1. What is OAT’s mission?
Education serves the Common Good – whether at school, at home or at work. So at OAT we invest our passion and energy in building software that helps people advance in life. And we wholeheartedly embrace Open Source as a business practice, because we think that money is better spent on teaching and learning, than on expensive proprietary software licenses.
2. What are the advantages (and disadvantages) of an Open Source platform?
Open Source – as long as it is backed by commercial entities such as OAT and its network of Authorized Partners – does not in our opinion offer any disadvantages, but only advantages. Why? – Because it combines the best of both worlds: commercial support from companies that offer industrial-strength software development and professional services – and the openness, cost savings and flexibility that are inherent to Open Source software.
3. What are the typical benefits of Open Source solutions?
- Open solution, eliminates vendor lock-in
- From entry-level to high-end
- From monitoring to formative to summative
- Low-stakes solution for schools, at home, and mobile
- High-stakes for certifications, proctored exams, etc.
- Path for growth
- Flexible pricing models
- Reduced acquisition / licensing cost leads to better TCO (total cost of ownership)
4. Do we (as customers) own the content we create in TAO?
Content is not covered by GPL-2, only changes to the code of the application itself. The items and tests you create using TAO are your property, custom interactions are considered content too and any data collected (e.g. candidate responses) and tools used to (externally) process this data are not covered by GPL-2 by default either. There is no requirement to release anything, unless you choose to of course.
You can best compare it to MySQL; any data stored in this GPL-2 database is yours, any stored procedure you write to extend functionality is yours. Modify the code however and if you choose to release it it has to be under GPL-2 as well.
Here’s a link to the general GPLv2 FAQ: https://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/gpl-2.0-faq.en.html
5. How can customers deploy TAO-based assessments?
The TAO Community Edition is available as a free download. To help our customers adapt TAO to their specific needs, we offer consulting, implementation, customization, hosting, and technical support services. These services are available through direct OAT-client engagements, or indirectly via our network of Authorized Partners.
6. How can we adjust the TAO platform to our needs?
Since TAO is published under GPL-2, users have several options for customizing TAO:
- Use in-house software development resources
- Subcontract the customization effort to a third party chosen by the customer
- Work with a TAO Authorized Partner
- Work directly with OAT.
In case the customer doesn’t have these skills in-house, or has them available but they are allocated to other projects, the customer can outsource the effort to a partner of their choice. In order to guarantee the best possible service, OAT strongly recommends that users work with a TAO Authorized Partner, or with OAT directly.
7. I just downloaded TAO. Where do I get technical support?
Free support is available via the TAO community website – also called the TAO Hub – at https://hub.taocloud.org/. This is the place to go to for interacting with TAO’s developers and the broader Open Source community. You can also access the TAO User Guide online at any time. For clients with production deployments who require predictable response times, OAT offers dedicated support & maintenance agreements that help ensure a reliable and positive test experience. Alternatively, users can purchase Technical Support from TAO Authorized Partners.
8. Should we use TAO or a different platform?
The good news is that customers have many choices when it comes to selecting an assessment platform. The bad news is that almost all these platforms are proprietary, and are designed to make it difficult for customers to switch to other systems, even if those fit their needs better. Essentially, they lock customers to a vendor’s product and service stack – which is great for the vendor, but not so great for the customer.
This is where OAT comes in. By publishing TAO under GPL-2, the most commonly used Open Source license, customers win in two significant ways:
- By controlling the source code they gain speed and agility, which are the keys to innovation.
- And equally important, they pay only for what they really need: after the customization is done, they are free to use TAO as they see fit. No license fees, no test-delivery fees ever.
9. How do I know TAO is the right solution for us?
Clients should have a solid understanding of their requirements, and compare platforms to determine which ones come closest to their needs. The needs analysis should not be limited to functional aspects like software features, but also include cost of ownership calculations (how much a vendor will charge in annual fees), organizational aspects surrounding test development, student administration, test delivery and results reporting, and an anticipation of their future needs.
10. Who are OAT’s competitors?
The e-testing market is predominantly proprietary, with vendors such as Pearson, ETS and others leading the pack. Since none of these vendors offer assessment solutions under an Open Source license, customers have to pay hefty fees for the right to use their software.
Among the Open Source providers, there are several options available besides TAO such as QTIWorks from the University of Edinburgh, or Concerto from the Cambridge University. However, they tend to be marked by two shortcomings: first, they lack the functional depth of TAO and second, it is difficult to find companies providing the services required to ensure smooth production deployments. For a client who disposes of the necessary IT skills in-house, this should not be an issue though.
11. With the TAO license being free, how does OAT make money?
OAT makes money in several ways:
- Through professional services in the context of direct client engagements: these include consulting, platform customization, development of new features, cloud-based hosting, technical support and maintenance.
- Through a revenue sharing program with TAO Authorized Partners: any time an authorized partner delivers TAO-based services to a client, they share a portion of this revenue with OAT.
12. What kind of services does OAT offer exactly?
OAT offers the following range of services:
1. Software development
OAT develops and publishes TAO, an industrial-strength, standards-compliant, Open Source assessment and survey platform. The TAO software is typically updated twice a year in Spring and in Fall, with under-the-hood improvements, user interface enhancements and/or new features being packed into each major release.
OAT makes all this Intellectual Property available free of charge via the GNU GPL 2 license.
2. Professional services
OAT has accumulated years of experience in designing and deploying multi-lingual assessment solutions and surveys for international delivery. We make this expertise available to our clients in the form of CBT migration workshops and product trainings. We also assist our clients with their requirements analysis, and provide development services to tailor TAO to the client’s needs – be it through customization of the existing system or developing new, client-specific functionality.
3. Support & maintenance
Support for the TAO platform is available through the TAO Hub at https://hub.taocloud.org/. The hub provides a convenient way for users to interact with TAO’s Open Source community. However, clients with commercial deployments often require predictable response times, and for these we offer dedicated support & maintenance agreements to ensure a reliable and positive test experience.
4. Hosted test delivery
To clients who do not want to use their own servers for content development or test delivery, we offer hosting services on the OAT cloud. By working with leading providers such as Amazon and Linode, we are able to provide a highly scalable, robust environment for both online content development and test delivery.
13. How does TAO – being an Open Source platform – guarantee the security of my data and items
Just because someone can read the source code doesn’t mean they have access to a customer’s data center or IT room with all its servers, storage and networking equipment.
Whether deploying proprietary or Open Source software, customers should always secure their environment through both organizational and IT administrative means to prevent unauthorized access to test content, student grades, etc. In addition, customers should implement anti-cheating measures during test delivery. Again, there is no distinction here between proprietary or Open Source software.
On a functional level, TAO does encrypt data via HTTPS, provide User Identification via encrypted passwords, Back-office identification based on assigned roles and access rights.
14. How do I pronounce “OAT”?
OAT is the acronym for Open Assessment Technologies S.A., the publisher of the TAO platform. As such, it should be pronounced “Oh-Ay-Tee”.