I presented Respondus 3.5 to several groups of instructors this week as part of our initial roll-out and the response was mixed. Based on a recommendation from the Instructional Management System Council, MnSCU announced the availability of a system-wide license in late January for the beta version of the Desire2Learn (D2L) Respondus “personality” that allows instructors to create question pools and specific tests and quizzes for import into D2L. For those who haven’t had the pleasure of entering 100 multiple choice questions into D2L manually, it’s no picnic. Using Respondus, the experience may be slightly less painful. Here are the major benefits of Respondus compared to simply using the same functionality already available in D2L:

  • You can do all of the work offline. Respondus then creates a zip file that can be unpacked into your D2L course.
  • The interface for reviewing and modifying questions is somewhat more usable. A full list of questions and individual question properties appear on the same screen in Respondus, whereas you must switch between pages in D2L.
  • A test can be printed or copied to a word processor for proofing by the instructor prior to releasing the test, a feature curiously absent in D2L.
  • Instructors can import questions into Respondus from properly-formatted Microsoft Word files as well as from online test banks available through the Respondus Test Bank Network. Although D2L allows for the batch import of questions from a CSV file, this requires considerable rework, often to the point of being more time consuming than entering questions individually. Tests already developed in Word would require less rework to conform to the Respondus formatting requirements, saving instructors time when re-purposing existing tests.

That seems to be about it. In terms of question authoring and editing, I actually like the HTML editor used in D2L better than the one available in Respondus. I had much less trouble with the equation editor and there is no code view available in the Respondus editor (although you can insert raw HTML). Initially, I thought Respondus might facilitate the sharing of question pools and assessments across instructors, but the course component export feature of D2L 8 makes that just as easy as exchanging Respondus files with colleagues. I think this lack of support for collaboration and sharing around assessments, is a major weakness of both tools.

Overall, I think Respondus might appeal to instructors of large sections who rely on multiple-choice tests delivered via D2L and who must maintain a large pool of test items. It would be particularly useful for those who can tap into the Respondus Test Bank. However, I am personally underwhelmed by this version of the tool. When it comes to D2L, I expect to suffer through the common limitations found in most Web apps. When I installed Respondus on my laptop, I had much higher expectations. I believe what instructors want out of a tool like Respondus is essentially a secure, multi-functional, end-to-end assessment management system (AMS) that they can keep with them. Instructors like to keep their tests close and the idea of maintaining that AMS on their own laptops would resonate with them. This AMS might include such features as item analysis data tracking to help instructors evaluate the performance of test items over time and repeated use, a reusable media library with some basic annotation and editing tools (e.g., cropping, callouts) and the ability to track which object is associated with what question, a feedback library of commonly used phrases that might speed up the addition of feedback to new questions, and some collaborative test construction and question sharing features. Now that would be exciting.