How to assess computer programming skills in Moodle

How should we assess the computer programming skills in Moodle? Do you still ask your students to write code in a traditional hand written exam? Today we are going to have a look over a new question type plugin for Moodle which lets teachers set questions where the answer is program code.

Although, there is another very good plugin named “Virtual Programming Lab” is available which can be used to manage the programming assignments in Moodle. But today we are going to have a look on the “Code Runner” plugin which is a free open-source question-type plug-in for Moodle that can run program code submitted by students in answer to a range of programming questions in many languages.

CodeRunner can support any text-based programming language. Built-in question types are available for C, Java, Python, PHP, JavaScript and Octave (Matlab). Because it is just another Moodle question type, test or exam quizzes can mix CodeRunner questions with other computer-graded question
types like multi-choice, numeric, short answer, or matching.

Currently, CodeRunner is used at the University of Canterbury for teaching programming courses in Python, C, Octave and Matlab. CodeRunner is well suited to introductory programming courses, for which students need lots of practice with small programming problems that teach the different language constructs and techniques. However, it can be scaled to higher levels also.

How to assess computer programming skills in Moodle
Correct Answer feedback in CodeRunner

The only downside for this kind of programming assessment solutions is that most of the times they need an external server connection. Managing another external server is again a big task for the Moodle administrators unless you have a huge load of programming exercises. For CodeRunner, you need to have a Jobe server for executing the student task in protected environment.

The best thing which I liked the most about the CodeRunner is the colored feedback in adaptive quiz mode. The feedback is a table that shows the tests that were used, the expected output from each test of the student’s function, and the actual output. Green ticks denote correct outputs, red crosses wrong ones. The green ticks and green feedback panel coloring seems to be extraordinarily motivating. Students work very hard to get their answers right the first time.

If you would also like to give it a try, then head straight on to the CodeRunner’s official website here. If you are using the VPL module, then you would be interested in this book, which is written for the teachers who wants to use the VPL module for teaching the programming subjects in Moodle.

How you are assessing the coding exercise in your Moodle course? Share your experience with us in the comments section below.

Jaswinder Singh

Jaswinder Singh, passionate about using Moodle in improving the Indian Education System and reaching the students in far flung areas where still education seems to be a impossible prospect of life. He is the author of the popular Moodle Book "How to use Moodle 2.7". In October 2016, Jaswinder was elected as the Moodle User's Association Committee member - the first to make it from India.

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