Tests and surveys are wonderful sources of information. They can be used to test the knowledge of an individual or to elicit information from several people in an easy and useable manner. Online tests or surveys are no different in those respects. The benefits of an online test or survey are many. For starters, the test or survey taker can give you the information that you need from virtually any place there is a computer. This means that you can have a wide cross-section of responses, as the whole world has access to your test or survey. Additionally, many people find filling out online forms faster and easier than filling out paper tests and surveys.
What are the specific benefits to the online test (and survey) feature for the Center Park School? During the site-planning phase, the school administrators were quite specific in their request that the new Web site have "distance learning" capabilities, so that students (of all ages) could take advantage of Center Park instruction, even if they weren't in physical proximity of the school. Moreover, as noted in Chapter 15 and the discussion of the enhanced calendar functionality present within the site, the administrators wanted the site to present students with the ability to better organize their schoolwork: One tremendous feature of the Web, in this regard, is that it allows you to retrieve information at any time and place. Given the hectic lives of students, the school administrators wanted to experiment with the concept of "any time test taking" so that students could access quizzes and tests at home or after school hours (a particularly useful function to students who, for example, might be out sick on the day of a test, or are otherwise unable to come to school to complete an exam).
So, the online testing/survey component is of benefit to each particular section of the Center Park audience. Specifically:
Students. Having the ability to utilize the site for test taking allows students to potentially study at their own pace: For example, an instructor might have "floating exam dates" throughout the semester, so that students are required to take an exam, but more in line with a typical college correspondence course where they study at their own pace, and then—when they are ready—take the exam.
Teachers. By placing exams on the Web—and specifically within the calendar— teachers can be assured that students are aware of when important tests are to be taken, and can therefore (ideally) better plan for these exams. Moreover, teachers can place additional supporting material online with the exams (e.g. tests questions can include graphics, which the students can refer to); teachers can also use the power of the Web to do "electronic grading" so that as soon as students submit their answers, the tests are automatically graded and the results instantaneously presented back to them.
Parents. By and large, most parents want to stay involved with their kid's education, but after-school PTA meetings or other events held in the evening/weekends can get in the way of already (very) busy lives. Again, using the "24/7/365" access features of the Web, parents can interact with the school at their leisure and convenience, thus allowing them to stay involved without having to physically be present for events and meetings at the school.
In this chapter I'll walk you through how I created an online test for the imaginary school Center Park. Because tests and surveys are so similar, we won't do an example survey. The only way in which a survey is different from a test is that there is no grading portion of a survey. The grading portion of a test is covered in the second half of this chapter.