Summer webinars — including tips on better test planning and delivery

Joan Phaup HeadshotPosted by Joan Phaup

Students (and teachers) may be clicking their heels about summer vacation, but the joy of learning continues year-round for us!

Helping our customers understand how to use assessments effectively is as important to us as providing good testing and assessment technologies — we ‘re keeping our web seminars going strong during the summer months.

Here’s the current line-up:

Questionmark Customers Online: Using Questionmark and SAP for Effective Learning and Compliance — June 20 at 1 p.m. Eastern Time:

Learn about the use of Questionmark and SAP for a wide array of learning and compliance needs, including safety training, certifications and regulatory compliance testing. This presentation by Kati Sulzberger of BNSF Railway also describes how Questionmark helped the company meet some unique test delivery requirements.

Five Steps to Better Tests: Best Practices for Design and Delivery — July 18 at noon Eastern Time:

Get practical tips for planning tests, creating items, and building, delivering and evaluating tests that yield actionable, meaningful results. Questionmark Product Owner Doug Peterson, who will present this webinar, previously spent more than 12 years in workforce development.  During that time, Doug created training materials, taught in the classroom and over the Web, and created many online surveys, quizzes and tests.

Questionmark Customers Online: Achieving a Better Assessment-Development Process — August 22 at 1 p.m. Eastern Time:

Need a better assessment building process? Find out how enterprise architecture principles can help you and your team work more efficiently.  Tom Metzler,  Knowledge Assessment Administrator at TIBCO Software, Inc.,  will explain how the company’s certification team uses well-established software architecture principles to continually improve the efficiency of its assessment development process. Find out how using systematic processes and thorough documentation result in better information for subject matter experts, time-savings and higher-quality assessments.

Introduction to Questionmark’s Assessment Management System — Choose from a variety of dates and times

This primer  explains and demonstrates key features and functions available in Questionmark OnDemand and Questionmark Perception. Spend  an hour with a Questionmark expert learning the basics of authoring, delivering and reporting on surveys, quizzes, tests and exams.

Click here for more details and free online registration.

Caching for Performance: Cloud Technology Enhances Perception 5.4

Posted by Steve Lay

With the release of Questionmark Perception v5.4, our software platform for on-premise installation, we’ve taken advantage of a new aspect of the Microsoft server platform called Windows Server AppFabric to enhance performance and scalability.

AppFabric is fairly new, so system administrators embarking on a new installation or an upgrade from an earlier Perception version may not be familiar with it.  In this blog post I introduce the basic idea behind AppFabric, the reason we have chosen to use it and which components of Perception are affected.

AppFabric was born in the cloud, as a key component of the Windows Azure cloud-based application environment. Azure is similar to the older Google App Engine: it allows developers to write applications and host them in the cloud without having to worry about the operating system, web server configuration and so on.  Microsoft have now released a version of AppFabric for their server operating system platforms, called Microsoft AppFabric for Windows Server.

One of the challenges cloud-based developers face is storing temporary information in their application when it has been load balanced across lots of servers.  Questionmark’s assessment delivery system, in common with many enterprise systems, is organized on a three-tier model: a presentation tier for optimizing the user experience for the user’s web browser or device, a business tier for implementing the business rules and a data tier for storing information.  The data tier is overkill for most types of temporary data and overusing it can have an impact on performace; that is where technologies like AppFabric come in.

AppFabric is a light-weight alternative to a database designed to store temporary information.  For example, the business tier application might retrieve some information from the database and store it temporarily using AppFabric. Next time it needs the same information it can get it from AppFabric faster than it could get it by going back to the database. Performance improves and the application becomes more scalable.

At Questionmark we have been using this type of caching solution as an integral part of our OnDemand environment for some time.  With the release of Perception 5.4 it is now a pre-requisite for OnPremise customers too.  AppFabric is helping us to extend our three-tier architecture to cover new technologies, such as Questionmark Analytics and our new Enterprise Manager portal, available for OnPremise customers for the first time in Perception 5.4.

These are our first steps with AppFabric – and we are always looking for opportunities to increase the scalability and performance of our assessment delivery platform. AppFabric may well have an increased role to play in future releases.

Open Platform, Security and Eating Out: looking forward to New Orleans

Posted by Steve Lay

Just a few days to go until the Questionmark Users Conference.  As usual I’ve been perusing the conference programme on the lookout for sessions of particular interest to people integrating with Questionmark technologies.

One that stood out to me was Using Innovative Technologies to Aid High-Volume Testing in Multiple Environments. The team from Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education will be talking about their application which was developed in partnership with Questionmark’s Solution Services team.  If you want to get an idea of what can be achieved using our application programming interfaces (APIs), you might want to check out this session.

For people who want to get a bit more technical, I’ll be giving a session on Using Web Services to Integrate with Questionmark Perception. In that session I’ll dive a bit deeper into our web service APIs – called QMWISe – and update you on our progress towards the next generation of APIs using REST and OData – but that’s enough acronyms for one blog post!

A significant theme of the conference next week is security.  To an integration specialist, security often means protocols for authentication, authorisation and cryptographic algorithms.  But this traditional concept of security is just one part of a more complex picture.  I’m currently reading “Liars and Outliers” by Bruce Schneier, which provides an accessible survey of the wider social context from the perspective of an author traditionally associated with computer security.  I touched on some of these issues in a blog post a few months ago about a session at our European conference last Autumn.

On this theme, Richard Pierce, from  Shenandoah University will be talking about proctored versus non-proctored testing, grappling directly with the effects of the assessment setting on cheating.  You might also like to attend the panel discussion on Managing Assessment Security as the Stakes are Getting Higher.  It seems unfair to pick out just one or two sessions: as you’d expect, there are plenty more for people interested in a theme that affects every part of an assessment programme.

As usual, the product owners will be available in their own track so why not come and see us to talk about our product road maps in the Future Solutions strand?  Oh, and before I go, did I mention that I’ll also be talking about how to deploy the brand new Perception 5.4 OnPremise?

I look forward to meeting everyone, and even if you can’t make it in person don’t forget to keep up with the conference hash tag (#qm12).  Finally, I’ll leave you with one of my favourite quotes from the conference programme, in Richard Pierce’s words:  “Where are we eating tonight? It is New Orleans, for goodness’ sake!”

See you next week!