Saturday, July 23, 2011

e-Learning Course on Green ICT Strategies: Part 17 - Format

After looking at sustainability skills updates (Part 16), I started some updates of the Green Technology Strategies course using the Moodle Book module. However, this has only limited support for features such as Harvard style references. So I stopped to consider what other publishing software could be used. The course notes are used by the students on-line in Moodle, so Moodle is most convenient for the students to use (and for me to make quick corrections to the material). But Moodle also supports IMS Content packages, which can be created by other software.


The obvious choice for creating an ISM Content Package is AContent. This is a free open source product, like Moodle and creates IMS content packages. However, there does not appear to be any concept of a referecne (Harvard or otherwise) in the IMS format, not support for these in AContent. Also there is no support for e-book formats, such as EPub in AContent.


Another open source e-book creation tool is Sigil . This is an editor for EPub format ebooks. I would be able to create the content with Sigil's XHTML editor and then copy the content to Moodle's Book module. However, I was surprised to find that Sigil (and the EPub format) does not support references either.


Calibre is a free ebook management tool. While it can't create content on its own, it should prove useful for converting between formats.

Back to Moodle Book

After installing and trying Sigil and Calibre, I decided to continue with the Moodle Book module to author the content. If I was doing this with others, then AContent would be worth using, but Moodle will do for just me. I will then convert the HTML which Moodle produces to the XHTML EPUB format using Sigil and perhaps tidy up the metadata with Calibre.

Avoiding Complex Citations

I had assumed that the e-publishing formats and tools, particularly those for e-learning, would have referencing built in. That is I would be able to enter the details of a paper , or book and have a reference to it inserted into the boy of the text and the details entered in a bibliography, with the links between the two automatically maintained by the software. But the state of the art seems to be to manually enter the information and hypertext links.

After considering how students will use the e-book I decided to minimize the use of references. Previously I had the text peppered with hypertext links, on the assumption this would be useful for the students to be able to look up a term, or work. However, this created a problem for the students, who then did not know which links were worth clicking on and what they would otherwise miss. As a result I decided previously not to include links to the glossary. Taking this policy further, links to the bibliography do not appear to be worthwhile.

With a paper book, the reader can turn to a reference in the back of the book, to see what work is being referred to. However, almost all the references in my coruse notes are to on-line documents. It therefore makes little sense to have the reader click on a citation link, be taken to the back of the book, only to then have to click on another link to be taken to the actual work. It would be simpler to place a link directly to the work in the body of the text. The list of references can be retained at the back of the book, but mainly only as a resource for those reading an off-line copy.

Not including links to references coincidently makes the material easier to format, removing the need for so many links.

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