Week Beginning 17th December

The last working week before Christmas saw me focussing primarily on the development of the ARIES app.  The development of this app has proved to be interesting and challenging as it has involved some concepts that I was previously not very familiar with, such as Javascript drag and drop functionality and handling all the logic for user submitted exercises at the client end.  Needless to say, the fabulous jQuery Javascript library once again provided the tools required to handle such tasks in a very compact and understandable manner.

My task has been to convert the existing ARIES site (http://www.arts.gla.ac.uk:8180/aries) into an HTML5 / CSS3 / jQuery powered site that I will then be able to wrap as an app on various platforms.  My experience developing the Readings in Early English app had already provided me with the experience needed to get a basic ‘read only’ site up and running using the rather wonderful jQueryMobile framework.  The next big step would be to provide the facilities to enable users to complete exercises, submit their answers to the site and provide the logic to evaluate these answers and output results.

I’m still in the middle of developing the ARIES app but you can try it out at the following URL: http://www.arts.gla.ac.uk/STELLA/briantest/aries/ (but be aware that this is a test URL and eventually the app will be relocated and this link will likely be broken).  I currently have the bare bones of the site in place (e.g. index page, contents pages, about pages) and I have fully completed the first two sections (‘Basic Punctuation’ and ‘Spelling’).  All but the exercise is completed in the third section (‘Further Punctuation’) and I’m in the middle of working on the exercise for section 2 of the ‘Spelling’ section.

You can see an example of a working exercise by scrolling to the bottom of this page: http://www.arts.gla.ac.uk/STELLA/briantest/aries/basic-punctuation-2-the-comma.html

This exercise involves placing full stops and commas within a paragraph and adding capital letters to the start of new sentences.  Originally I developed a nice little drag and drop option for placing full stops and commas within the paragraph, which worked very well on my PC – you drag the full stop icon to where you want it to go, let go and the full stop is dropped in place.  Unfortunately on a phone this didn’t work so well.  The mechanism worked perfectly but as the paragraph too up more space than the screen it proved to be very awkward to drag the icon about.

To get around this problem I went with a simpler approach:  Tap a location in the paragraph once to add a full stop, tap a second time to turn this into a comma, tap a third time to remove the punctuation.  It is an approach that I think works very well on both a PC and a phone.  I also wrote a little snippet of Javascript that would capitalise or ‘uncapitalise’ a word when you click on it, and that was all that was required to create the interface for this particular exercise.

Of course, creating the facilities to allow a user to properly format their answer is only one part of the conundrum; another important part is writing the code that can check the user’s answer and supply the user with appropriate feedback.  This took some time to think through but I managed to develop a fairly compact bit of code that can do this, placing helpful ticks and crosses on the page where appropriate and informing the user how many answers they have got right.  Try the exercise on the page linked to above to see how it works.

Each section of ARIES required slightly different methods for enabling users to format their answers, and I finally managed to employ my abandoned drag and drop functionality on the third exercise of the apostrophe section: http://www.arts.gla.ac.uk/STELLA/briantest/aries/the-apostrophe-3-apparent-problems.html

As the exercise here consists of individual sentences there was no danger of the draggable elements being positioned too far away from the place there users were to drop them.  In this exercise, users have to paraphrase sentences using the form with an apostrophe.  Each of these paraphrased sentences only uses words from the original form of the sentence, so I made each word a draggable icon that users could drop into a ‘sentence space’, thus building up the new sentence.  Clicking on a letter then adds  ’s to it, enabling the correct form to be constructed fairly easily (more easily than typing the sentence in on a mobile phone using an overlaid keyboard that may obscure the sentence the user is wishing the paraphrase).

There is still a fair amount of work to be done with the app – the final exercise of ‘Further Punctuation’ in particular is going to be very difficult to implement and may have to be broken down into stages.  However, I am very satisfied with how the app is developing and managing to successfully create exercises that users can submit and have evaluated is a major step in the development of not just ARIES but the remaining STELLA apps too.

In addition to working on ARIES, this week I spent a little bit of time on the Burns project (mainly just writing up notes from last week’s meeting and planning future developments) and I also attended the third DROOG meeting.  This meeting was very useful, once again.  It was great to meet with the other developers like Mark and Flora and catch up with their developments and it was also really useful to hear back from the people who are leading projects that have a digital element.  I also managed to demonstrate the ‘Readings’ app at the meeting, which I think went down quite well once I managed to get the URL right.

That’s all for this year, I will be back at work the week beginning Monday 7th January, so my next update should be posted on the Friday of that week, all being well.  If there is anyone other than me reading this then I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and New Year!

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