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Posted by Kristin Bernor

I’m pleased to let you know that Questionmark’s Dutch User Group has now been meeting for 20 years. To celebrate this milestone, I interviewed Onno Tomson, chairman of the Questionmark Dutch User Group, to understand the development of this active group and its impact. Onno has a deep knowledge of online testing in general and the journey that we have taken together over the years.

Onno, please tell us a little bit about your background in online testing?

Online testing came on my path around 1995. I was a teacher in Biology and Medical Science and looking for a more efficient way to take exams in my classes. I started with Questionmark Designer, a marvelous piece of software. We were able to use that in a project where 3 schools worked together making sets of questions for Biology, Chemistry and Physics. The idea was that we all could use the same set of questions for our exams and so in the end making exams could be more efficient and the quality could be improved. This was, at that time, let’s say, not the most common way of looking at exams and the process of constructing them. After a while I got the idea of creating sets of questions for every course in every school that has the same Curriculum and Learning objectives. I had some contacts in a small number of schools that liked that idea. But Questionmark Designer was not the correct tool for this kind of use.

We needed something that, at least, worked with a real database, where you could label questions, could pull randomly and fixed sets of questions and that was web based. So, I started an inquiry to find out if there was something on the market that could do this. Exactly one day before making up my final report to management, saying “Sorry nothing found”, I received a CD with the very first version of Questionmark Perception on it. I installed it and after one day I was completely in love with this software. I installed it in my school and shortly after that in lots of other schools in the Netherlands.

In 2003, I presented in Miami at the Questionmark conference about the largest (at that time) Questionmark Perception platform in the Netherlands, hosing 70 schools, 100,000 participants and 12,000 assessments.

One particular challenge during those years was the fact that all the schools needed an efficient working and adaptable web-based tool for creating paper exams on a large scale. During the years I designed evolving versions of a web based “Printing Tool” that was connected to Questionmark via a Custom-built API based connector. Recently Questionmark has taken over most of the underlying APIs of that design so this is now a standard feature within the software.

Using this connector, I also co-designed a data forensics tool to detect different kinds of fraud in online testing, based on scientifically approved algorithms run over the “big data” in the Questionmark database.

I stopped working in January 2018 but am still chairman of the Dutch User Group.

What has the purpose of the Dutch User Group been and how has it evolved?

In December 1999, I had a meeting with some colleagues from different schools that were interested in working together creating content and exchanging knowledge on how to use Questionmark. At the end of that evening the User group Perception Nederland was born.

After some time and a lot of effort, we found out that the idea of creating content together was too revolutionary for that time. So, we focused on sharing knowledge, tips and tricks and tools and with providing Questionmark with combined input for improvements new features and so.

What are some areas where members have been successful due to participation in the group?

To give some examples, in the beginning, things like how to build a smart and efficient database structure, how to modify a template so it does what is wanted, tips and tricks and support on how to install Questionmark on local servers. We organized training sessions on what question types there are and when to use them. Later on, we focused more about the process of creating content and the whole exam process and security. It is very valuable realizing that you are not the only one with a specific challenge concerning online testing and/or Questionmark.

”Networking” (time to talk with other users, face to face or in small groups) I think is also a key factor in our success. Issues/problems are sometimes solved within minutes by another user who “has been there”. And at the end of our sessions people leave with a lot of positive energy. All of this made Questionmark users continue in using Questionmark in spite of the pressure of other online testing vendors. Personally, I think that sharing among our members tools like the Q2P connector and/or the printing tool helped them to keep on facilitating their business processes in combination with Questionmark for several years up to the moment Questionmark could facilitate this standard in its software.

We look forward to the next 20 years. What are you most excited about accomplishing with the group in the near future?

Well, after 20 years my time as chairman of this group will come to an end in the very near future. I am retired now so my connection with this work and the software itself is limited. My task now is to hand over the association to a new chairman/woman. Together with Questionmark we secured continuity for the coming years.  We will continue organizing 3 to 4 inspiring conference days a year. Membership is free. Questionmark is present during these meetings with one or more representatives and we as standard have a hands-on session on the agenda to discuss and solve, directly with Questionmark support any questions/issues one or more of our members have.

What I see now is a strengthening of the cooperation between the Group and Questionmark and that is what makes me believe in a prosperous future for this User Group and Questionmark in the Netherlands.

We appreciate your support and continued guidance in leading the charge in online testing in the region. Thank you so much!

Please reach out if you’d like more information on becoming a member of the Questionmark Dutch User Group. Until next time!