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CBA ItemBuilder

CBA ItemBuilder is an authoring tool to create computerised tasks (so-called ‘items’). The graphical user interface enables users without programming experience or knowledge of specific description languages like QTI to develop dynamic and interactive tasks in a short amount of time. Therefore, the CBA ItemBuilder is an essential tool to create instruments for computer based assessment, for example, testing in schools, online tests or integrated competence assessment in CAPI tests.
The CBA ItemBuilder supports a wide range of possible response formats from simple click responses (use of radio buttons, buttons, check boxes, hyperlinks and many more) to free text boxes, drag & drop and highlighting methods. Task material, questions and response formats can be accomplished on an individually formable page or can be split on several pages within one item. Moreover, both playing and recording of audio and video material is possible. According to the specific diagnostic questions, simple as well as complex computerised tasks like multiple choice response formats or simulation of standardised software like browser, mail or data system, that are used in the scope of computer based testing can be created with the CBA ItemBuilder.

What is the ItemBuilder?

The CBA ItemBuilder is an independent software that offers a graphical user interface for editing items. The drawing area includes the edit view of a page in the CBA ItemBuilder. Here elements from the palette can be added.

This is how the edit view of an example item looks like:

IBGrafik 1

The items created with the CBA ItemBuilder are automatically generated as HTML-pages and can be integrated in different delivery environments.

How does the CBA ItemBuilder work?

The CBA ItemBuilder is an innovative tool to digitally create individual, multipart items with multimedia contents. The created items can be integrated in a test, for example, with the delivery environment TAO.


An item file is called ‘project’ in the CBA ItemBuilder. Such a project consists of one or more ‘pages’ that include(s) the different elements of a task like texts, pictures, videos, buttons, choice and response boxes. Switching between pages is, for example, possible with the help of links or buttons. Depending on the linking type between the pages of a project, for example, reading tests with sequentially presented ‘book text’ or with non-linear hypertext can be developed, followed by closed, semi-open or open items.

Page types

Within projects pages can be used for different functions, for example, for items, that have a unit structure ( i.e., a shared stimulus followed by several questions related to that stimulus), for the realisation of feedback or navigation elements within tests and many more. For this, several page types are offered by the CBA ItemBuilder. Besides the standard type, the so-called ‘SimplePages’, different page types can be used for the several item formats. For a simulation of a website so called ‘WebBrowserPages’ can be created. Moreover, pages can be configured to simulate dialogues within items.

Creating a single page

Creating a page with the graphical user interface of the CBA ItemBuilder is really simple. The basic working surface of the page is the ‘frame’, on which one or more fields can be placed that work as containers (‘panels’). To these panels several different objects from the working palette can be added with the mouse. Metaphorically speaking, one can imagine a desk (=‘frame’) with papers (= ‘panels’) for drawings (design elements like text or image fields, menus etc.). The single features of the objects from a page can be changed individually, for example, the position, size or content. This opens up a huge variety of creative possibilities.
The creation of pages in the CBA ItemBuilder follows a layer and container principle, whereby the order of elements (z-order) and the relations of elements are easily editable in the graphic editor. Also editing of single object features is possible at any later point of time.
In the following the layer principle is visualised:

 IBGrafik 2

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The single design elements like images, texts, links, response fields, browser etc. are placed on a ‘frame’. Some element types (e.g.,  RadioButtonGroups) can work as containers in which further elements can be embedded (e.g., radio buttons).

Example: browser items

Two special page types (‘WebBrowserPage’ and ‘WebChildPage’) can be generated for projects that simulate interactive web applications for diagnostic tests. For example, fictive websites can be created or existing ones re-built. Therefore, on a WebBrowserPage a browser toolbar is displayed, that is identical over all pages, and can be completed with further WebChildPages containing the content of the ‘website’.
The screenshot below shows a browser item,  that contains a toolbar simulating the main features of websites. In the example, the three front pages (without the task on the left) contain the websites that can be reached through the simulated search page.

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The CBA ItemBuilder allows saving created pages as templates. At any time, these models can be used as starting points to create similarly build pages faster. Also several pages with the same design can be composed easily as one item, for example, in the frame of a consistent website simulation with the help of templates.
Simple pages, like the ones in the following for an English test, can be constructed with the help of the template function in less than ten minutes:

IBGrafik 5

What are the most important functions?

Beside the mere creation of pages the CBA ItemBuilder offers a lot more functions that can be integrated in the construction process and allow specific interaction possibilities for the test taker. For example, with so-called ‘finite’ (MicroFin) and ‘dynamic’ (MicroDyn) machines changes in the pages surface can be integrated that are released by interactions with the item or because of time events. With the help of machines complex interaction or behaviour patterns can be defined. Examples are time controlled sequences (item behaves differently if the time is more advanced), history (several uses of an interaction field has several different consequences) and complex reactions like an adapted help function.

Finite Machines (MicroFIN)

Finite Machines work with so-called direct state changes. This means the item author defines which (internal) statuses are possible in an item and because of which events (time, interaction) changing the status shall take place. Statuses can influence the representation of an item, for example, activate audio or video material or influence graphic elements. In the screenshot below the traffic light can be either be red, yellow and green or switched off. By clicking on the “power-button” (left picture, in the middle) the traffic light is activated and turns to red (picture in the middle). With further user activities the traffic light can change conditions again (see right picture):

Dynamic Machines (MicroDYn)

MicroDyn Machines are working similarly but have been developed for dynamic item structures. With MicroDyn, i.e. dynamic machines, continuous variables can be related to each other with a linear equation system in the item to develop its own dynamics. In the example (see pictures below) the test taker has to find out how the three training methods A, B and C have an influence on the motivation, throwing power and the exhaustion of a handball player team. Therefore, in the upper part of the picture, the trainings can be metered differently (with the slide control on the left). Does the test taker push the apply-button afterwards, the meter adjustments will be put into the linear equation system given by the item developer. Correspondingly to the inputs of the test taker and earlier tries, motivation, throwing power and exhaustion values of the players change. This can be observed in the diagrams (see diagrams on the right). Subsequently, in the lower part of the picture the test taker can draw an assumption on the effect of the trainings (and therefore about the underlying model) in a path diagram (model in the lower part of the picture):

IBGrafik 7

Open Language Tool (OLT)

Beside functions concerning the construction of items the ItemBuilder contains also applications to adjust existing item projects easily. One of them is the Open Language Tool (OLT) that offers a fast translation of items. To use the OLT a so-called “XLIFF Translation File” is created with the ItemBulder that contains the content of all text modules of the item. This file can be exported in the OLT and translated within. Afterwards the translated text modules can be again integrated in the item without changing the layout of the project or creating it anew. With the OLT therefore an easy translation is possible without creating a whole new item.
With the import and export of XLIFF-files items can be translated without further construction efforts into different languages:

 IBGrafik 8

The OLT is integrated in the ItemBuilder to support simple translation scenarios directly.

Test composition and delivery

A finished project can be saved as a zip-archive. Therefore, the project can be sent via e-mail or be integrated in a delivery platform, e.g. TAO, to be used in a test as an item or stimulus. With TAO several ItemBuilder projects can be combined to a test. This close integration of the CBA ItemBuilder in the TAO System offers a main extension of the TAO platform at the same time. Anyhow, it is not limited to TAO: in principle, ItemBuilder items can be embedded in almost all external delivery tools, because an integration via java script interface is supported. Besides, there is also a ‘native’ delivery platform, the so-called “Execution Environment.”

Has the CBA ItemBuilder already been used?

The CBA ItemBuilder has been and is used in several studies.

Running assessments:

Assessments in enterprises (international) in the scope of the project  “Lifelong Learning Innovation Growth & Human Capital Tracks in Europe” (LLLight'in'Europe), (n=ca. 4000; from fall 2012 till 2015). Planned: 50-60 successful enterprises from 15 EU countries as well as 4 competitors from non-EU countries (USA, Canada, Brazil, China); delivery on tablets with a notebook as mobile server
Mode Effect/Link study in the scope of the National Educational Panel (NEPS) in preparation of transferring to computer based competency diagnosis (domains: reading, math, sciences, basic computer skills, n= 2.000; fall 2013); delivery on laptops
“Measurement of competencies in office occupations” in the E6 additional study of the National Educational Panel (NEPS, Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Ludwig-Mayerhofer, University of Siegen, fall 2013); delivery on laptops

Finished assessments:


    • Assessment in Finland in co-operation with the University of Helsinki (n=5.000); spring 2013), DIPF Frankfurt and Softcon; online delivery on school hardware
    • Mode Effect/Link study in the scope of the National Educational Panel (NEPS) in preparation of transferring to computer based competency diagnosis (domains: reading, math, sciences, basic computer skills, N= 2.000; Fall 2012-spring 2013); delivery on laptops
    • Development study of “Measurement of competencies in office occupations” in the E6 additional study of the National Educational Panel (NEPS, Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Ludwig-Mayerhofer, University of Siegen, spring 2013); delivery on laptops


    • Assessment of employees in production industries, location Wörth and Bremen (co-operation with Zeppelin University; n= ca. 230; until spring 2012); delivery on laptops with mobile server
    • Assessment at a school in Heidelberg (n= ca. 300; spring 2012)
    • Assessment in Essen (co-operation with University Duisburg/Essen; n=80; spring 2012)
    • Student assessment in Heidelberg (spring/fall 2012; n= ca. 300)
    • Assessment at a school in Heidelberg (n= ca. 550; fall 2012)
    • PIAAC Assessments in the scope of the PIAAC study (Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies) of the OECD. International study with pre-test 2010 and main test 2011/2012; n= 1500,  n=5.000-30.000 per country, 24 countries; delivery in virtual machines on laptops
    • Mode Effect/Link study in the scope of the National Educational Panel (NEPS) in preparation of transferring to computer based competency diagnosis (basic computer skills, n= 1.000; fall 2012) 2011
    • School assessment in Heidelberg and its surrounding area (n= ca. 500; spring and summer 2011)
    • Heidelberg geographical assessment (co-operation with PH Heidelberg; n= ca. 100; spring 2011)
    • Szeged school assessment (co-operation with University of Szeged; n= ca. 900; spring 2011)
    • Stuttgart school assessment (co-operation with University of Stuttgart; n= ca. 200; spring 2011)
    • Mode Effect developing instruments study (n=400), ICT literacy, spring and fall 2011) 2010
    • Heidelberg Students Assessment (n= ca. 230; winter 2010)


Co-operation: Softcon

Contact: Heiko Rölke, Frank Goldhammer, Thomas Martens, Ulf Kröhne, Carolin Hahnel, Lena Engelhardt

last modified Sep 22, 2016
CBA ItemBuilder

A new Version of the CBA ItemBuilder (7.4) is available now.

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