Friday, October 31, 2003

Quandry Looks Promising For Developing Interactive Case Studies

I came across a relatively inexpensive shareware product (lite version is free...full version is only $50) last week that I think would have potential for use in developing web-based interactive case studies. It is called "Quandry" from HalfBaked Software (don't let the name fool you).

"Quandary is an application for creating Web-based Action Mazes. An Action Maze is a kind of interactive case-study; the user is presented with a situation, and a number of choices as to a course of action to deal with it. On choosing one of the options, the resulting situation is then presented, again with a set of options. Working through this branching tree is like negotiating a maze, hence the name 'Action Maze'."

The product offers not only a decision tree type structure but also has transactional capabilities that you can incorporate into the exercise such as resource management, item inventories, etc. Some of the new features in version 2 include:

Assets can now have decimal place settings.

Transactions can add, subtract, multiply, divide and do other complex math with asset values.

Exercises can have timers.

Web output no longer depends on frames.

Exercises can be uploaded to, and student results and actions can be stored.

New Wizards can be used to create some basic interaction types such as multiple-choice questions.

Unicode support allows the use of languages such as Japanese and Russian directly in the interface.

Transactions can now be added in three places: on ENTRY to a decision point, on a LINK (as before), and on EXIT from a decision point. This gives more flexibility in the structuring of complex mazes, and reduces the need to duplicate transactions in many places.

At this time Version 2 is available only for the Windows platform. It also requires browsers which fully support W3C standards (such as Internet Explorer 6 and Netscape 7). Version 1 is available for both Windows and Mac and is compatible with all browsers released within the last 5 years.

Wireless Handhelds Superior to Response Pads

I was catching up on my reading and noticed the TS article on wireless response pads. I had not yet read that article so I took a look and explored the website link to the company that produces the response pads. For lecture interactivity I think a group Weblog environment might be a more practical solution rather than an investment in a proprietary hardware system (no offense intended to my fellow authors at the Technology Source). Now that we have wireless installed throughout most of the classroom spaces on campus, I think we will see more students coming to class with their own internet-enabled devices whether they are full size laptops or handhelds. Here in Education we have also implemented a "COW" cart filled with wireless Gateway laptops that we provide to instructors for classroom use. The instructor could use their own wireless laptop to instantaneously post questions to a class web log then students could post their reactions and questions via the comment function.

The Pollxn comment plugin for the Blosxom Weblog product ( I have been evaluating has a setting to require posters to enter their name and e-mail address before posting their comment. This would help to ensure appropriate identification for credit purposes.

For wireless exam purposes, a tool like Dragon Web Surveys by Waves In Motion ( enables an instructor to easily develop an online exam with points assigned to questions and, if configured to process responses immediately upon receipt, provides the instructor with a web link to results as they are submitted. It also has a branching capability that enables the development of adaptive learning strategies based on a student's responses. Students access the exam from a simple web link using any wireless-enabled device. Since students would be using their own devices, the instructor also does not have to deal with distributing and collecting response devices before each class.

Friday, October 17, 2003

Long URL caused problem with blog display in Safari

Blosxom Test Notes: Thanks to Dr. Jason Hoffman for pointing out a long URL in a post that was causing the Mac browser, Safari, to extend the center column of the GLD blog and therefore required Safari users to scroll to the right to read posts. John Hibbs was so sure it was his post that had caused the problem that I focussed on it looking for long links and was quite frustrated when I didn't really find any. Now I'm embarrassed (blush) because it was one of my posts with a really long amazon link that was the culprit. I also didn't really need it anyway since I have the magiclink plugin installed and had inserted a reference to the ISBN number which the magiclink plugin automatically links to the correct Amazon inventory record anyway.

UTF Encoding Plugin Preserves RSS Integrity in Global Environment

Blosxom Test Notes: A big Thank You to Rainer Volz of Virtual Projects for writing a plugin for Blosxom that encodes posts as UTF-8 and preserves the integrity of the RSS output with posts containing accented characters. It was becoming a daily task to edit posts to eliminate accented characters in an effort to maintain a valid RSS news feed.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Text Mining and Web Log Analysis

"With the aid of text mining, Michael N. Liebman, a research director at the University of Pennsylvania, is exploring whether bearing a child later in life has any link to postmenopausal diseases."

"Text-mining programs, unlike search engines that display lists of documents that contain certain keywords, go further, categorizing information, making links between otherwise unconnected documents and providing visual maps (some look like tree branches or spokes on a wheel) to lead users down new pathways that they might not have been aware of."

"Currently these programs are used by academic researchers and companies, but information scientists expect that to change. Lower-cost text-mining tools eventually will be offered to ordinary people who want to dig into medical or political issues using public documents. Madan Pandit, an expert in text analysis in Bangalore, India, who runs a Web site called K-Praxis (, has suggested that text mining could help people make sense of voluminous documents that are already on the Web, like the 858-page report on the congressional inquiry into intelligence failures regarding the 9/11 terrorist attacks."

As we develop online communities of practice sharing observations and daily discoveries through such technologies as web logs, text mining tools could prove invaluable in analyzing disparate findings and pointing out possible relationships and new paths of inquiry. Although the two products mentioned in the article, Clear Forest and SPSS offer products in the $75,000 and up range, less expensive products are already in development. Products like PolyAnalyst from Megaputer provide taxonomy-based categorization for approximately $2,100 (education pricing). Netica's Bayesian network tools can be purchased for as little as $285 (education pricing). Perhaps the ultimate solution will be a hybrid of some of these programs.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Added Author Email Field

Blosxom Test Notes: I added an author email field to the submission form and modified my article format file to automatically link this field with a mailto link. Big thanks to Anthony Wendell Kay for helping me with the Perl syntax.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Headlines plugin works for list of recent posts

I had to switch from the recent entries plugin to the headlines plugin to include a list of properly linked recent post headlines in the web log layout. The recent entries plugin was designed for a category-linked rather than a date-linked weblog and the plugin author said it would take a complete rewrite to get it to work with the default date-based blosxom web log.

The author of the recent entries plugin suggested I try the headlines plugin and it works like a charm!

Random Text and Improved Formatting Plugins Added

Blosxom Test Notes: Today, I added a plugin to deliver a random quote file to the weblog (to offer words of wisdom) and another plugin to format messages more elegantly.

I tried to use the textright plugin to correct problems with foreign characters but it did not seem to make any difference. Perhaps I misunderstood what the plugin is supposed to do.

Our Perl programmer Jon Miyake also helped me with the syntax I needed for my article format file so if a poster leaves one of the fields blank, it simply does not ouput that line. This not only improves the appearance of the post but prevents invalidation of the RSS output file.

We've Got Blog: How Weblogs Are Changing Our Culture

This book with an introduction by blogging guru Rebecca Blood looks interesting.


This is an example of the automatic Amazon book link facilitated by the Blosxom plugin "magiclink"

This same plugin can link a word like "syntax"[dict] directly to its definition in

Features such as these make the blosxom program more versatile than many commercial programs

Monday, October 06, 2003

Last Build Date Plugin Now Outputs RFC 822 Date

Blosxom Test notes: Big thanks to Joe Francis for updating the lastbuilddate plugin so that it now outputs a valid RFC 822 Date. He also identified the problem I was having with the plugin outputting a date of zero:

"Plugins that provide their own entries routine and do not return the story files in the %files hash will cause lastbuilddate to find no date. In this circumstance lastbuilddate will not emit a field. To work around this, rename lastbuilddate so that it executes ahead of these plugins. For example, rename to 00lastbuilddate."

I don't really know what the %files hash is but I do know that renaming the plugin as indicated makes it work perfectly in my configuration.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

Checking the Format for an Article post

Blosxom Test Notes: I adjusted the name of the format library to see if blosxom will now recognize my custom post format file.