Automated question creation on Blackboard

This solution allow questions to be created offline in excel where random numbers can easily be generated for any type of problem in blackboard.  It also allow images that have previously been uploaded to the content area to be used, allowing dynamic use of questions and images to present a variety of different (but similar) question types to students.  This is particularly useful if you are running quiz in a packed class and students are all sitting the quiz at the same time.

Here’s some background information that I found:

It turns out that Blackboard allows you to upload questions from a  text file, and even allow these files to be created from excel, see:

This is extremely useful to create a diversity of questions and to create a large bank of similar type questions (just with numbers and data changed) using random number generators and formuales in excel.  Further it allows the “Calculated Formulae” function is Blackboard to be significantly enhanced upon, as questions can be drawn from  not just random numbers, but random cells containing text information.  However Blackboard upload solution does not allow images to be added to the question.  Since in engineering we deal with problems involving circuit, machines, equations etc, it is frequency the case that questions are based on an image.  Further, we often want to form question band on random images, so that students see very different cases from those they are seated next to.  Hence the solution provided by Blackboard falls short on many occasions.  A quick search of the web revealed many people wanted to upload images but there was not solution, and academics were being referred to 3rd party sites (costing $$$) to create such custom questions.

The solution found here  resulted from a thought and some experimentation.  Since the questions are based on HTML, I though maybe rather than just uploading text I could upload HTML and see what happens.  It turns out this is an undocumented feature of Blackboards upload feature.  HTML code is accepted.  Hence I had a path to now upload images a from an excel created question bank.  Steps follow below are specific to wanting images as part of the question bank formation.

Collect all the images you want to use as part of the question bank you are creating.  Zip all these files together into a single *.zip file.  Example is shown to the right.  It’s important to note the name of every image you want to make reference to.  I keep a list of the file names in excel.


Next we want to uplaod these images all to Balckboard.  A nice description is also found here:

Follow the steps below.  From within your blackboard unit

  1. Select your unit from the content collection. This brings up the folder were all is stored
  2. Create a new folder by clicking on the button at the top of the page
  3. Once created, move into that folder
  4. Within the folder, select “Upload theme Package”. The package is expected to be a *.zip file, so select the zip file with all your images (do not alter any of the default setting associated with the upload).  Hit submit to upload the files.  These should then all upload to that directory.



The guide on the type of questions that can be created are provided through blackboard.  The value I have created is an excel spreadsheet that allows questions and image to be easily connected.  The file is named BlackboardlQuestionSetupwithImages.xlsx and has 4 worksheets:

Enter Test data – All questions, image file names and answers go here.  Some setup is request to make this work. See below

Copy to TextEditorWkSheet – Once all question types have been entered, this is the sheet to copy and paste into a text editor such as notepad.

Do not Edit HTML setup – Leave this worksheet alone

Do not edit HTML-Question – Leave this worksheet alone

Do not edit HTML-image – Leave this worksheet alone


Open the file and go to the “Enter Test data” worksheet.  To set up this page:

  1. You must enter the Blackboard name of your unit. You can find this at the top of your unit in Blakcboard
  2. Enter Type for question (for example MC = Multiple choice) , the question itself, and a set of Answers. The word incorrect must follow each answer except for one which says “correct” for a multiple choice
  3. IMPORTANT: for images you must include the FOLDER and FILENAME.  In my case the FOLDER I created was testpictures and each image FILENAMES were Resistors4, Resistors2, Resistors1.  An image Description and Image time can be added but is not essential


Once you have entered all your question and image data into the the excel worksheet “Enter Test data “go to the worksheet “Copy to TextEditorWkSheet” .  Do not edit this worksheet – it should be filled with your question data plus a lot of HTML code.  Copy the whole thing (select the triangular chevron at the top left) and paste into a standard text based editor such as notepad. Save the file as a *.txt file; from notepad – for example “MyQuestions.txt

Do not try to save it from EXCEL as a Tab delimited *.txt file in EXCEL as EXCEL adds extra quotation marks to the file which blackboard will not read properly.

Select upload question from the pools or test area of blackboard. Select the file (example MyQuestions.txt) you have created.  Assign the number of points to each question.  Hit submit and all the questions will have been uploaded into the current test/pool area.


You’re done!

When forming the text of a question, I is often useful to format the text.  The following may assist in presenting the body of text in the appropriate manner.

Adding carriage returns:  Text is clearer with carriage returns, but to include this requires some additional HTML.  Wrap the text of each particular line between <p>  Text in Line#1  </p><p>  Text in Line#2  </p><p>  Text in Line#3  </p>



Here are a few format shortcuts you might refer to often:

Bold text: wrap text around <strong>TexttoBold</strong>

Underline text: wrap text around <span style=”text-decoration: underline;”>TexttoUnderline</span>

Increase font size: wrap text around  <span style=”font-size: large;”>LargerText</span>

Symbols – Use Excels Insert Symbol to get the uni-code for the symbol.  Then insert in yor text as HTML code by using  &#EntityCode; whown below.  Note this must be  wrapped between <p> Text …</p> and a semi-colon after the EntityCode is required

For example <p> &#911; </p>  displays a an Ohm Symbol

For a more detailed list of the different HTML codes available, have at the Fabulous Code Chart for Greek Letters & Symbols !

Download the zipped images folder

Download the excel spreadsheet templatee

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