One of my favorite subjects to cover is advocating open source for the education industry. Few organizations can benefit more from open source than the various educational systems around the world. The free cost of the software, the flexibility of the software, and the very educational nature of open source are reasons why every institution from the elementary to the post-graduate level can benefit.
I have used fantastic open source web-based or computer testing software titles, though one of the most powerful computer-based exam systems I've tried is TCExam. I've deployed TCExam on a number of occasions with outstanding results. TCExam is not terribly challenging to set up, but it takes a while to get the hang of how to create tests in the system. I'm going to breeze through the straightforward installation process (for more specifics, read my 2011 DIY post about TCExam) and focus on the meat of TCExam: creating tests.
- A Web server: Apache 1.3+ or IIS 6+
- PHP 5+ (You must have gd, imagick, curl, mysql, and pgsql libraries enabled within your PHP installation.)
- A DMBS: MySQL 4.1+ or PostgreSQL 8.2+
- The LaTeX rendering requires the following additional software:
LaTeX(for Windows, I suggest using MiKTeX)
- The Optical Mark Recognition (OMR) system requires the zbarimg application.
Once you meet all of the requirements (I'm using a Linux Mint 12 base with Apache, MySQL, PHP), you're ready to start the installation process.
- Move the .zip file to the document root of the web server.
- Unpack the archive, which will create a new directory TCExam.
- Fire up your web browser and point it to http://ADDRESS_TO_SERVER/TCExam/install/install.php.
- Walk through the easy-to-use web-based installation.
- Point the browser to the system (which will be http://localhost/TCExam/admin/code/index.php) and log in with these credentials:
username: adminpassword: 1234
- Change the admin password in the Users section of the Admin control panel by selecting the admin user from the dropdown list and then entering a new password for that user (Figure A). Be sure to restrict the IP address of the admin user to specific machines for added security.
You need to create a group called students; this will allow you to assign tests to the student group, as well as associate users with the group allowed to take tests. To do this, follow these steps:
- From the Admin control panel, go to Users | Groups.
- In the Name section, enter students.
- Click the Add button.
Now you can begin to add users to this group. You will have to manually add users to the system, as there is no system with which users can auto enroll. You can, however, import users from an .xml or .csv file to make the process go more quickly. From the Admin control panel, go to Users | Users and then start the process of adding new users.
Creating tests with this systemMany of the steps required to create tests are handled through an easy to use Wizard that will walk you through the process. To start the Wizard, from the Admin control panel, go to Modules | Modules; this is where you create a new module that will be used for the test (Figure B). To create a new module, select the "+" entry from the drop-down and give the new module a name. Figure B
The test creation process is not especially intuitive, but at least it gives the freedom to associate topics, questions, and answers to different modules. You can even create a foundation of questions and re-use them as necessary. By employing this type of system, you don't have to completely re-create a test from scratch every time.
TCExam is an incredibly powerful tool that will enable any learning institution to offer online testing. Give TCExam a try, and see if it doesn't meet or exceed your testing needs.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.