Getting Started with selfpace.mdb

The Self-Paced Logic Project


As documented elsewhere, selfpace.mdb requires some version of Microsoft Access (from 97 on) and Microsoft Word (from 97 on). The documentation that follows assumes you are using Access 97. Unfortunately Microsoft Office is written in such a way that code runs differently depending on the libraries present for external references. So the first chore, even prior to logging on to the database, is to check those references.

Check local references

When you first load selfpace.mdb into Access 97, a window opens up that says "Selfpace:Database". It has tabs across the top that read "Tables Queries Forms Reports Macros Modules". You should be within the "Forms" tab and "Menu" will be highlighted. That is the main menu for the application, and will be the main entry point after you check local references. This step only needs to be done once, when you first install the application in any new Office environment. If it is not done, you will get all sorts of error messages and runtime errors.

To check local references: Click on the Modules tab. You will see "Module 1" and "Module 2". Double click on either one. A window will open up which shows the Visual Basic code in that module.  Once you have some code visible, go to the command bar at the very top of the Access screen. Select "Tools" and then "References". You should get another window that says References: Available References.

There should be four, and only four, boxes that are checked.  (Your version numbers might differ from the ones listed below.)  The four libraries that should be checked are:

If you do not have a "Word Object Library", an "Access Object Library" and a "DAO Object Library", Access will not work correctly, and you need to re-do the Microsoft Office installation. It is fine to use later versions of these object libraries if you have a later version of Office: Word 9.0, Access 9.0, and DAO 3.6 work fine, for example. But earlier versions probably will not work.

If any of the four are checked but marked as MISSING, you need to see whether you have a different version of that Object Library present. First un-check the reference that is marked as MISSING. Then use the scroll bar to scroll down through all of the available references. Look for a different version of the same Object Library. So, for example, if you are missing Microsoft DAO 3.51 Object Library, scroll down until you find "Microsoft DAO" and look for version 3.6 or later. The libraries are listed in alphabetical order. Put a check mark by the one with the largest, or most recent, version number. Repeat until all four are checked and none are marked as MISSING.

If you cannot find one of the four libraries in your list of available references, then you probably need to re-install Microsoft Office Professional. I believe that the four libraries above are installed automatically whenever you install both Word and Access.

While browsing through the available references, check to make sure that those four boxes are the only boxes that are checked. The problem is that if other libraries are present and also checked, the code works in yet another way. The application will kick off all sorts of spurious error messages. For example, if "Axbrowse" is present and checked, uncheck it. If it is checked you will get lots of "runtime error 3075" messages. They go away when you uncheck Axbrowse. The other libraries that seem to cause problems are: VisModeBrowser; Microsoft Common Dialog Control 6.0; Microsoft ADO Data Control 6.0 (OLEDB). Uncheck any of these that are checked. (Why the code runs differently if these libraries are present, and why adding a reference to a library causes a new runtime error, is beyond me. In my humble opinion, it demonstrates truly awful programming on Microsoft's part.)

When you are certain that those four, and only those four, libraries are checked, click "OK". Fortunately, this process needs to be done only once, when the application is first started on a new machine. Close the "Module" window, and go back to the Forms tab. The "Menu" form should be highlighted. Just press enter, and the main menu form will start up.

Logging on

A blue screen with boxes pops up. The system is set up with names and passwords, so that it can be installed on departmental machines without making all the tests and answers available to anyone who strolls in.

The simplest log on is name = "guest" (donít enter the quotes themselves; press enter when done), password = "guest" (press enter). A third box pops up saying "Course:". If you just press the letter "p" (or click on the drop-down tab) you will see "Phil 102". Press enter. Congratulations. You have logged on successfully as a "root" user for a sample course called "Phil 102".

Once you log on as a root user you can go to the "Security" button and add your own user account, change passwords, and so on. In case "guest" does not work, selfpace.mdb is distributed with another log on name that should work. Name = "clark", password = "clark", course = "Phil211". This profile does not have any sample items in it, but it will allow you to get into the Security screen. (You need author names in the system before it will accept any items, and I am the author of all the sample items that are found in the Phil 102 "guest" account.)

A third log on without security privileges is provided. Name = "user", password = "user". This one just demonstrates the prototypical teaching assistant logon. After you enter the "user" password, you will see a new box called "Instructor". Select "guest". Then the "Course" box pops up, and again you will want "Phil 102". With this sort of log on, teaching assistants can enter their own items into groups in a given profile without bumping into, or being able to see, the work of other teaching assistants in the same profile.

The boxes are commands, which fire up forms. The one to the right of "Course", with the beckoning open door, is the one you push to exit the entire system. If you plan to use the database at all seriously, you will want to change the passwords for all these default logons. Just click on the "Security" button and change the entries under "Password".

A Brief Tour

"Edit Item" shows how items and answers are stored. About 30 sample items in five groups are provided; to see any of them you must first "Select a Group". Click on the drop-down arrow to see the five choices. Once you click on any one of the five group names, you will see the first item in that group of items. It is a bit confusing because a test item turns out to have many possible different parts. It might have a "header" about which we ask multiple questions. Each question can have multiple answers, some for partial credit, some for full credit. Or an item might be a single question item, without any header. An "item" also has a creation date, an author, a sub-group, and a status. All these are explained in the documentation package.

Suppose, for example, you start by looking at the group called "DiagramArgument". Within "Edit Item", at the very bottom of the screen, you will see a "Record" indicator, which at the beginning will read "1 of 4". That record indicator moves you through the different items in the given group, and shows you that there are 4 sample items in the DiagramArgument group. Each item in that group has a "Header", which is an argumentative passage about which we ask five questions. Closer to the middle of the screen you will see a second Record indicator, directly above the row of buttons that says "Delete question", "Save Item", and "Exit". That second Record indicator moves you through the different questions making up the given item. There might be only one (for a simple one-question item), but often there are several.  In DiagramArgument it will say "1 of 5" meaning that you are looking at the first question out of the five that make up the given test item. This is the first of a standard series of five questions we ask students when we ask them to diagram an argument and identify a suppressed premise for it. Notice that each question has an answer.

"Plans" is the next screen on the tour. It shows how a test plan is constructed in the system. All the tests for a given unit share the same plan; only their items differ. A plan is just a sequence of groups, with an indication of how many test items to use from each such group. When you go to "Create Test", the creation process will step you through your plan. So test plans have to be created before you create a new test.

The sample items are set up in two bogus units: unit 7 and unit 8. They do not correspond to anything in the actual course. If you click on "Plan Detail" and select 7 or 8, you can see an actual plan. "Ordinal" tells you the ordering of the groups (or test sections) which make up the test. To understand this a little better, it is probably wise to move on and look at:

"CreateGroup". You will see a screen listing the five sample groups provided in the distribution. A "group" is the collection of all the items that might be used in a given section of a given test. Groups themselves have certain properties. For example, whenever you start a new section of a test you probably give the student some sort of instruction or warning about the items that follow. That "header" is a property of the group of items as a whole, and it is found in the box called "StudentHeader". Answer sheets might give a different set of instructions to teaching assistants when they go to grade items in the given group, and that header is found in "TAHeader". Finally, the numbering of items and questions in the group is a property of the group: we might skip numbering them altogether, number just the questions, number the items numerically and the questions with letters, etc. All the numbering is managed automatically by the system when you print out a test, and these options control that numbering process.

"Import" lets you move groups from one profile (the view of the data of a given user for a given course) into another. "Parser/Loader" gets you to the data checker and data loader.

There are two sample tests stored in the database, and it might be fun to see if they print. Before you do that though, there are some Word options to check.

Microsoft Word options

As mentioned elsewhere, the system dumps test and answer sheet printouts directly into Word. It happens automatically, and so before you click "Print test" you should make sure the options will not surprise you. Outputs will get sent to (and saved in) whatever is the default destination for Word outputs. In Word, go to Tools | Options | File Locations and modify it to point to whatever directory you want to use for tests and answer sheets. The normal document template "normal.dot" has a big effect on the formatting of the Word output. Tables etc were produced assuming the final output will be Times Roman, 10 point, and may look funny otherwise.

Finally, if you are running Microsoft Word for some other reason, and Word happens to have a document open while printouts are made, objects (Truth tables) may get diverted from the output stream and sent to that open document instead. This behavior is erratic, and we think we fixed it, but given the pile of choss that makes up Office, it is hard to test all the permutations. It is best to save and close all documents within Word before producing any output. Itís OK to leave the program running without any documents open.

Print tests and answer sheets

When youíre all set, click "Print Tests". The two sample tests are 7.1 and 8.1. When you click "Print Tests" a window pops up that says "Enter unit number". Type "7" or "8" and press enter. A second window pops up that says "Enter test number". Type "1" and press enter. If all goes well you will find yourself within Microsoft Word, looking at either Test 7.1 or Test 8.1. The file will be saved as "Test71.doc" or "Test81.doc". There is a fair amount of default formatting in those documents, but some tweaking must be done in Word before you have a presentable test. See the user manual.

A parallel sequence of entries should enable you to "Print Answer Sheets". Those documents will be saved as "Answer71.doc", "Answer81.doc", etc. 

Create Tests

Now at last this screen should make a little more sense. If you click on "Create Tests" you will see a screen that is mostly gray with the coming semester identified under "semester" and "year", and "guest" (or whatever was your logon name) as the default author.

To create a test you must first select a Plan which the test will follow. Click the drop-down button next to "Unit", and select (say) unit 7. The "Plan Description" box should fill up with the plan for tests of that unit. There are three groups: IdentifyArgument first, FundamentalTF second, and InadequateDefinition third. Their ordering is set in the "Plans" screen, described above; but once you get here, to the Create Tests screen, you must follow the plan you had created.

The first group in the plan description is marked with an arrow. In the "Item/Question" box you will see a bunch of test items, which happen to be all the items in the IdentifyArgument group. The plan says you need to select three of them.

Selection is simply a matter of clicking on the "select" button next to the item you want. The order that items appear in the test should be the order in which you click on them (though the code seems sometimes to produce other results). All the other columns on this screen show data that can be useful in making a selection. In a large group you need "subgroups" to make sure you have adequate coverage of the different topics that might show up in a given group. (These sample groups are small and so have no subgroups defined.) "InUse" should be checked just in case you have (in a prior session of your own) already checked the given item for use in another test. It helps prevent you from using the same item twice in two different tests in the same semester. "PastUse" should show a list of all the tests in the database for which the given item has been used. Some will say "02F7.1", which means those items were used in the sample test 7.1 for the 02F semester.

When you click on an item to select it, "order" should change from zero to an ordinal reflecting its position in the test you are creating. "Selected items" will change from 0 to 1. You simply click on items until the "selected items" total gets up to the number you need. Click on the next group in the Plan, and select four items. The last group needs just one.

To save the test you need to give it a "Test version:" number, which logically would be "2". Check the "in use" box, and then click "Save test". A little warning box will ask "Are you sure"; say yes. Click "Exit" to get out of the "Create Test" screen. You should then be able to go to "Print Tests" and print test 7.2; and also, without further ado, go to "Print Answer Sheets" to print the answer sheet for the same test.

To set up your own course

Steps thereafter


Posted June 2002

The Self-paced Logic Project homepage.

Austen Clark's homepage.

The Philosophy Department homepage.