NSW exam board tests Open Office

NSW school curriculum administrator the Office of the Board of Studies has started trialling the OpenOffice.org office suite amid its strategy to move more applications - including examinations - to a Web-based architecture.

The board's general manager Dr John Bennett told Computerworld that the next big thing for its growing Web applications portfolio might be online assessments and testing.

"Exams are typically done with pen and paper so it is possible for those exams to be scanned and marked," Bennett said, adding that students sitting exams by typing in essays through a browser is also a possibility.

Such confidence in this mode of application delivery comes after the board successfully implemented an online, computer skills test - starting with 1000 participants - two years ago. This year there were 25,000 participants.

"We're not rushing at doing HSC exams [online] but the potential is there," he said.

To cope with the growing demands of centralized applications, the board's IS manager Lyndon Sharp said it's important that infrastructure can cope with "peaky" workloads - such as 66,000 students wanting their exam results all at the same time.

"In the days leading up to HSC exams, 688,000 questions were processed by the board's systems at a rate of 120 questions per minute for eight hours," Sharp said.

The board has a diversity of systems with a front-end of Linux, Apache, Cold Fusion and Flash, and IBM iSeries at the backend.

The board's IT consultant, Jim Watterson, said the iSeries i890 is running DB2 and a Web server for live Web applications, in addition to Linux partitions.

"We're moving to deliver everything off the iSeries in ASP," Watterson said. "We flirted with a client/server architecture in the past, but had issues with application deployment and support."

Watterson said the iSeries runs the student online application that allows all final year students to update details like addresses and by also running Linux OpenOffice.org can be served to the clients.

With 80 percent of the board's 230 staff using thin clients and Citrix, Linux on the desktop is feasible.

"We're looking at OpenOffice.org and Linux on desktops, and will move to Linux where it's appropriate," he said.

Not content with just Web applications the board has also implemented a SOAP-XML Web services infrastructure that is used to communicate with its bank and technical colleges.

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