Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Testing of the editor designs at the Connexions Conference

The OERPUB UI team, Adrian Garcia and Max Starkenburg, were hard at work during the sprints after the Connexions Conference testing  the usability of new features that have been designed for the editor. The testing, as usual, was highly informative.

They were testing this mockup:

mockup shows a left toolbox of pedagogy templates, a fairly standard editing toolbar, and a learning document on properties of exponents.


New Features

It has several new features or combinations of features since the last set of testing:

  • Pedagogy templates in the toolbar. This was implemented for instances in which an organization embeds the editor but doesn’t have screen real estate for the toolbox. Some organizations may even want both.
  • An inline menu. This will enable users to make key terms, code font, or foreign text, and to remove formatting. This inline menu appears when authors hover over highlighted text, over styled text (which they could convert to a more semantically rich choice), or over key terms, etc.
  • Pedagogy options menu. This menu provides a list of all possible pedagogy templates and allows users to select which ones are visible.
  • An icon for inserting videos into documents. This will enable users to search for videos hosted on various sites and embed them in their document.
  • Quotation template. These enable authors to create quotations.

    Questions and Answers

    1. Can users discover important features of the editor on their own? The pedagogy toolbox is much more discoverable than the pedagogy menu. In the menu, “Add a new” sounded like a toolbar configuration rather than something to include in the author’s content. We were trying to avoid “insert” which other research has shown to be confusing to authors, but we will need to work on the wording of this menu and make it more inviting to try.
    2. How discoverable is the inline context menu? The inline context menu was the least discoverable of the features. Perhaps changing the color of the menu’s icon so that is is brighter will increase discoverability. It may also help if it appears more quickly. This mockup shows a possible fix.
    3. Will it be a surprise to users that the inline menu does not provide any styling options? Might the inline menu distract from styling? This doesn’t appear to be a problem for authors. They seemed fine accessing styling exclusively from the top toolbar. Keyboard shortcuts for bold and italics should be supported (and they are in the implemented editor!)
    4. Are participants able to use and understand the pedagogy? Can they successfully customize it? No change from prior tests. Authors are able to use the tools easily. Sometimes they bypass the templates and just type things in. In this test, authors struggled with the widget for altering the labels (exercise->question for instance).
    5. Is it confusing to have two pedagogy menus in the editor? Basically, yes. The confusion abates after experimenting with both. Most authors concluded they were the same, but we don’t know how high their confidence was. We aren’t sure whether we will try to fix this problem.
    6. Are participants able to properly insert videos? Yes, the workflow worked well. The icon was hard for authors to find, but they did find it. It would be good to create a better icon, but we can probably live with this one for a while.
    7. Are participants able to properly insert quotations? Will they have issues with their appearance? The workflow was fine. Participants wanted them to be styled differently. They will be more likely to use the semantic template if it is visually pleasing. This is an easy fix, but will only affect the content in the editor and when saved from the editor. Repos may style quotes differently.

    The Full Report

    You can download the full report in PDF format. We are working on a more remixable format for the report.

    Day 2 — Sprinting continues

    The Saga Continues

    white board photo of api for services for transforming documents. Details not critical.
    A few people headed home after day 1, but we still had over 20 people sprinting on day 2. On Day 2, we continued to code and also had several design discussions on technology and APIs. 
    Transform Services: One of those discussion was between Connexions, Vietnam OER, and OERPUB (my Shuttleworth funded team) about a common API for transforming documents from one type to another (Word to HTML to EPUB to PDF, etc). Although it sounds really esoteric, it turns out that this is an area that is ripe for collaboration and sharing code, not only among these teams, but also for anyone producing digital and print books like Booktype, Pressbooks, and even OReilly. The photo to the left shows a quick sketch of common ground and this doc has a further writeup on the ideas shared. After the discussion the VOER team headed home, and one of the Connexions developers started refactoring current code to match the new shared vision.
    WordPress editor embed: And the photo to the right shows the progress on getting the OER editor embedded in WordPress. It builds on an existing WordPress plugin for Aloha (the base HTML5 editor of the OER editor.) The existing plugin needed to be updated to make everything work (as all code does periodically) and that has been submitted back to the original developer. We also added in the new semantic elements drop down (not shown) and are updating to the latest Aloha to correct for a bug that Clemens recognized in the behavior. 
    Internationalization: Clemens Prerovsky from Aloha showed a group of us how Aloha internationalization is done. Basically they use “keys” in the code and then each plugin has a set of language specific files with key-string pairs. Translators edit those directly right now. Although not super streamlined if you have lots of new translations to do, it is simple and straightforward. We also need translations for auto-generated text that is a part of the content being created, and we discussed the added complexities that entails.
    Abandoning Content-Editable: Since we had an Aloha founder in the room, Phil of CNX and Clemens of Aloha discussed the problems with trying to use content-editable in the editor. Browsers handle events in the content-editable region differently which means that the Aloha base functions have a lot of code to correct for that. It may be saner to essentially implement cursor and event handling from scratch and not use content-editable. Clemens will take that idea back to the Aloha team and perhaps we will work on it during the Aloha barcamp, June 6,7 in Vienna.
    Wikipedia Therapy: The folks working on wikipedia entries got to experience editing over time (see the OpenStax College entry), which doesn’t happen in a 2 hour workshop. The wiki folks also provided feedback on how to navigate the wiki world and respond to reverts and slightly heated discussions. They worked on cross-wikipedia licensing issues, for instance when a resource from Brazil is reused in English wikipedia and the license is in Portugese.
    Logging and Analytics: Connexions did more work on logging. Ed, normally consumed by planning and management enjoyed being able to develop for a couple of days. Ross investigated pwik — an opensource analytics and log analysis framework. He created a million line log file to do some load testing and initial results indicated that performance may be a limiting factor.
    I hope this gives a flavor for the cross-pollination that happens at sprints; conventions agreed upon, ideas germinated, bugs identified by experts across the room, nagging questions answered, opportunities to branch out, or branch back and brush up skills and rejuvenate.

    Sprints at Connexions – Day 1

    We had an excellent first day of sprinting after the Connexions conference. Today’s report includes pictures of people working together, but tomorrow we will include more links and screenshots, hopefully. About 30 people total participated on the following projects:

    • Clemens from Aloha gave a mini lesson on the Aloha editor and then VOER and BCCampus built Hello-world plugins. Marvin from OERPUB wrote documentation about how to create new plugins!
    • BC Campus, Aloha, and OERPUB worked on a WordPress plugin for the OERPUB editor. We have embeds of the editor in the

    Oerpub Remix tools and in the Connexions Authoring Tools Client. But this is the first embed in a completely independent framework.

    • Marvin cleaned up the media plugin prototype.
    • Huy from VOER worked on creating links between different sections of a textbook, including search and integration with the editor.
    • OERPUB’s UI team brainstormed about integrating an author’s workspace, organizing textbook content, and the editor and its semantic toolbox. They also did user interface testing with sprint participants around a few last details of the editor design.
    • Ha from VOER got install instructions written for Fedora for the Authors Tools Client. 
    • Other topics, less editor related – a group worked on Wikipedia pages for OpenStax College and learned about making good reference materials that Wikipedia articles can point to (with good dates and author info). CNX worked on better logging, a catalog for OpenStax textbooks, VOER did Elastic Search research and porting old simple author accounts to OpenID.

    Notes from the Saylor Digital Education Conference April 2013

    It’s the money, stupid.

    At the Saylor Digital Education Conference, this past week (April 2013), Michael Saylor talked at length about his own educational journey. He came out of MIT with no debt and was able to start a company. A student coming out of college today with over $100,000 in debt or a medical school with $400,000 of debt cannot innovate or take a risk. He stressed that the goal of the Saylor Foundation is free education for everyone. And finally, I understood that he actually meant what he said. He doesn’t mean he will put free content on a website and super-focused students can go through it all themselves. He means a high quality, guided college education for FREE. How that will happen isn’t clear, nor is how that will be sustainable, but that is what many at the conference are figuring out through trial and error yielding the next set of ideas. The argument for free is pretty clear. Right now, a 4 year college degree costs $200,000 or more. A colleague mentioned that colleges themselves claim the true cost is nearer to $280,000. That is just not ever going to scale to universal education, and it truly is limiting the future of even our brightest and most fortunate students.

    How about free?

    Saylor thinks that universal, free education will happen online, interactively, and will be personalized using software that people at the conference (and others) are developing. It might be paid for through advertising, or through recruitment fees, or through business models as yet unheard of.

    I am also convinced that we can learn a lot more with a little help from our digital friends. We will have the ability to interact with digital models, to interleave practice with memory refreshers, to create online portfolios of our vision. We can have all our past knowledge and entire degrees worth of new knowledge at our fingertips.

    But don’t spend it all on technology.

    I do have worries about all this focus on digital everything transforming education. So far, most of the really dramatic results in education that I know of come from giving smart teachers the ability to interact directly with learners. Technology has never matched the dramatic gains that smart teachers make. More on that in the next post.

    OER from the learner’s perspective.

    My talk at the conference was chiefly about the power of semantic document formats, open-source content transformation tools, and well thought out user interfaces for authors. But, I also made an attempt to show the vision from the perspective of a learner, benefiting from the sorts of learning that is possible once their textbooks and courses are available in interoperable formats.

    Usabilty team blog posts

    The usability team that has been designing and testing the OER editor interactions will be blogging regularly to share everything about our design and  testing process. Their first introduction post is up on the site.

    Since we are an open source and open content project, the designs and processes are all open also. Not only do we hope to create an incredibly easy to use editor without sacrificing power and utility, but would be thrilled if the best of our ideas are copied and used elsewhere also.

    And we hope that open source development teams around the world can learn from our successes and failures with making useful software.

    We have a back log, so expect a quick series of blog entries as we get caught up sharing initial designs and tests from Open Ed, and then our redesigns and test cycles from December and January.

    Happy reading (the intro blog post)

    OERPUB Upcoming Plans – Embeddable OER editor, whole book authoring, sprints and workshops

    I am thrilled to announce that the Shuttleworth Foundation will be supporting my fellowship and the OERPUB project for another year and we have an incredibly exciting year planned.

    We will be releasing an editor tailored to authoring open textbooks and most importantly, helping projects all over the world incorporate the editor into their own workflow and development process.

    This video shows what we have done so far and our plans for March 2013 through February 2014. You will see me talking for a bit and then it switches to hand drawn illustrations, video clips of the editor, and commentary from partners and supporters.



    I have been working for the past two years to make it easier to create, remix, and publish open textbooks. There is a growing movement to create open textbooks that are free to learn from, free to adapt, and free to improve. But creators of these new open textbooks face technical challenges that limit the ability to reuse, adapt, and improve them.

    What we have now

    Everything In: Import from common sources: Since content created in one word processor doesn’t mix well with content created in another authoring tool, we first built an importer/converter that takes documents in common formats and transforms them into a remixable format. The importer takes Word, Open Office, Google Docs, LaTeX, blogs and presentations. Edit/Adapt with an easy-to-use web-based editor: We are creating a structured content editor so that once content is transformed into a remixable format, authors can continue to edit and add educational features. Everything Out: Distribute to students in print, on the web, and on mobile devices. Once learning modules are ready to share, we use the OERPUB API developed earlier to publish the content and produce printed books, e-Reader versions, web versions, mobile versions, and handouts.

    What we are planning

    Whole book authoring. We will be concentrating on figuring out the easiest ways for authors to create entire textbooks while using the new editor to create the components. We’ll be collaborating to embed the editor in partner sites: working with Connexions on their new editing repository, with Booktype and others on their platforms, and exploring solutions like using Github, Google Drive or Dropbox as backends. We will be leveraging the EPUB3 standard and community in creating digital works.  

    Distribution: To increase the benefits to individual authors, we will explore ways to make it as easy as possible for them to deliver their content through e-publishing channels.

    Strengthening Community with Sprints and Workshops
    The most important task ahead is strengthening and sustaining the content creation and development community. We will do this by convening a series of week long workshops and sprints that train new content creators and software developers, and help launch independent efforts around accessibility, internationalization, multimedia, and interactive content.

    Principles of Remixable OER

    For the past six months the OERPUB team has been working on an editor for remixable open education resources (OER). We are embedding the editor within a workflow that supports first converting documents created in popular formats (Word, Open Office, Google Docs, Blogs, LaTeX), then editing them, and finally publishing to repositories for OER.

    The converters and editor are part of a vision for creating, adapting, and sharing educational resources. Everything in: People with something to teach should be able to provide their content in a remixable format no matter how it was originally created. Thus the emphasis on building conversions from popular tools and formats. Everything out: Learning content should be easy to distribute to learners in the most effective way (phone, tablet, computer, paper, text-to-speech, teacher and student editions) all from the same source. Thus the need for a clean, remixable format that can be the single source for many different devices. Everywhere: Authors should be able to publish their content in open repositories, institutional repositories, learning management systems, as well as sales and distribution channels like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Lulu, iBooks, and PaperRight. Thus the need for automated services powered by APIs that help authors share and distribute their content. 

    The technical principles supporting this vision

    The OERPUB team builds tools for sharing OER that are based on four important principles of interoperable and remixable OER. These principles ensure that the importers and editor that we create are useful to many OER projects and are sustainable by the shared efforts of independent projects.

    1. HTML5 format. HTML5 is the new language of the web, and using it means that open content and the tools for authoring, adapting and sharing can be improved by the world of web developers. Viewing and interacting with content will be supported by essentially all electronic devices. The OERPUB editor we have created is based on an existing web-based HTML editor called Aloha, which meant that we didn’t start from scratch and we have the support of an existing developer community. I was recently at an OER Developer workshop sponsored by Google and Hewlett and it was striking that all of the projects are planning to aggressively move to HTML5 for their content, and the OERPUB editor will be useful for them, too. 
    2. Separation of structure and style. HTML5 isn’t enough, though. HTML5 provides excellent support for remixable, structured content that is playable on many devices with differing capabilities. But that only works, if the content is either fully encapsulated and embeddable like a simulation, or if the structure of the content is clear and free of styling that would make pieces inconsistent with each other. By concentrating on an editor that supports structured educational content, and allowing repositories and display engines to provide the styling through CSS3, content from multiple sources can be combined and consistently styled and then can be optimized for different devices.
    3. Loosely coupled transformations. When each of the input (Word, Google Docs, Web etc) and output transformations (PDF, EPUB, Kindle, Document Handouts etc) are independent and easy to repurpose, we can leverage the funding and efforts of many different partners to create interoperable OER. Open Stax Colllege’s work on Word transforms, Indiana’s work on LaTeX imports, Siyavula, Connexions, and Booktype’s work on EPUB and PDF exports increase remixability rather than remaining part of isolated projects. New projects can choose to use whichever components are most valuable to their community. The benefits extend beyond open education resources. For instance, the Open Knowledge Foundation creates training materials in Google Docs and publishes them to WordPress. The Google Docs importer combined with the editor will make that process much more efficient.
    4. Authoring tools that are embeddable and customizable. Since we want content that can be remixed, we want authors to be able to create that content no matter where they ultimately want to share it. We want a community of people and projects that care about and can maintain and improve those tools. An embeddable, customizable editor will have the broadest impact, reaching authors where they work.