakes assessments, so it has certainly  affected the way in which people use blended learning. There’s more interaction now than there was before.

What are the key issues and challenges in achieving sustainable development of e-assessment?

The key things are communication and knowing who does what at what point in the process. It’s easy to think that someone else is going to do a particular task, but that may not be so. Forward planning, fallback plans and communication between the roles is absolutely vital. It’s also important to give staff a certain level of autonomy. Yes, we need processes, but we need to allow for flexibility.

Another thing is keeping training and support as flexible as possible. Some people want to use e-assessment on a regular basis, other people just once or twice a year, so we often need to deliver support and training on a just-in-time basis as well as through more structured programmes. But it’s important to be realistic about what you can do for people. You can’t do everything yourself so you have to set realistic goals and  negotiate the most practical way of delivering  assessments, managing the workload between different groups as needed.

A big challenge is how to deal with the pioneers who drive innovation. Whilst of course you encourage the pioneers and the innovators, it’s more effective if you weave their enthusiasm into their teams. Relying on just one person won’t make innovation sustainable across the institution. A pioneer might move on, retire, something like that, and where does that leave you?  Having innovators share with those around them helps build a sustainable future.

Also, make sure you have some sort of institutionally recognized policy about assessment and keep revisiting it and documenting any changes that you make.

How will your session help people from other institutions expand their use of e-assessment?

Mainly by sharing my experience over the years in an institution where we have seen this growth. I’ll try to draw out practical tips that people can take away. I also want to give people the opportunity to share their own experiences.

I find the Questionmark users community really very, very supportive. It’s one of the reasons I’m attending the conference, in addition to being in constant contact with some members of the community.  I think the more we can share our experiences the better.

What are you looking forward to at the conference?

A lot! I’m looking forward to meeting up with some people I haven’t seen in a couple of years. I’m also very interested in the new functionality in Questionmark Perception version 5 because we are in the process of upgrading. And I want to learn about integrating v5 with other tools, in particular virtual learning environments.

There’s still time to register for the conference. Click here to learn more.

Conference Close-up: Options for Integrating with Questionmark Perception

Posted by Jane Townsend

I’m pleased that Steve Lay, Questionmark’s Integration Team Lead, will be with us at the Questionmark European Users Conference in Brussels to talk about various ways to integrate Questionmark Perception with other systems.

Steve’s presentation will focus on using QMWISe (Questionmark Web Integrated Services Environment) to integrate with Questionmark Perception.

Steve Lay

I asked him for a few details about his subject:

What are the key methods for integrating Questionmark Perception with other systems?

The first and simplest is something we call PIP – Perception Integration Protocol. This enables people to create special web links that in turn allow participants to go straight in to launch and take a test. We can even include things like single sign-on in this type of integration.

The second is to use package standards — such as SCORM or AICC – which internally build on the PIP protocol and provide a standards-based approach to integrating with learning content.

Our other method of integration, called QMWISe (Questionmark Web Integrated Services Environment), is a web services-based integration. You have to be a programmer to work with QMWISe, but the reward is a much more powerful integration, for example the synchronization of people information with Perception. You get many more options with this method, which more than compensates for the extra work needed at the programming stage.

Could you tell me more about the more powerful integrations that QMWISe makes possible?

With QMWISe, you can automatically schedule assessments to people and manage other aspects of the assessment process in a variety of ways. It can be used in a portal to integrate user data and for single sign-on: you can then connect straight through from the portal to Perception. It enables the synchronization of people information from, say, HR systems or student information systems:  in particular you might track changes to the people information held in these external systems. Custom programs can then push these changes through QMWISe to Perception.

The QMWISe method also enables users to develop deeper connections to LMSs. This is the technology we use in our Connectors such as the integrations with the SAP Learning System and Blackboard.

How are customers using QMWISe at the moment?

Perhaps the most popular way we are seeing customers use QMWISE is to integrate something like an external portal with Perception. This could be something like a Learning Management System (LMS) or a company portal. They typically provide single sign-on and show information about assessments that are available. They often find that this can be done more easily than they think by using QMWISe. Customers often use QMWISe to synchronize people information, as I mentioned before.

Who will benefit from attending your presentation?

In my opinion anybody who is thinking of doing integration with Perception will benefit. They’ll have the opportunity to find out what the options are, although we’ll be looking at web services integration in particular. People interested in deeper integration will benefit the most from the presentation. We’ll show a couple of typical applications to get things started. So if you’re using one of these common applications you’ll find something you can identify with and may even get to take home some recipes you can work with.

We hope you will be able to join us at the conference from 9 to 11 October. Click here to register.

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