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§2.13. Administering classroom use
Inform is increasingly used in education, where teachers sometimes need to install it on a whole room of computers at once, and want to monitor their students' progress. There is no special "classroom" version of Inform, but a couple of small administration features in the standard Inform - usually never needed - might be helpful to teachers.
When Inform starts up, it now looks for a file called Options.txt inside the user's home folder for Inform. (On Mac OS X, this is "~/Library/Inform"; on Windows, "My Documents\Inform", and so on.) If the file is present, then the text in it is added to the source text of everything Inform translates.
This must be used only to set use options, specify test commands, and give release instructions. For example, the following is a valid "Options.txt":
Use American dialect.
Test fish with "fish/fish with pole/angle".
Release along with source text.
The idea is that this file can be used for setting up a standard configuration on multiple machines in a classroom setting. Here the instructor can make sure the Release button will do what she would like, and can arrange for each student's copy of Inform to respond to given Test commands: for instance, if the class has an assignment to create a simulation of a camera, the instructor could set up "Options.txt" so that TEST CAMERA would run through some commands the camera ought to respond to.
A new use option, "Use telemetry recordings.", causes Inform to copy its outcome and problem messages to files in its home folder (see above) as they occur. These files are dated, so that for instance
contains all of the recorded activity on 25 March 2009. Telemetry only records the contents of the "Problems" panel - notes of success or failure, and problem messages - and nothing is transmitted via any network, so it isn't really surveillance. The user can deliberately add a note to the current telemetry file by writing something like this in source text:
* "I don't get it! What's a kind? Why can't the lamp be lighted?"
(This is a way to make a note for the benefit of someone who will read the telemetry file - for instance, to comment on a problem message that has just appeared. Note the double-quotes. Otherwise, it's meant to look like the standard way that beta-testers mark up IF transcripts.)
These two features have been added in response to requests from education users. Let's suppose that Mr Lebling, who teaches 5th grade in Minnesota, wants to set things up just right for his class. He installs Inform on the ten computers they will use, and also copies an Options.txt file from his memory stick onto each one. The Options.txt file reads:
Use serial comma.
Use American dialect.
Use telemetry recordings.
Now Mr Lebling's class won't be confronted with English spellings, and so on. And most of the kids are happy, but Mr Lebling gets the feeling that young Marc wasn't really paying attention, so after class he checks that day's Telemetry file for that computer to see what Marc was up to, and whether he was stuck on something.