A departmental problem database will work like this: When a professor gives an exam, quiz etc. they upload the problems into the database. When the grading has been completed, they upload the scores. The software will give back some statistics. The goal is that through the years the database will grow in numbers and in quality. This will minimize the effort to create an assessment and maximize the quality of the questions, as (ideally) the professors will be revising the problems based on the feedback they get.

My target field is Mathematics.

My questions:

  1. Is it a good idea to have a departmental problem database?
  2. Do you know any examples where a departmental problem database has been implemented? What was the result?
  3. Is confidentiality an issue?
  • 2
    I think a possible keyword phrase to look for is "question bank" software. These often are used for certifications, GRE-type exams, etc.
    – mkennedy
    Oct 29, 2014 at 16:31
  • Looking around the web I found (1) proprietary questions banks and (2) open-source online examination systems that support a question bank. My running assumption is there is no open-source software that serves the goals described. Oct 30, 2014 at 13:54
  • the database going to be accessible to whom?
    – seteropere
    Oct 30, 2014 at 21:39
  • There will be an administrator who assigns privilages. The idea is that the professors will have access to it. The TAs may or may not have access, depending on departmental policy. Same for adjuncts. Oct 30, 2014 at 22:04

1 Answer 1


I'd consider three key factors.

  1. Are there many faculty members who want to use such a database? It's probably not worth the effort unless it reaches critical mass. Taking a survey is a little awkward, since some people may make polite comments that sound more enthusiastic than they really are. One option would be to ask something relatively demanding. For example, how many people would be willing to commit to seeding the database by entering all the problems they assign in suitable courses for the next year or two?

  2. Who will serve as system administrator? Unauthorized access is enough of a cheating risk that it's important to take precautions. It could be better not to have such a database than to have one managed by an inexperienced system administrator.

  3. Will you be able to work on a scale that doesn't just enable students to cheat by building their own database? Student groups (such as fraternities) sometimes maintain archives of old exams and even problem sets, nominally for use as practice materials but often in the hope that problems will be repeated. If you can build a big enough database, then this sort of cheating will be ineffective, but it will work very well for smaller databases. I think this would be a big problem unless you achieve extraordinary growth, and I'd guess you'd need to work on a far larger scale than a single department.

My take is these are major problems and I'm skeptical about overcoming them. However, perhaps your circumstances differ from mine.

  • (1) I think most of the faculty would like access to the database, just because it can reduce the time for making the exam for them. The problem is who is willing to contribute to the database. I think we need a critical mass of problems to attract people to the database. Once they like it and they use, they will be more willing to contribute. Oct 31, 2014 at 1:18
  • (2) Our department is smaller and people have good relationships. There are many knowledgeable and trustworthy people to serve as administrators. Also, there are no TAs, which simplifies things even further. Oct 31, 2014 at 1:20
  • (3) This is a real concern. I am not aware of any fraternities on campus that keep copies of old exams, but I would not be very surprised if someone did. Some professors go around this, by not passing the exams back. I am not supportive of this practise myself. At the very end, it comes down to the professors and how willing we are to make it work. Oct 31, 2014 at 1:26

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