The TeleTOP® CMS as a Research Tool

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Abstract

For the research “Reuse of Learning Objects: Human and Technical aspects” (Strijker, 2004) the TeleTOP® course-management system (CMS) was taken as the basis for the research tools. TeleTOP® was used because of its flexibility and scale of use. TeleTOP® was used in Higher education, Corporate, and Military contexts in different variants. In the following sections the underlying system is described and how its functionalities were used for the research. Section 1.1 describes the foundation of TeleTOP®, Section 1.2 the choice for Domino as the database technology for TeleTOP®, Section 1.3 the development of TeleTOP®, and Section 1.4 the development of TeleTOP® related to projects. The researcher was designer and the main developer of TeleTOP®.

1  The TeleTOP® CMS as a Research Tool

For the research “Reuse of Learning Objects: Human and Technical aspects” (Strijker, 2004 [1]) the TeleTOP® course-management system (CMS) was taken as the basis for the research tools. TeleTOP® was used because of its flexibility and scale of use. TeleTOP® was used in Higher education, Corporate, and Military contexts in different variants. In the following sections the underlying system is described and how its functionalities were used for the research. Section 1.1 describes the foundation of TeleTOP®, Section 1.2 the choice for Domino as the database technology for TeleTOP®, Section 1.3 the development of TeleTOP®, and Section 1.4 the development of TeleTOP® related to projects. The researcher was designer and the main developer of TeleTOP®.

1.1       The foundation of TeleTOP®

The faculty-wide implementation of a course-management system at the University of Twente in 1997 was an initiative of the dean based on the requests of several departments to provide courses with Web-supported learning. Also the decreasing number of full-time students and the focus on part-time students was a motivation to implement a course-management system in that more flexibility in course participation could be offered. The “Tele-learning Toegepaste Onderwijskunde Project”, TeleTOP®, was responsible for the faculty-wide implementation. A major part of this project involved the development of a course-management system.

1.2        Database technology for TeleTOP®

After an inventory of available CMSs in 1997 a product to serve as the basis for the course-management system was initially chosen, one that built on Oracle databases. The initially chosen product, Oracle Learning Architecture (OLA), was created as an “open, online Education application for delivering interactive; multimedia education in any subject over networks” (Ellwood, 1997 [2]). OLA focused on the use of learning objects and assembling these objects together. “The bulk of the content on OLA today has been converted from existing CBT (Computer Based Training) courses. Once content is developed explicitly for this medium, Learning Objects can be stored in an Oracle database and the OLA application can assist the user in assembling these objects together”.

OLA was meant to be tailored for the needs of the Faculty of Educational Science and Technology and was also to serve as a collaboration and group tool. Unfortunately, OLA was no longer supported by Oracle as of 1997 because of continuing changes in operating system requirements from Microsoft. Thus, another database had to be chosen. The choice for using the Web-based database Lotus Notes Domino came from the experiences in the “Webnet” project (van Beek, 1997 [3]; Strijker, 1997 [4]) where a Web-based educational environment was developed for Dutch middle-vocational schools. The TeleTOP® system was initially based on these experiences.

An inventory of available Web-based support functionalities was made during the first months of development of TeleTOP®. Because various tools and functionalities were possible a choice was made with the instructors of what to use. To provide instructors with a set of good examples for the set of functions that would be offered, a Decision Support Tool (Collis & De Boer, 1999 [5]; De Boer, 2004 [6]) was developed. This resulted in a prototype of the course environment that was used for the first three courses in early 1998. The use of the Domino platform gave the ability to rapidly develop database-driven Web applications and database-driven Web-based templates to support education. A clear difference could be made between the operating system, database engine, Web server, and the front-end TeleTOP® templates. Figure 1 shows this schematically. The benefit of this approach is that developments only needed to focus on educational aspects and not on the technical implications.

Figure 1 The Domino platform

Most of the technical solutions were offered in the form of functions. Development and maintenance of database functionalities like user right management, storage, retrieval options, search functionalities, and user administration were totally covered by Lotus Domino. This included APIs to JavaScript, Java, C++, d-COM, and Lotus script. This meant that most popular scripting languages could be used to program functionalities. This development capability was only offered to the developers of the TeleTOP® system.

1.3     Development of TeleTOP®

The course-management system TeleTOP® has been used within the Faculty of Educational Science and Technology at the University of Twente since 1997. In this section, its general requirements are summarized (Section 1.2.1), followed by an overview of terminology (Section 1.2.2), a further comment about the underlying Lotus Notes Domino system (Section 1.2.3), the use of templates (Section 1.2.4) and the database structure (Section 1.2.5).

1.3.1   Requirements

Development of the TeleTOP® CMS was focused on making the work of the instructor as simple as possible and trying to support the primary process of creating course material. These focuses included giving as much functionality as possible to the instructor while not changing the educational objectives of the courses or forcing instructors to work in ways they would not find comfortable. During introduction sessions instructors were urged to experiment with the system and use the environment as it fit their needs. The development was focused from the start on a Web-based environment. The system was developed to be as simple as possible and to make the interventions of instructors independent from time and place (for a summary of initial requirements see also Collis & Moonen, 2001 [7]; Tielemans & Collis, 1999[8]).

1.3.2  Terminology

For the use of databases specific terminologies are involved. A short description of the most-used terms in the TeleTOP® CMS is given here

Element: Within the Lotus Notes Domino database records are called fields. An element or field is a container that can contain data. The type of data is in most cases well defined. Types of data can be for example: text, date, integer, or lists. For an example of a see Figure 2.

Figure 2 Example of an element

Data: Data can consist of pure text, but can also include dates, HTML code, or binary pieces. For example “Homepage TeleTOP®”

Record: Within the Lotus Notes Domino database records are called documents. A record is a set of related data. The data are stored as element-data pairs. For example in Figure 3 the dataset is Category-“TeleTOP®”, Subject – “Homepage TeleTOP®”, Description – “General information about TeleTOP®”, Content – Text, Web link – http://www.TeleTOP®.nl.

 

Template: A template is predefined structure of elements. Templates can be used to structure forms or views

Form: A form is used to assign data to elements. For example; when a form within a Web page is filled in, data are assigned to elements. Figure 3 gives an example how this can be displayed.

Figure 3 Example of a form in edit mode showing element-data pairs

Forms can be used to assign data to elements, but also to present data. Figure 4 shows this.

Figure 4 Example of a form in read mode

 

View: A view can show a selection of records. Within the records selections can be made of what elements are shown. Views can also provide sorting mechanisms. Different views can be created for the same records. Figure 5 shows a set of records associated with “Homepage TeleTOP®”.

 

Figure 5 Example of a view sorted on subject

Figure 6 is another view where the data are displayed a little differently, but also contain the record “Homepage TeleTOP®”.

Figure 6 Example of a view sorted on unique identifier

Figure 5 and Figure 6 show that the same data can be displayed and offered in completely different ways and that the data depend on what is needed in a certain situation.

Attachments: Attachments are seen from a database perspective as a set of data. Attachments are stored in the database and are accessible by links that are maintained by the database.

1.3.3  The use of templates

The design of TeleTOP® is based on the use of templates. Figure 3 is an example of the use of templates at the user level. Users can only fill in the templates and can only use a predefined type of data. These forms are templates, but they are self-based on a higher level of templates. The system design in itself is a template. This means that the maintenance of the whole system can take place at one place and that changes in the template are inherited to all instances of the template. The forms and views used can differ in the varying contexts of use. The data however remain the same in the different databases. Figure 7 shows the design of the forms and views in the template and how they are inherited in a course database where documents are created with these forms. Views are used to show the documents.

 

Figure 7 Templates in TeleTOP® (Strijker, 1999[9] )

1.3.4  Database structure

The database structure is the key for the development of the system. Before the database structure was defined, an inventory was made of existing standards in the field for learning technologies. At the start of the development, only the Dublin Core (DCMI, 2002 [10]) specification was available for use and the initial definition of the database structure included all the data elements that could be mapped against the Dublin Core. Besides these Dublin Core elements a large set of data was included to deal with future reuse solutions. For all records created in the database the same data structure is used.

The basic data structure used for every record is shown in Figure 8. A distinction can be made between the design of the TeleTOP® CMS and the system design of the Lotus Notes Domino database. The first set of elements is specific for the TeleTOP® CMS and can have the state mandatory (M) or optional (O). Mandatory means that the data are available on every record created in the database, optional means that the data are only available when the TeleTOP® CMS functionality requests this. Different sources can be identified that assign data to the elements: The database (DB), the TeleTOP® CMS, and the user. The data can be assigned automatically (A) by the database or TeleTOP® CMS, or manually (M) by the user who maintains a course. The user is supported for most elements with vocabularies. The vocabularies are predefined by the TeleTOP® CMS, course curriculum, or user. The Lotus Notes Domino database automatically assigns the second set of elements to every record to manage the records on the system level and provide security. 

Figure 8 Basic data structure for the TeleTOP® CMS

Design

Element

State

(m=monitoring,
o=optional)

Source

Assigning

(a=automated,
m=manual)

Description

TeleTOP® CMS

Unique Record number

M

DB

A

Contains a worldwide unique record number

Related Unique Record number

O

DB

A

Contains the unique record number where the record is related to

Page name

M

User based on CMS predefined vocabulary

M

Contains the name of the functionality within the CMS

Title

M

User

M

Contains the title of the content

Description

O

User

M

Contains the actual content

Web link

O

User

M

Contains a related web link

Category

O

User based on own predefined vocabulary

M

Contains a content category

Reader rights

M

CMS

A

Contains a group, groups, or user that may read the content

Author

M

DB

A

Contains the initial author username, this can also be anonymous

Author rights

M

CMS

A

Contains a group, groups, or user that may edit the content

Content

M

User

M

Contains type of material. This can be text, or html

Course name

M

User based on Curriculum predefined vocabulary

 

Contains the name of the course

Attachment

O

User

 

Contains related attachments

Sequence

O

User or CMS

 

Contains the sequence number or character of how the material is sorted

 Lotus Notes Domino Database

Updated by

M

DB

A

Contains the usernames of the editors of the content.

Revisions

M

DB

A

Contains the number of revisions and dates and times of the revisions

Template

M

DB

A

Contains the name of the template used for displaying the record

Creation date

M

DB

A

Contains the initial date and time of creation

Last modified

M

DB

A

Contains the date and time of last modification

Last read or edited

M

DB

A

Contains the date and time of last access

Size

M

DB

A

Contains the number of bytes of the record including attachments

Attachment names

M

DB

A

Contains the names of the attachments

Attachment length

M

DB

A

Contains the number of bytes for every attachment

Attachments

M

DB

A

Contains the attachments

Unique database location

M

DB

A

Contains a worldwide unique record number

Author

M

DB

A

Contains username of the last editor

1.4        Development of TeleTOP® related to the projects

During the existence of TeleTOP® several stages and changes in the system can be identified. This is because of revisions of the system resulting in different versions of the system. The developers managed version control of the system, and users were often not aware of the changes because the interface design did not change dramatically. New versions of the system were developed during the academic year starting in August. A prototype of each new version was tested in May, using two courses as test-beds for the new functionalities. In the period between May and July revisions were made to produce a stable version that was used for the next cycle of courses starting in August. Only small errors were found in new versions, and small corrections were made directly in the production version. Because of the use of templates, corrections could be made in all courses within 24 hours. In emergency cases, corrections could be applied in minutes. The versions developed over the years differ in consistency and advanced functions. However, material produced in earlier versions could also be used in the following versions. This was possible because the underlying data structure did not change, only the way material was displayed and ordered. Table 1 shows the timeline and the projects to indicate how different developments in TeleTOP® followed each other and how different functionalities in the various projects were added.

Table 1 Timeline related to projects

Year

University

Corporate learning

Military

TeleTOP® at the university

SURF Alpha beta

Digital University metadata guideline

TeleTOP® Shell EP

Conversion TeleTOP®

Shell EP Knowledge sharing

ADL SCORM™ pilot RNLAF

LCMS

ADL SCORM™ in IMAT

KIM TeleTOP®

1997

Q1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1998

Q1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1999

Q1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2000

Q1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2001

Q1

 

 

 

 

 

Q2

 

 

 

 

 

Q3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q4

 

 

 

 

 

 

2002

Q1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2003

Q1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q3

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q4

 

 

 

 

 

 

2004

Q1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The TeleTOP® system as a whole is not only a course-management system but includes also authoring tools and content-management facilities which will be described in more detail in the following chapters. The current chapter describes only the basic CMS, technical background, underlying system, and authoring tools available in the CMS. The projects describe specific functionalities developed for the projects.

The new functionalities implemented were in some projects, like University Alpha Beta and the Military LCMS, initiated within the case studies. . Table 13 shows a timeline with the most important changes and developments in the TeleTOP® CMS system design. Although some projects had a short project time, the value of each project for the research was very high.

Table 13 Development of TeleTOP® related to use and based on timeline

Year

Version

Users

Functionalities

1997

0 Prototype

Faculty of Educational Science and Technology, phase 1

Roster, glossary, email, links, presentations

1998

1

1998 First prototype and use within three courses

1999 Use of revised version TeleTOP® for first phase of the faculty

 

 

Participants, video integrated streaming video

1999

2

Use in first and second phase, New roster, use of TeleTOP® in other faculties like Telematics, BSK, Electronics at the University of Twente, and Law in Leiden. Also the KIM and The SURF foundation Alpha Beta projects

Line-based roster

2000

3

Use in the first three phases within the faculty

Reuse, groups,

2001

3

2001 New version of TeleTOP®, Use in all phases within the faculty, Use within Shell Open University, University-wide implementation

Portfolio, metadata, ADL SCORM™

2002

4

Use in all phases within the faculty, Use within Shell Open University, University-wide implementation, various secondary education institutes

LCMS functionalities, Possibilities for uploading and using IMS packages in the CMS Packages upload

2003

5

Use in all phases within the faculty, Use within Shell Open University, University-wide implementation, various secondary education institutes.

Commercial version, rebuild research version Multi language functionalities

2004

6

Use within Shell Open University, University-wide implementation, KIM, various secondary education institutes.

Integration of various metadata application profiles, creation of IMS packages

 

The following chapters describe the projects within their particular contexts. The chapters describe the context based on the perspective-related questions What, When, Where, How, and Who. Based on the learning-object lifecycle the different perspectives are structured around the different stages of the lifecycle. Each chapter ends with a reflection based on the secondary research questions and issues.