Thursday, January 26, 2006

More on Publishers

Well the new on-line homework system the publisher was pushing is finally available, and I spent this morning looking it over and playing with it. Unfortunately it took me probably less than an hour to find the fatal flaw.

The new version of the system has lots of lovely features, but in one area it's a major downgrade. You see, the old system allowed you download and upload testbank files, which allowed me to make edits to the original files and create new problems, complete with mathematical notation and algorithms to generate the answers. Now granted, they didn't exactly provide a manual for the format of the files or the language used to generate the algorithms, but I could figure most of it out by trial and error.

The new system has apparently "protected" users from ever having to see those awful text files. There is no way to download or upload a question bank. The only way to write a new question is to use the built-in editor, which is very limited. (No algorithmically generated answers, no symbolic answers, and no mathematical notation. Basically just text, for questions and answers.) There is no way to edit a built-in question if you don't like it.

I sent a message to their technical support people asking if I had missed anything, and the answer was no, there is no way to edit the files directly or write more complicated questions. But they thought it was a great idea and they would pass it along to their development people for future work. Of course I'm a bit perplexed as to how they came up with idea to leave out a feature in what is supposed to be an upgrade. (I suspect it was probably intended to "fool-proof" their system so that pesky people like me would quit tweaking their system, actually.)

Now we're going to have to figure out what happens next.

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