MATHEMATICA AS A TOOL FOR CREATING CALCULATED QUESTIONS IN MOODLE
One of the main challenges in the process of adapting existing syllabi to the European Higher Education Area is the decrease in the number of credits assigned to each subject. This decrease is balanced by the fact that former credits were calculated exclusively by taking into account face-to-face interaction between teacher and student while the new European Credit Transfer System concept of credit encompasses not only this aspect but also the time the student has to spend independently in order to acquire the competences associated with the subject.
In this environment formative assessment becomes a must. It is necessary to aid the students by providing feedback on their work. Traditional methods usually rely on student-teacher meetings and are very time consuming. Automatic distance assessment opens a promising field in helping educators to assist their students in a more intense way without increasing their work load. Besides, this kind of assessment can also be used as a grading tool.
Many higher education institutions use virtual campuses not only for distance students but also for enhancing the learning experience within the realm of presential education. The tool of choice is usually based on moodle , a free, open-source PHP web application for producing modular internet-based courses. This platform includes among its variety of question types a kind of question that can be very helpful in both helping the student’s learning process and grading it at the same time.
Calculated questions offer a way to create individual numerical questions by the use of wildcards that are substituted with random values when the quiz is taken. Creating a bank of suitable questions is often a tedious task. In the case of freshman year physics subjects it is usually possible to analyze the same physical system from different points of view and arrive at several variants of the same exercise with different inputs and outputs. Mathematica  is a powerful high-level programming language especially suited for analyzing any complex mathematical problem and, for instance, creating the mathematical expressions describing the behavior of a physical system. Besides it is simple to write some code in order to adapt its output to the syntax used by moodle for building calculated questions. We have written Mathematica notebooks devoted to several aspects covered in Physics 101 and 102 syllabi that create ready-to-use calculated questions for direct implementation in moodle.