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LIS Content Managers Squash Errors Using Site Check

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Now that the LIS website content managers have been established, the LIS web team has provided them with a tool to help identify and deal with errors in the content of web pages. The site check tool from Site Improve will generate a report every 5 days for designated pages that it has crawled and let you know what errors it has found.

Currently a member of the web team is compiling these reports and sending a monthly report to content managers who are in turn dealing with the errors. Spelling suggestions are reviewed on the site check page before they appear on the report. A single report is sufficient for all of LIS since the number of issues is not so many that CMs cannot find the ones that pertain to their area.

The effort has been a great success with the 28 pages with broken links reduced now to only 6 in the last report. Spelling errors were also reduced from over 20 to only 2. We are very excited to have this process in place going forward.

State of the Site

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Overview

What follows is a report on the state of notable web applications and sites in use at Middlebury including the College website, the Middlebury instance of WordPress (i.e. sites.middlebury.edu) and a variety of key web applications that provide services widely used by faculty, students and staff.

Box Office

  • Addition of separate billing and shipping addresses when ordering tickets or gift items from the box office, especially useful for parents purchasing items for students.
  • Improved the user interface to make purchasing as a returning customer and identifying seat locations in the seating chart simpler.

CAS – Single Sign On

The Central Authentication System (CAS) was introduced last year and allows you to move between many of our web applications after you’ve signed in once. GO and the main college website were already using CAS this time last year but since then it’s been added to many other applications, including:

  • Course Catalog
  • MediaWiki
  • MiddMedia
  • WordPress

Course Catalog

Over the past two years we developed the Course Catalog application at catalog.middlebury.edu to serve as a clearing house for accessing course information on the web due to the limitations on searching for this information via BannerWeb. The Course Catalog application allows users to search for courses based on a wide variety of criteria (including keyword searching) and properly displays and links-together cross-listed courses. The Course Catalog application also feeds course information to the department pages and faculty profiles in the main Drupal site.

New for this year, the Course Catalog has been extended to add a Schedule Planning tool that allows students to bookmark courses they are interested in, then group them together into weekly schedules to ensure that they do not have timing conflicts and that lab and discussion sections are chosen. These schedules can be printed or emailed to one’s advisor.

  • Added the Schedule Planning tool.
  • Users can now bookmark courses that they find interesting.
  • Updated the theme to match the new website. Added a custom theme for the MIIS catalog.
  • The printed Catalog is now created via an export from the Course Catalog application rather than being copy-pasted from the site by hand.
  • PDF snapshots of the Catalog are now automatically generated as course descriptions and requirements get edited over the year.
  • Lots of small improvements to the display of course data in search results and while browsing.
  • Can now search for courses by campus — needed for Language Schools that have more than one site.
  • Greatly improved the speed of the application.
  • Improved the feed of courses to faculty profiles to ensure that cross-listed courses are ordered properly.
  • New admin forms that allow the Registrar to suppress incomplete information about upcoming terms during data-entry.

Drupal

GO

The GO shortcut/permalink application has become quite central to the web infrastructure of the college since its launch several years ago. It eased the launch of the new site by allowing links in content to be easily updated en-mass. In the past year GO has become central to our search strategy as GO shortcuts are now provided as suggestions and automatic-redirects when you enter search terms on the main site.

  • Totally new editing interface.
  • Verbose, color coded, messages to indicate successful or unsuccessful completion of actions.
  • Additional input validation to preserve shortcut integrity and prevent abuse.
  • Ability for community to flag GO links as inappropriate.
  • New “Info” pages for every shortcut allow everyone to see detailed information about the shortcut such as who maintains it, what its aliases are, and where it goes.
  • All GO shortcuts are now shown publicly in the GOtionary (with the exception of a few internal shortcuts) to improve the transparency of the system.
  • Enhanced admin interface for flag admins and the new super admin role.
  • Can now switch between the Middlebury and  MIIS GOtionaries.

MiddMedia

  • New “Midd” theme integrates more closely with the current Middlebury theme.
  • Add to MiddTube button allows users to check off the videos they would like to batch add to MiddTube as video posts.
  • We’ve upgraded to Flash Media Server 4, with a lot of new features that we’ll be rolling out and supporting in the coming months.

New Sites

We’ve been able to expand the Drupal and WordPress platforms to add a CMS experience for sites that were previously static HTML files and create new sites to show off and assist student research and projects.

SubjectsPlus

In December, we upgraded from version 0.7 to 0.9.  Changes include:

  • Enhanced security.
  • In addtion to Research by Subject, two new guide types are available: Research by Course and Research by Topic.
  • Widget-based, drag-and-drop control panel for content creators.
  • Multiple subject specialists (guide owners) now possible.
  • Description field override.  This allows for a resource description to be customized for one or more guides, while still allowing the resource record to be shared among all the guides.  This cuts down on duplication of records and/or breaking others shared work.
  • Cloning feature

What do we use this for, you ask?

  • Databases A-Z list
  • Research guides (access via sidebar at go/lib and go/subjectguides among other places.)
  • globally adding EZproxy prefix for off-campus access.

WordPress

WordPress usage has been growing over the last few years at Middlebury and beyond.  In late August, we updated WordPress to v3, a major new release to this platform that introduced features such as custom menus and top navigation that extended its usefulness beyond blogging.

Plugins and New Functionality

Themes and User Experience

We created a number of blog themes for WordPress based on design prototypes developed by White Whale (designers of the main college site).  These blog themes were updated to take advantage of new functionality and to generally provide a flexible, easy to use templating framework that could generate extensible thematic variations and would work on multiple platforms, including mobile and touch enabled.  New features developed in the last 6 months include:

  • Introduction of a standardized header on all blogs that provides quick links to create a new blog, search blogs and a given site’s dashboard
  • New standardized widget areas including 3 sidebars and 4 footer areas
  • Introduction of support for custom menus and top navigation bar for mapping a site’s information architecture (IA)
  • Refinements to navigation UI to highlight current location in IA and provide more navigation links in context to improve usability on sites with many pages (such as sites for courses, projects or documentation)

Usage Analysis

Perspective, an aggregation and usage analysis tool was developed to keep track of how WordPress was being used, what plugins and themes were most popular, which blogs were most active in a given time period and so on.  We also built into Perspective tools for communicating with users so that we could more easily identify all users of a given set of features to allow us to inform them of updates or issues.  These same tools when combined with activity filters have allowed us to identified inactive sites, contact their owners and archive or delete these sites as appropriate, providing the foundation for a contention retention policy.

Website Improvements #8: JavaScript and the Editor

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Summary for those who aren’t interested in the details:

  • The site should load faster
  • Menu reordering is easier
  • You can now copy and paste directly from Microsoft Word

JavaScript is a programming language used by your web browser that allows it to manipulate the web page after the server is done creating it. For example, we can use JavaScript to tell the web browser to open a box with a story in it on our site’s home page when you click on one of the bars. This gives web developers and designers a lot of flexibility when creating the site.

However, the historical problem with JavaScript is that different browsers implement the language in different ways. Microsoft Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Apple’s Safari each have slightly different versions. To solve this problem, we use a JavaScript library, called jQuery, that provides a unified interface to all these different versions of the language. Of course, it’s not that simple. Drupal uses one version of jQuery, but the version it uses can’t do cool things like our homepage waveform. So for the last ten months our site has been running two versions of jQuery simultaneously.

If that sounds like a lot of added, unnecessary overhead, it is. We’ve now updated the site to work with just the newest version of jQuery running. What this means is that there are no longer odd conflicts between the two versions. Anyone who has tried to reorder a menu on their site knows that these conflicts can sometimes be painful. Now when you reorder the menu the item slides as expected, rather than jumping all over the place. Additionally, you don’t need to download both versions (which your browser does in the background when you visit the site), so our pages will load faster for new visitors.

This change also allowed us to update the WYSIWYG editor that you use when composing updates on the site from TinyMCE version 3.2.1.1 to 3.3.9.2 (here’s a complete list of the changes). The big change is that the editor now does a significantly better job of formatting and will automatically clean up formatted text that you paste in – such as text you’ve composed in Microsoft Word or in an email – without you needing to use the Paste from Word or Paste as Plain Text buttons. We left the buttons in just in case.

We think we’ve worked out most of the issues with these changes at this time, but be sure to let us know if something else isn’t working.

Website Improvements #7: HTML5 Video

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Videos on our website, like the new chapter in the Aunt Des story that was put up yesterday, are now available on more devices. We’re using the new <video> and <audio> tags that are part of HTML5, to enable site visitors to watch videos from MiddMedia (our local, streaming media server gives all Middlebury users space to host videos of any quality and length) and YouTube without needing to have the Adobe Flash plugin installed.

This feature has been rolled out for MiddMedia videos on Drupal and WordPress and YouTube videos on Drupal.

Don’t worry if you’re not using one of these browsers or devices. You’ll see the same Flash video player that was there yesterday.

You will now see your browser’s built-in HTML5 video player for MiddMedia videos if you are using one of these browsers or devices:

  • Safari
  • an iPad or iPhone

The HTML5 audio player for MiddMedia videos appears if you are using one of these browsers or devices:

  • Safari
  • Chrome
  • an iPad or iPhone

To see a list of the supported browsers for video in YouTube, visit their HTML5 Video Player site. You can sign up there to opt-in to their HTML5 video player trial, if you like. Note: the site lists several browsers currently in their “beta” development phase. We recommend that you do not install these browsers as features of our site may not yet work in them.

Some restrictions may apply

The technology to support these features is very new and constantly changing. We’ll keep rolling out support to new browsers and devices as it becomes available and the experience is at least as good as what you get from the Flash player. For instance, Chrome currently supports HTML5 video, but we decided not to enable it for that browser because the fullscreen button doesn’t work. Firefox also supports HTML5 video, but in a different video format that we don’t currently produce for videos uploaded to MiddMedia (WebM or OGG).

Lastly, you might notice that some of the MiddMedia videos on our site cannot be played on devices like your iPad or iPhone. The method used to encode these videos didn’t produce a video in a format that these devices recognize. However, the majority of MiddMedia videos do work and we wanted to give you the opportunity to watch some of them, rather than none of them.

Marcy moving to Enterprise Applications

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Danna Gianforte and I (Area Directors for Enterprise Applications and Central Systems & Network Services, respectively) recently agreed to a staffing change.  Marcy Smith is now a member of the Enterprise Applications area.  We believe that having the soon-to-be-hired Database Administrator (DBA) and the Enterprise Systems Administrator (aka Marcy) reporting to the same Area Director will:

  • streamline communications
  • remove roadblocks in the workflow
  • improve service to the functional areas

Central Systems & Network Services will continue to work closely with Marcy, as we do with all of Enterprise Applications staff.  Marcy will be moving to the Davis Family Library at some point, but the details of that move have not been finalized.

I enjoyed having Marcy in my area and certainly learned a lot about Banner and just how complicated it all is from her!  All of us in CS & NS look forward to continuing to work with Marcy.  In fact, the looming upgrade to Oracle 11G will give us plenty of opportunity.  But that’s a subject for another post…

Segue from Segue Updates

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

The Curricular Technology Team is pleased to announce that its primary recommendations for how to segue from Segue has been approved by the Library and Information Services (LIS) Area Directors Team. In essence, the team recommended the development of a “course hub” architecture that would enable faculty to create collections of resources for a given course using a variety of platforms that would be aggregated in a single location referred to as a “hub.” For more information, see:
Segue from Segue > Course Hub

The team is now researching which platforms to include within the course hub. WordPress and MediaWiki are obvious choices since many faculty are already using these for course sites. The team also recognizes that some sort of learning management system (LMS) should also be an integral part of hub sites and is reviewing a number of LMS to present to the community as possible  candidates.

Website Improvements #6: Webform

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

For the sixth in this weekly series of posts we started in March, I’m going to talk about our recent upgrade of the Webform module and the addition of some new modules to help you manage your forms. Here are the new things you can do with Webforms:

The interface to interact with the Webform has also been simplified by moving most form settings into their own tabs in the Edit Console, especially the addition of the E-mails tab that gives you a quick look at who receives E-mails when the form is submitted. The interface for adding options to select list components is also easier to use with an interface to quickly add and remove options. Lastly, if you have a sidebar on the page, it is now hidden when you’re trying to edit the form components so that you can view the full form.