Question: Coping with the Maple T.A. 5 Question Repository


unfortunately Maple T.A. 5 is looking more and more like a significant downgrade from Maple T.A. 2.5, our prior version. In particular, the question repository has seriously increased the amount of time it takes to administer questions and assignments (see my comment in the thread "TA5 question repository" in this forum for some of the ugly details), and since writing that piece we've encountered even more debilitating behaviour. I am writing in the hope someone might be able to offer some insight or workarounds to the following problems:

(1) If you set an assignment so that only one attempt is allowed it seems impossible to authorise instructors to be able to take it again: students yes, but instructors no.

(2) Editing questions via the GUI (which we now have to do because of the neutering of question bank uploads in Maple T.A. 5 -- they no longer overwrite existing question banks and hence cannot be used to replace existing incorrect questions within assignments) can produce situations in which the question is *inaccessible* to the instructors and produces error messages for the students. Once this occurs editing the question seems to be out of bounds for anyone other than a system administrator, as any attempt to edit the thing (eg, via the "edit source" facility of the GUI) simply throws up the same error message displayed to the students (ours was something along the lines of "$ is not an allowed symbol within a question").

It seems that the garbled question may result from editing source within a text area, and having the browser insert hard line breaks within the Maple code. Once that occurs (and as above: the only reason anyone would think of editing a reasonably complex maths question in the source view is that it's no longer possible to upload a corrected version via a tex=>qu=>overwrite route) all access is impossible, and the instructor can end up with the ridiculous embarrassing situation of a non-working question in a live assignment.

(3) Editing questions (via "Edit source") can strip the specification of an algorithm from a question, leaving it in a non-working state. That is, a question with a relatively complex algorithmic component, when modified via "Edit source" (even just editing the *question text*) can end up without any algorithmic specification at all after saving. We have repeatable examples of this occurring.

(4) Reiterating a little some of the frustrations and annoyances from my previous post; the number of clicks required to set assignments uploaded via the latex=>qu=>questions_in_repo route is astonishingly high. To change the number of marks a question (or question group) is worth in an assignment, you cannot just enter the new number --despite the *appearance* of an editable text field-- but must tap-tap-tap on an + and - buttons.

More importantly, the lack of a sensible mapping from "topics" in the source to "groups" in the repository is a mammoth source of frustration. The assignment setter must indulge in a veritable click-fest in order to recreate an assignment structure that is *built into* the uploaded latex file. Essentially the new import facility flattens all the carefully created hierarchy of questions and requires you to rebuild it. In the reverse of the natural order, just to add a few little salt crystals into the wounds. These changes to the question bank structures in Maple T.A. have produced an enormously irritating user experience. See my earlier post for the gory details if you're interested.


More generally, the absence of any effective way to effectively edit a "live" assignment is killing us: uploading a new qu file just creates *new* questions in the database, rather than replacing existing ones, so that route is out. Editing via the GUI is like navigating a minefield, as per the above observations, so that too is ruled out. Certainly it would be lovely to get everything right before the assignment is live, but small errors, infelicities, inconsistencies and the like are just a matter of life in this realm, so there really needs to be a robust means to deal with these issues. We have found no such mechanism as yet...

Any suggestions, workarounds, or pointing-out-the-obvious-things-we've-missed welcome! For example: is it worth considering a back-track to the Maple T.A. 4 series? Does it still have the old style question import/overwrite/grouping structure that in hindsight look so attractive?


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