On-line Document Guidelines - 5th December, 1996


While it is desirable to have a tree type structure which would outline all of the potential choices for the development of course materials, this would seem a pretty large task. What is described here might well be regarded as a branch on that eventual tree.  For the purposes of this exercise, I have restricted the context to the production of on-line course materials.

Documentation for each level should consist of a general description (first draft provided here), design guidelines and educational guidelines. The production of these guidelines will be significant work, and the design guidelines will be perpetually evolving. Eventually, cost, educational and strategic benefits and penalties should be stated for each level.

The distinctions between some levels may seem arbitrary, but nonetheless, there are reasons for them. Some considerations which determine level boundaries might be:

  • Likely popular and common implementations.
  • Expertise required of production staff.
  • Sophistication of production equipment required.
  • Sophistication of server equipment required.

Lower levels may be regarded as primarily progressive where one level may be supplemented and expanded by the next. The higher levels represent alternative models. Development need not be progressive in that a higher level may be an immediate target.

Many value-added functions would eventually be available through an operating environment which would provide functions like password protection, e-mail between students and tutors, interface to libraries and search engines, bulletin boards, videoconferencing and more.

Level A: Textual material converted to machine-readable format which may be mounted on-line.

Level B: Machine readable textual material converted to HTML optionally with images (including multi-block images).

Level C: Documents as at Level B with depth via hypertextual links.

Level D: Documents as at Levels B or C with digitised audio and/or video.

Level E: Levels at at Levels B, C or D with forms-based and CGI, Java or other scripted/programming activity.

Level F: 3D documents with VRML, Quicktime VR and other 3D representations.

Generic Educational Guidelines

All materials should have a clear path to assessment (i.e. materials should be an integral component of a teaching diet and have value in their own right; not merely lecture support materials).  All materials to contain a statement of objectives which are made clear to the student. A notional allocation of student effort time to be made to each element (i.e. the students must know what is expected of them and how long it should take).  Learning is achieved by doing, discussing and reflecting - exercises and activities should support these learning activities.

Operating Environment

Rather than use a proprietary system, the teaching and learning operating environment should be modular, open and standards-based.  It may be beneficial to duplicate the functionality or form of a proprietary system, but it will be easier (and cheaper) to add to or replace functions in a modular, open standards-based environment.

Level A

Textual material converted to machine-readable format which may be mounted on-line.

Educational Guidelines

Design Guidelines

The quality of both accuracy and authenticity of content should be assured.

Text should be edited for correct spelling, punctuation and grammar. Lines should not exceed 80 characters.

Level B

Machine readable textual material converted to HTML optionally with images (including multi-block images).

Educational Guidelines

Design Guidelines

Educational guidelines for Level A also apply.
Documents should have a clear path to assessment. Documents should contain a clear statement of objectives.
A notional allocation of student effort time should be indicated for each task.

Design guidelines for Level A also apply.
Standard templates should be provided to accelerate development and standardise appearance.
Documents must be designed to suit a wide range of platforms. - This is particularly important in terms of graphic resolution.
Documents should be written as if there were no links. - The mechanics of the WWW should not be mentioned, and documents should be able to work well when printed.
Documents should ordinarily be from 1 to 3 screens long. Documents which need to attract attention should be 1 screen length. Longer, scrolling documents are appropriate for text which will be read at length and/or printed. Information to be printed or saved locally may be in one large complete document.
Available technology should be used to minimise access time. For example; - interlaced GIFs for image files to load in successive passes. - using HEIGHT and WIDTH tags for image space reservation - specifying both low and high resolution JPEG files for successive passes.
Choose GIF rather than JPEG in-line images for widest browser support.
Minimise colour depth to 8-bit (256) if possible.
The ALT tag should be used to supply optional text for images to be displayed while images are loading. This will also assist those using software tools for the visually impaired.
Transparent backgrounds for images should be used wherever appropriate.
Image files for horizontal dividers should not be used.
Backgrounds should be standard, readable and appropriate throughout. White backgrounds are used by many experienced developers.
Headings and sub-headings should be used when appropriate.
Each document should have a title header. The HTML title should reflect the textual title header.
Blinking text should not ordinarily be used.
"Under Construction" should never be used. Documents are easily updated and should be useful at each stage of their development.
In multiple document units, the document hierarchy should be well-balanced, neither too "deep" or two "wide". Where possible, every significant document should be accessible within 5 "clicks" of the main environment page.
There should be a hierarchical view from both author and institutional perspectives.
Each document should contain;
institutional identifierdate of last revision (beginning with creation)statement of copyrightauthor or contact person linked to a seperate page which contains;

  • contact information (e-mail, telephone, fax)
  • professional biographical information
  • links to other works
  • photograph

Type should be in both upper and lower case. The overuse of exclusively upper case type can be offensive.
Differentiated levels of headings and sub-headings should be kept to the minimum required, should be consistent with "house style" and conform to good typographic practice.
The "frames" HTML extension should be avoided.

Level C

Documents as at Level B with depth via hypertextual links.

Educational Guidelines

Design Guidelines

Educational guidelines for Level B also apply.
Students are motivated by a high degree of control. Some of this control in inherent in on-line systems (control over time, place and speed of study). Additional control should be given through;
control over order of activity and tasks (non-linear)option to skip materialsoption to review materialsoption to repeat to gain mastery
The information gained by browsing some links should be required in learner tasks.

Design guidelines for Level B also apply
Links should be made of intrinsically meaningful words or phrases and be supported by the surrounding context.
Links should be the same colour.
The use of large images should be limited. Thumbnail sized images may be linked to larger versions to allow users to choose whether or not to load the larger versions.
Navigational buttons or links like "home", "previous", "return", "back" or "forward" should not be used. - in the WWW, sequence cannot be predetermined. Documents may be entered from anywhere, and these type of links may confuse users when they do not function as expected.
A descriptive text link is preferable.
In long documents, a brief table of contents with links may be appropriate.
All links should be verified.

Level D

Documents as at Levels B or C with digitised audio and/or video.

Educational Guidelines

Design Guidelines

Educational guidelines for Level C also apply.

Design guidelines for Level C also apply.
Target users should have the proper computer hardware to allow reception of audio and video.
Target users should have the appropriate helper and plug-in software required. If not, it should be easily acquired.
In most cases, the most commonly used file formats should be used for audio and video files.
The target user's network connection should be of appropriate bandwidth. For example, if the user is accessing materials from home using a modem, high-quality video materials may simply transfer too slowly to be of reasonable use.
The source server and network should be powerful enough and have sufficient resources to host the materials.

Level E

Levels as at Levels B,C or D with forms-based and CGI, Java or other scripted/programming activity.

Educational Guidelines

Design Guidelines

Educational guidelines for Level D also apply.
A high degree of user interaction and control is desirable.

Design guidelines for Level D also apply.

Level F

3D documents with VRML, Quicktime VR and other 3D representations.

Educational Guidelines

Design Guidelines

Educational guidelines for Level E also apply.

Design guidelines for Level E also apply.

 

Requirements Specification for On-line Environment

The environment should;

  1. be easily accessed through common Internet browser software available for hetrogeneous hardware platforms.
  2. be open rather than proprietary.
  3. be modular, easily modified and/or extended.
  4. provide structured access to course modules and materials.
  5. provide user, group and domain authentication and security.
  6. provide an e-mail function for all users. E-mail should be integrated with users normal e-mail allowing users to access e-mail without having to enter a propriatary system. There should also be mail list functions.
  7. provide an asynchronous conferencing function.
  8. provide a bulletin board function.
  9. provide a synchronous conferencing function similar to IRC, MUDs or MOOs.
  10. provide links to other UU on-line services like the library catalogue system, inter-library loans, Student Services, etc..
  11. provide a consistent user interface.
  12. provide an objective testing function.
  13. provide search functions for both local course materials, and the global Internet.
  14. provide user access logs.