The stats of success

23 02 2010

Some time ago I posted about the eStudyGuide website I set up to match our InDesign study guide process. To explain it again, briefly, the XML from our InDesign TOCs get’s uploaded to a webserver along with the PDFs – the webpage reads the XML files and renders a download page for the course you’re looking for.

Well!  Anyway!  Term has started finally and this is the first semester that I’ve had the pages also hooked in to Google Analytics. I had this weird moment of doubt at some point, that the eStudyGuides weren’t really being used, and that we’d not really contributed anything of use to the University.  Not sure why on earth I thought that.  The stats for the first couple of weeks of Term prove how useful it is.

  • Over 4000 page views already
  • Over 1300 hits already
  • Over 5.5 minutes average on each page


eStudyGuide stats

I love Google Analytics, it’s damn awesome.  I’m looking forward to seeing the trends from now on, how each term differs from the next.

Overall, the InDesign XML features have really proved essential in all of this.  There are some glitches though that I believe I’ve never mentioned.  Some times carriage returns get tagged in the TOC when you map styles to tags – which means you get an empty XML tag in your XML document.

You’ll need error checking to make sure you’re not rendering that empty tag as anything on your website, especially if the count of XML tags matches a document count like the eStudyGuide set up.

I wonder though, would it be worth doing an XML Schema and having InDesign validate it’s output with the schema when we export our TOC XML?

The whole process, exporting the XML and PDFs, and then uploading the files is a bit labourious too, and mistakes happen.  With a bit of perl/php mastery, one of the more technical sauvy guys in our team has done some brilliant reporting around the setup, as well as a script that handles that uploading – a must have.  It checks document counts with the XML tags to make sure they match, checks for typos even, missing files, and more.  Many thanks to Damo for his help.

Onwards and upwards, I wonder what the next lot of improvements to the eSGs could be 🙂

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Media-rich Learning Guide

6 11 2009

We had this little problem last year – we really wanted SOMETHING to do an online study/learning guide with.. well not just ‘something’, we wanted it to be media rich in that it is not just visually appealing but allowed all sorts of GUI features (like popups, tabs etc) so that it could have more media-rich content.

The reason at the time was because the course we were working on had SO many resources, from all over the place, and we thought it might be a good thing to bring everything together, in to context.  (and to make it look nice).

I started thinking of ideas for a GUI and realised one of my favourite interfaces would have to be iTunes!  The interface is called cover flow and it’s visually delicious to say the least.

iTunes coverflow

This is the iTunes coverflow GUI, nice hey?

As it turned out, after some searching the net for Flash resources, I found this awesome Open Source Initiative Flash-based cover flow project.  The beauty of it, like the beauty of iTunes, is it basically gets all its data from an XML file.  So that got me thinking.

What if the learning guide was entirely in XML?  Well, why not.  You could request a course code in your web browser, a php page could parse your request to Flash, which then loads the XML learning guide menu in coverflow, and voila, ajax the content in to the page with each click in the flash cover-flow!

I modified the Flash-based coverflow to suite our purpose.  I made the initial course trial static, in that the content was being loaded from html files, and the course-specific XML only contained details on the course topics and titles etc.  Now however I’m working on the full deal, the entire learning guide in XML.  It’s all coming together rather nicely.

HLG

We've nick-named it the HLG (hypertextual learning guide). You select your study module from the coverflow menu, and all the content loads below via ajax. The content sits in the course XML, and the XSL handles the rendering of all the variations in that content. This example has some readings, but there could also be videos, podcasts, all sorts of stuff.

Learning XSL has been a highlight of the last week, I’m still quite a noob at it, but so far I’ve done some awesome things – I can handle all sorts of variations in the XML (which means variations in content) and render it on the page nicely – videos come up with a video icon and use the jQuery prettyBox plugin, documents come up with a document icon, abstracts have the abstract viewable via a jQuery clueTip plugin.. its all coming together.

The setup

I have some more work to do with the XML/XSL, but I think it will all go well. At the end of it, I'll basically have a single php file, that takes course code requests.. the page will talk to a library of standard resources like the images in the cover-flow menu, the background images, css, and javascripts. It'll then talk to the requested XML (via a php transform and XSL file) to get all the details and content.

Phase 3 will be doing an administration interface, to manage the XML.. ohh fun.





Web front end for InDesign docs

5 11 2009

Well well.. I’ve been out of touch with the InDesign stuff I was really getting in to last year.  Other projects, as well as the restructure and fallout from that.  I did however pick things up a little just recently, and finished making a first draft front end to display the Study Guides from InDesign.

As you may/may not know, part of our InDesign process with the study guides allows us to export XML from the Table Of Contents (TOC).  This is a great spot to get some really usable data about the document, for instance, how many chapters and what are the chapter titles!

After creating the PDFs, and exporting the XML from the TOC, we simply dump it all on a web server.  I made a nice little PHP page that takes requests and displays an interface for students to download those PDFs – the PHP reads the requested course’s XML file, creates the list with the chapter titles and so on.

Why’d I bother doing this?  A couple of reasons really… Well okay a few:

  • Its fun.
  • It saves academics time by setting up a page for them where students can download the chapterised PDFs for their Study Guide.
  • It also saves the academic the time of splitting their whole document PDFs up in to chapter PDFs, because we do it.

It works well for us really, I mean, all we do is export the goods and throw it on a server, it couldn’t be more simple.  The outcome is really quite nice.  Next challenge will be how to integrate this more with the new LMS, Moodle.

e Study Guide Page

This is the end result, the web front end for the InDesign XML & PDFs

In terms of the web front end, it was quite easy with PHP to read the XML.  I didn’t need to do anything fancy at all, I suppose it is pretty simple XML.  In fact, I used the simpleXML php module.

By parsing in the courseID as a variable in the URL, the page loads the requested XML file

//capture courseID from URL
$courseID=$_GET["courseID"];

//load the xml that contains the info on the documents
$pathExt = ".xml";
$docInfoPath = $courseID . "/eStudyGuide/" . $courseID . $pathExt;
$docInfoXML = simplexml_load_file($docInfoPath);
$docTitles = array();

Then looping through to display the docs was easy as this!

$i = 1;

foreach ($docInfoXML->TOClev1 as $docTitles) {
	if (strlen($docTitles)!=3) {
		echo "<li>
			<a href='" . $courseID . "/eStudyGuide/" . $courseID . "_" . $i . ".pdf'>" . str_replace('    ', ":  pg", $docTitles) . "</a></li>";                            
		$i++;
	};
 };