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E- Framework Services for Course Evaluation project

Charles Hargood, Kimberley Cooper, & Lester Gilbert
Last modified 05 Dec, 2007
Published 19 Nov, 2007
Lester Gilbert describes the EFSCE project which developed a toolkit for course evaluation, and discusses the ease with which previously developed web services can be reused for new purposes.

The aim of the E-Framework Services for Course Evaluation (EFSCE) project was to provide an e-Framework toolkit and demonstrator for course evaluation [1]. While such a deliverable was clearly in focus, the project had a second, and possibly more important aim - to explore the e-Framework for Education and Research and its applicability to the development of SOA e-Learning applications [2].

The methodology for developing the toolkit was to follow an agile software development process that was derived from the JISC FREMA [3] and R2Q2 projects [4], exploiting some existing e-Framework services from the R2Q2 project [5]. The methodology for exploring the e-Framework was to set a particularly ambitious and aggressive project schedule and budget, and see how the project would achieve its objectives by using the principles of SOA in the e-Framework for Education and Research.

The toolkit was achieved by developing portlets (portal applications, written in Java) within an open source portal framework (Liferay), accessible through a web browser. The portlets attach to reusable services. The system architecture is shown as Figure 1.

EFSCE system architecture

Figure 1: EFSCE system architecture

The exploration of the applicability of the e-Framework involved re-using services developed in the JISC R2Q2 project for rendering and accepting responses to multiple-choice and free-form questions, and ‘re-using’ the architectural design of portal, portlets, and services from the JISC CORE (Collaborative Orthopaedic Research Environment) project [6].

Details for downloading and deploying the EFSCE system can be found on the project Web site [1]. The toolkit is fully functional (users can author course evaluation items and questionnaires, publish them, respond to them, and see their results). A difference from the original plan, however, is that the results service is simple and basic, and not nearly as sophisticated as originally envisaged. This was the major consequence of the fact that the re-use of services was not as simple and easy as had at first been assumed.

Using the e-Framework and SOA approach during development revealed that the SOA approach may be better suited to larger projects rather than the smaller kind of project such as EFSCE. In particular, it took more time to adapt and accommodate the R2Q2 services than originally expected. And, it took more time and effort than originally anticipated to integrate the services within a portal framework. The idea of simply and easily re-using existing services in new application development must be treated with considerable caution.

On the other hand, re-using the architectural design (portal, portlet, and services) from the CORE project undoubtedly allowed a somewhat accelerated schedule, a shortening of the ‘learning curve’, and better project management, than might have been the case with a ‘conventional’ software development approach [6].

As in any software development, attention must be given to the granularity of the modules or services involved, and attention must be given to the potential for re-use of existing modules or services. While the SOA approach promises, on paper, that re-use is made easier and applications development is accelerated, the EFSCE project did not yield such clear outcomes in practice. Some of the EFSCE team felt that a better toolkit would have resulted if its services had been developed without the requirement to re-use R2Q2 services.

References

[1] The EFSCE project.

[2] E-Framework for Education and Research

[3]The ELearning Framework Reference Model for Assessment project

[4] The Rendering and Response Processing Services for QTI 2 questions project

[5] Wills, G. B., Abbas, N., Chandrasekharan, R., Crowder, R. M., Gilbert, L., Howard, Y., Millard, D. E., Wong, S. C. and Walters, R. J.(2007) An Agile Hypertext Design Methodology. In: 18th ACM Conference on Hypertext and Hypermedia, 10th - 12th September 2007, Manchester, UK.

[6] Collaborative Orthopaedic Research Environment project

 

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