Learning Technology

Xenith Project: Outputs

October 15th, 2012 at 02:10

The Xenith Project completes this week. From our point of view, the project has been hugely successful, we’re well on the way to providing HTML5 output for Xerte Online Toolkits.

The elements of the project we identified in our proposal have been delivered: we’d split the devleopment up into three main areas: analysis and research, interface development, extensibility, accessibility and devloping the templates.

Initial Research
The intial research identified jQuery as the best candidate to the heavy lifting code-wise, and it has provided a solid underpinning to the project’s development. JQueryUI has been very useful as a component library.

Support for Audio and Video
We also spent some time looking at various approaches to media plaback, as there are a number of issues in trying to play audio and video on all the various browsers on all the various devices. We had settled on JWPlayer, but licensing issues meant that it was unclear how we could redistribute JWPlayer and we changed to use mediaelement.js which can be happily redistributed, and provides good accessible controls for media.

An Extensible Framework
One of the project’s goals was to provide an easily extensible framework for developers to extend the software. Using a standard library like JQuery means that it is easy for other developers to engage engage with Xerte Online Toolkit’s code base, and develop new templates: this was borne out at the recent Xerte Project AGM when a number of other developers started looking at the framework, with the development of new tempaltes in mind, and reported that they didn’t see any particular barriers.

Interface Development
The interface devleopment provided the core set of functionality to house content, and this was developed first. TechDIS helped us identify a couple of screenreader users to give feedback on the accessibility, and the feedback was extremely positive. We’re very confident that the HTML5 delivery is highly accessible.

Template Development
36 of the original 55 templates have been converted for delivery via HTML5, with the reaming templates to be develped once the project is closed. The community of developers have subsequently added a further20 new templates, and these will need HTML5 counterparts developing as well.

A sample of the work completed so far can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/9fmfwdr

We funded the Xerte Project’s AGM Commuity Day with funds from the project, primarily to disseminate the HTML5 work. The event very quickly ‘sold out’, illustrating the thirst for HTML5 content development tools amongst the community. Videos of all the presentations can be found here: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/xerte/agm.htm

Lessons Learned
When the project commenced we had little experience with HTML5 development, and were concerend whether it would be possible to replicateall the functionality we had previousy in the flash player. There were other concerns about accessibility, and whether we would be able to maintain the project’s reputation for excellence in this area, and time was short for what is a considerable piece of development: we didn’t expect to get everything finished from the outset, and we know from experience that developments usually take longer than anticipated.

To summarise the main lessons:

It was valuable to have scoped the project properly and been realistic in the project plan.

We should have been more careful in checking the implications of a non-commercial license for re-distribution in the case of the JWPlayer, and have reached the conclusion that ‘non-commercial’ is essentially a closed license. We would not recommend re-using any ‘non-comercial’ licensed content as it is not clear whether education is ‘non-commercial’ or not, and so we could not redistribute with any clarity. I would highlight this as a real issue in the OER world.

Picking the brains of developers with experience of the HTML5 world was highly valuable, even though they don’t think they did much! The early workshop with EDINA was extremely reassuring in terms of the direction we were taking, and helped us get to grips with the issues around media quickly.

We knew this already, but accessibility testing with screenreader users is really important if you care about creating highly usable tools / content and would recommend that every content develper does it at least once. The experience is humbling and profound.

So far the impact has been through the event we held, but we know the impact of the new runtime will be significant. Xerte Online Toolkits is used in hundreds of institutions around the world, and we have lost count this year of the amount of times we’ve been asked ‘will it run on iPads?’. We know there is a huge thirst for the HTML5 outputs, and we hope to have some code released before Christmas so the community can begin to really put it into action. We’d rather spend a litle more time getting things ready for wider use, and we know we have a period of transition ahead of us whislt we reach parity with the old flash-based runtime.

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