Status of these documents: superceded -- Because we're now actively developing this package in cvs HEAD, the canonical repository for all documentation is now there. You can read it via your own HEAD checkout, or else you can read the documentation directly from the GitHub repository.
We'll leave the existing documentation here for the time being -- partly for historical purposes, but probably mostly just because we just haven't got around to purging all this yet.
The Assessment Package unites the work and needs of various members of the OpenACS community for data collection functionality within the OpenACS framework. We're using the term "Assessment" instead of "Survey" or "Questionnaire" (or "Case Report Form" aka CRF, the term used in clinical trials) because it is a term used by IMS and because it connotes the more generic nature of the data collection system we're focusing on.
There has been considerable recent interest in expanding the capabilities of generic data collection packages within OpenACS. Identified applications include:
- Educational settings. The dotLRN project has updated the Simple-Survey package to the Survey package now in the current distribution. A number of groups in the OpenACS community are interested in adding capabilities defined in the IMS Global Learning Consortium's specs for Question and Test Interoperability and Simple Sequencing.
- Clinical research settings. The Epimetrics Group has created an enhanced version of the Simple-Survey package that adds a variety of scoring and scheduling tools for use in health-related quality-of-life assessments. This Questionnaire package has not been ported to OpenACS 4.x yet, however, and it also lacks a wide variety of other features that are necessary for use in formal clinical trial data collection applications, certainly for those that intend to create data sets acceptable for new drug applications to the US Food and Drug Administration and equivalent European regulatory agencies.
Of note, there are large and well-funded vendors of clinical trials data management systems. Phase Forward, Outcome Sciences, and PHT Corporation among others. A standards body called CDISC (Clinical Data Interchange Standards Consortium) formed a few years ago and is developing data models for clinical trials data derived from schema contributed primarily by Phase Forward and PHT. These vendors provide "electronic data capture" (EDC) services at considerable cost -- a 18 month study of 2500 patients including about 500 data elements costs nearly $500,000. There is clearly interest and opportunity to craft systems that bring such costs "in house" for organizations doing clinical research.
- Data collection services for other OpenACS packages. Most other OpenACS packages invoke some form of data collection from users. While developments such as
ad_formand the templating system in OpenACS 4.x ease the construction of data collection forms, it may be possible to expose a focused data collection package via acs_service_contract mechanisms to other packages. In particular, incorporating Workflow and a new data collection package would be key to creation of new vertical-application tools like dotWRK. Such integration would also be immensely useful for a clinical trials management toolkit.
- Other...(what else should we include?)
Work Done So Far
Several OpenACS efforts form the context for any future work. These include:
- Survey. This package (largely written/revised by Dave Bauer) doesn't currently have any documentation in the documentation section of the OpenACS.org site, but it is in any current OpenACS installation at /doc/survey/. Dave has added internationalization capabilities (in the version of Survey in CVS HEAD) and cleaned up the administrative UIs very nicely. This package was thoroughly debugged prior to the 4.6.1 release. It supports simple one-section surveys, though the data model has as-yet unimplemented provisions for multiple sections within a survey.
- Exam. This package (written by Ernie Ghiglione and Malte Sussdorff) is currently an Oracle-only tool with capabilities not much different from Survey.
- Surveys. This package was written a while ago by Buddy Dennis, and the source code package has dropped from view. However, we've posted it here. Presumably this package has been further developed, since it appears to be in use at the iQ&A site, though current source doesn't appear to be available there. Surveys included several important enhancements to the data model:
- Conditional branching within a survey (though how well worked out this is remains unclear)
- "Folder" based repositories of questions and sections
However, Surveys has some important limitations:
- Surveys are "published" as static HTML files which are served out to users when they complete the survey
- The package doesn't use a templating system
Still, this package adopts some naming conventions consistent with the IMS spec and definitely represents the closest effort to a "complex survey" done to date.
- "Complex Survey". This is the descendant of "Survey" and Buddy's "Surveys" written by Malte Sussdorf. It currently is in the /contrib branch of the OpenACS 5 distro and represents the currently most advanced package for OpenACS 5+. If you want to start looking at surveys in OpenACS right now, this is the package to get. It incorporates a number of the features of Surveys. We discuss it in greater detail here.
- Questionnaire. This is a 3.2.5 module developed at The Epimetrics Group in order to support complex scoring of a particular type of clinical measure. (You can see a demo of this here, and if you register at the site and join the Bay Area OpenACS Users Group, you can play with the intuitive administrative pages for creating and editing questionnaires, defining scoring mechanisms, setting up user scheduling and reminder features, and configuring results reporting/graphing capabilities.) This module runs within OpenACS 3.2.5, though, and will need a substantial rewrite to work within the new 5.x infrastructure.
- Simple-survey. This package remains in the OpenACS distribution but it is now obsolete, supplanted by Survey
- Lars' Skinny Table Spec. Lars Pind describes some relevant notions here.
- IMS: Question and Test Interoperability Spec
- IMS: Simple Sequencing Spec
- ADLNet: SCORM v1.3 Application Profile, Working Draft
- Paper (German): Seminararbeit - Fragebogengenerator (user: firstname.lastname@example.org, pw: student)
- OpenACS Docs: Old Simply Survey Docs
- Forums: Surveys and branching
- Forums: Survey - PreSpec discussion
- Forums: Testing module
- Sloan SurveySectionSpec
- Proposal by Matthew Geddert - a proposal to add additional scoring and feedback functionality.
- Requirements for a Complex Survey (user: email@example.com, pw: student)
- AIESEC.net (user:firstname.lastname@example.org,pw:oacs)
- Itemdevil (user:nima, pw:mazloumi)
- QuestionPro.com (Login: User:mazloumi, pw:nima)
Linked here are consensus discussions of requirements, architecture and design of the Assessment package. The last two sections are the original documentation from the two main groups whose efforts have led to the current Assessment concept. We include these for archival purposes.
<p> This section defines general architectural goals for the Assessment package within the OpenACS framework, use cases, and functional requirements.
<p> This section defines data modeling and user interface considerations for the Assessment package.
Appendix A: RFC for Assessment Specs
<p> This archival section contains docs from the team working with .LRN focused on educational applications for this package.
Appendix B: Requirements and Design Specifications
<p> This archival section contains discussions from a group focused on clinical trials data collection applications.