Rave in Context Project Plan

Aims and Objectives

The Rave in Context project will build a new user interface for the popular eScience tool myExperiment. Our new interface will focus on usability, accessibility and adaptability to user experience and device form factor. Furthermore, we will build a uniform search feature across myExperiment, Simal and OpenDOAR repositories in order to make it easier for researchers to learn how to use these research tools together. All user interface components will be delivered as reusable W3C Widgets, allowing features of myExperiment to be embedded in other widget enabled tools such as Drupal, WordPress, Elgg and Moodle. We expect the ability to embed discrete units of myExperiment functionality in common dissemination tools will help myExperiment expand its user community. Finally, by providing open source widget templates for progressively enhanced user interfaces we intend to make it easier for future projects to build similar user interfaces.
The overall objectives of the project are to:

  1. Build new progressively enhanced , usable, accessible, learnable and adaptable user interfaces for myExperiment, an e-Science tool for building communities to find, use and share scientific workflows and other research objects.
  2. Demonstrate how, by adopting a W3C Widget-based user interface, features of myExperiment can be embedded within other tools, and features of other tools can be embedded within this new interface to present a consistent user experience (UX).

The areas of functionality within myExperiment for which we are building and evaluating widgets are:

  • Account creation
  • Finding workflows
  • Sharing workflows
  • Creating and finding packs
  • Finding people and making friends
  • Creating, joining and monitoring groups

To demonstrate progressive enhancement, we are developing the widgets to run on two broad, overlapping classes of platform: smartphones and tablets.

Success criteria

The success criteria defined in the project proposal are:

a) Acceptance by users during the user evaluation activities conducted within the remit of the JISC-funded Rave in Context project. This is considered an initial approval of the user interface approach implemented in the widgets;

b) Uptake of the widgets by users of myExperiment, Simal and openDOAR. Since each widget will be operational independently of all other widgets, the developers hope to see users embedding appropriate widgets in their chosen dissemination tools, such as blogs;

c) Acceptance of the templates and recommendations into subsequent open-source projects. This will indicate approval from a broad community seeking to reuse the work of the Rave in Context project.

Criteria b) and c) are primarily technology-driven; however, for the widgets to be taken up by projects they need to be demonstrably usable by their target audience – researchers who share their workflows and maintain a professional social network within a virtual research environment (VRE) – as well as usable (in terms of quality and readability of code) by the OS development community. The usability evaluation that will be conducted with by the project’s usability specialist, therefore, is almost wholly focused on criterion a).

It is important to emphasise that we are not developing mobile versions of myExperiment itself: this has been done to some extent by the development team (e.g. an Android app and a Silverlight mashup). Rather, we are using certain functions within myExperiment as the basis for developing templates for widgets in specific areas of functionality that can then be customised and applied to other, similar, applications.

Equally, we are not seeking to redesign the desktop browser version of myExperiment; instead, we have used it as the baseline for deciding on the cut-down features and functionality that will be supported on the mobile devices through the technique of progressive enhancement.

Even though the developers of myExperiment report that they have designed the UX in close conjunction with users, and have subjected it to usability evaluations, a brief review of the application from the perspective of good usability practice leaves much to be desired, and it is questionable whether less IT-minded researchers outside the core community of scientists would find it particularly learnable or usable. Therefore, although consistency of look and feel across platforms is a desideratum of usability, in developing and evaluating the widgets consistency with the current interface is secondary to overall usability.

However, we have to be mindful of the desktop browser version as a ‘concept’: e.g. it is good usability practice to refer the user to the full desktop version if they wish to avail themselves of functionality that is not available in the mobile web version, even though, for reasons just explained, we will not actually do so.

For more details please see the project’s Google Code site.

Project Team

Liz Masterman has an MSc in Human-Centred Computer Systems from the University of Sussex and a PhD in Educational Technology from the University of Birmingham. She is currently a senior researcher in the Learning Technologies Group. Liz has 14 years’ experience in conducting usability and pedagogic evaluations of software for learning and teaching, and since 2004 has participated in a number of JISC projects in the Design for Learning and Learner Experiences of E-learning programmes. Liz will lead the usability work, conducting the initial review of literature and current practice, running the evaluation workshops and assisting with the design of usable and learnable user interfaces.

Steve Lee has both a passion for and experience of, combining open development and accessibility in order to bring the benefits of innovation and user engagement to those with specific accessibility needs. He is actively involved in several key accessibility communities, including Mozilla, GNOME, OATSoft and Project:Possibility, and has developed wide experience with many contacts in the field. He will address the accessibility aspects of our designs, evaluating each design and assisting in the continual improvement process. Steve will also liaise with TECHDIS and the REALISE project community.

Ross Gardler is senior consultant at OpenDirective. Ross was previously manager of OSS Watch and is Vice President of Community Development at The Apache Software Foundation. He is a committer on many open source projects, including Simal, Apache Wookie and Rave projects used here, and is listed in the top 0.5% of the world’s open source contributors at Ohloh (www.ohloh.net). Ross, will be responsible for the design and implementation of all the widgets and templates and will liaise with the upstream projects to ensure our code is maintained in the long term.

Rowan Wilson has been involved in web development using a variety of CGI languages since 1996. He was the co-creator of the earliest fully automatic domain-name ordering, DNS setup and virtual-server allocation software deployed by a UK ISP (FDD), using a combination of Apache-SSL, Sendmail, Perl and Bind. Since then he has developed web-based internal product management systems for the ISP Netscalibur, again using open source software (Postgres, Perl, Apache). He now works within the Research Technologies Service of Oxford University Computing Services.

Timeline and Work Packages

For details of the timeline and associated work packages please see the project’s Google Code site.

Risk Analysis

Risk P S P x S Action to prevent/manage risk
Lack of stakeholder engagement 2 5 10 Careful design of workshops with invited participants to cover a range of people and needs.
Widget template code refused by upstream projects 2 5 10 Ross Gardler is a committer on each of the upstream projects and will champion all code contributions. If donations are rejected, a new project will be created at http://www.apache-extras.org where we will document the reasons for rejection and encourage contributions to resolve these issues.
Widget implementations not accepted by host projects 3 2 6 The Outercurve Foundation Research Accelerator would make an ideal alternative home. Should they also reject our code, we will create a project on http://www.apache-extras.org and release the code under the open source Apache Licence v2.
Technical problems with projects not under our control 2 3 6 Project members are committers on most of the projects involved in this project and are therefore familiar with the limitations of each platform. In the event of unexpected difficulties we will reduce the scope of our final code deliveries and focus on the usability and accessibility aspects of the project, delivering robust templates and recommendations.

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