eSTeEM Conference Presentation – Making More of Structured Course Materials

A copy of the presentation I gave at the OU-eSTeEM conference (no event URL?) on generating custom course search engines and mining OU XML documents to generate course mindmaps (Making More of Structured Documents presentation; delicious stack/bookmark list of related resources):

Chatting to Jonathan Fine after the event, he gave me the phrase secondary products to describe things like course mindmaps that can be generated from XML source files of OU course materials. From what I can tell, there isn’t much if any work going on in the way of finding novel ways of exploiting the structure of OU structured course materials, other than using them simply as a way of generating different presentational views of the course materials as a whole (that is, HTML versions, maybe mobile friendly versions, PDF versions). (If that’s not the case, please feel free to put me right in the comments:-)

One thing Jonathan has been scouring the documents for is evidence of mathematical content across the courses; he also mentioned a couple of ideas relating to access audits over the content itself, such as extracting figure headings, or image captions. (This reminded me of the OpenLearn XML processor (and redux) I first played with 4 years ago (sigh… and nothing’s changed… sigh….), which stripped assets by type from the first generation of OU XML docs). So on my to do list is to have a deeper look at the structure of OU XML, have a peek at what sorts of things might meaningfully (and easily;-) extracted, and figure out two or three secondary products that can be generated as a result. Note that these products might be products for different audiences, at different times of the course lifecycle: tools for use by course team or LTS during production (such as accessibility checks), products to support maintenance (there is already a link checker, but maybe there is more that can be done here?), products for students (such as the mindmap), products for alumni, products for OpenLearn views over the content, products to support “learning analytics”, and so on. (If you have any ideas of what forms the secondary products might take, or what structures/elements/entities you’d like to see mined from OU XML, please let me know via the comments. For an example of an OU XML doc, see here.


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  3. Andrew

    I’ve been developing some basic math courses under a grant from the OU in conjunction with a team of math professors from various universities and community colleges in the US. What I’ve run into during the course of this work is a rather unsettling amount of incompatibility between MathML standards for XML, and the OU schema. I’d come up with some hack-ish workarounds to get the coursework to display properly, sure, but overall I’ve been left with a feeling that the course developers and technical teams I work with at the OU are either unaware, or not concerned with accessibility or presentation of advanced math courses.

    • Tony Hirst

      @Andrew Maths is an issue and a topic of concern, I think; if you can provide a detailed case study or any other examples of issues you’ve come across working with rendering equations in OU-XML, it may be worth chatting to Jonathan Fine ( J.Fine emails are; he is *very* keen on representing maths content in materials correctly and efficiently…

  4. Andrew

    At the moment, the entire course is displaying properly when viewed with modern browsers (FF4+, IE with mathplayer, etc). The big issue I’ve had is that the version of the OU XML schema I was working with outright refuses to recognize standard MathML tags, which meant that I could not insert equations directly into the content the same way that I would were I working with a standard doctype. Instead, and after some exploration of my own, I ended up using escape characters to force the browser to render the MathML after rendering the page. As far as I have seen, even looking at other courses, this was the only way to go about doing this. For web display, and even for accessibility purposes, this isn’t really a big deal.

    The issue comes into play when I was asked to create local deployment DVD’s of the courses we had developed for students without internet. Because the OU schema and the framework plugins for the XML editor I was provided do not recognize the MathML as legitimate encoding, there is no way I have yet come up with to render the equations in the materials without resorting to image files.

    I’ll shoot Jonathan an email tomorrow, thanks for the tip. This week has been quite frustrating for me.

    • Tony Hirst

      @andrew out of my depth on this I’m afraid; I think OU-XML roadmap is up for review atm, I think; if that is the case, now would be great time to get your feedback into the loop – I’m guessing Jonathan would be as good a route as any? Public blogposts about any issues you’re having, along with workarounds you’ve found to date might also get picked up….?