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IMS Question and Test Interoperability gets major make-over

The public beta of the venerable, comprehensive and increasingly popular IMS Question and Test Interoperability (QTI) specification has been released. Age, popularity and size played a major part in the decision to give it a thorough overhaul: the world has moved on quite a bit from its first appearance in 2000, and the many implementors found some aspects that can be done better.

The spec itself concerns itself with three distinct functions: the actual format of a question, the format of a bunch of questions in a test, and the format and processing of the answers that come back. In terms of substantial change, the new version only really concerns itself with the form of question items.

For those items, the major change is basically a harmonisation with XHTML. The basic webpage format already has plenty of support for declaring things like images, so there's not much gained by duplicating such tags in QTI. The result is a profile of XHTML to support the rendering of static information in questions.

More substantial is a new interaction model for the question items themselves. These concern things like how to declare and handle response conditions: bits of information that tell the assessment tool what to do next. Other changes include such things like dropping the ability to specify the time taken on a particular interaction within a question in favour of decelaring the time for the whole item.

The datamodel is also changed to harmonise the spec better with XML Schema- the earlier version was designed with the older DTD technology in mind.

Apart from such spring-cleaning of the datamodel, the major new additions are the definition of a method of integrating QTI in standard IMS Content Packages. This spec is the standard method of shuttling pretty diverse kinds of learning resources between systems such as Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) and repositories. With the new method, there's a standard way of moving lists of question items as well.

Once such a content package has arrived in a repository or question bank, use can be made of a set of elements from the equally widely used IEEE Learning Object Metadata standard. These are a handpicked set of those bits most suitable for describing question items. There is another set of metadata elements whose sole purpose is to capture usage data such as item statistics.

Though questions on their own are pretty useful bits of learning material in their own right, many people wanted to be able to use them in conjunction with other e-learning formats such as IMS Simple Sequencing, SCORM and IMS Learning Design. To that end, guidance is also provide how to integrate QTI question items in those specs.

Beware that, though the oily bits are done, the eight (!) documents that make up the formal spec are not quite done yet.

Resources

Documentation about version 2 of QTI can be downloaded from the IMS Question & Test Interoperability Specification page.

The CETIS assessment Special Interest Group will be dedicating a meeting to the changes in the new version, where a good few of the spec's authors and many more experts are bound to (be) present.

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