Numbas is an open-source system developed by the e-Learning Unit of Newcastle University's School of Maths and Stats, based on many years of use, experience and research into e-assessment.
It's aimed at numerate disciplines.
It creates SCORM-compliant exams which run entirely in the browser, compatible with VLEs such as Blackboard and Moodle.
Numbas follows the CALM model.
At Newcastle, we used the commercial system i-assess for six years before switching to Numbas.
Development began in 2011 with the aim of replacing i-assess.
Compiled Numbas tests are SCORM packages: they're completely self-contained. Perfect for open access resources.
We have established a community of authors and users producing quality open-access material.
A set of free revision resources is available on mathcentre.ac.uk.
The public database at numbas.mathcentre.ac.uk contains thousands of questions created by hundreds of authors.
Organising such a large bank of questions is difficult! We've put a lot of work into making it easier.
Projects collect together material belonging to a particular course or module.
Content is hidden by default - must be explicitly published to the public database.
Formative Use: Computer-aided assessment is great for practice. Students can try randomised questions over and over until they're happy:
Cohort of 150 students.
Entry criteria: AAA/AAB with at least one science A-level. Plus GCSE B in Maths.
Students take a stage 1, semester 1 module covering practical methods and basic mathematics.
In semester 2 they take a module with a significant statistics component.
Module leaders are aware of students falling behind due to limitations with their mathematics.
*Based on research by Peter Gallagher, Lecturer in Neuropsychology, Newcastle University
Suitable questions were created as part of a summer student project.
Students were given a week to practice the material at the start of semester 1, and received automated feedback on their attempts.
The test was then opened in an assessed mode, after which students were asked which topics they would like help with.
Students were offered a timetabled group session with our Maths Aid tutor, or could attend as part of the one-to-one service.
Students scoring less than 90% were recommended to take the further support on offer.
"I had not had to use this maths knowledge in two years and although I could do the calculations themselves easily, I did need to remind myself how to do them, which the practice helped with."
"It helped to refresh things i had not done in years"
"The test itself was not that difficult. Even now in statistics lectures I see that what we are doing and will do is way more complicated. MORE HELP IS NEEDED."
17 students requested assistance with one or more of 7 topics.
Maths Aid tutor wrote Numbas questions for each of these topics: offered inside the Blackboard folder for the module.
5 students attended the Maths Aid one-to-one service.
Remedial session was poorly attended (but had been rescheduled).
Thank you to Yoav Tadmor, Peter Gallagher, Vicky Hall and Hayley Moore who contributed to the Psychology project in various ways.
The psychology model, or similar, can be applied to many different subject areas.
How do we make it easy for colleagues?
We also need to offer support for staff:
A sophisticated mathematical e-assessment tool such as Numbas has applications far beyond the maths department.
In particular, students transitioning to University can benefit from a tool that can diagnose weaknesses and give instant feedback.
Implementation of a tool used in this broader context requires institutional support.