Background / Context

Tracking the actions of learners through e-learning tools is important in many situations. If a system is not recording the actions of the users then it is not possible to tell what activities are being undertaken or which resources are being using.

Providing services to learners through a set of distinct applications and tools is already happening. It is now the case that as well as using a VLE, tools such as external discussion forums, assessment engines, blogs and wikis can become part of a loose collection of tools used to deliver a course. Although this allows institutions to pick the applications that best suits their needs, often these applications either each maintain their own store of information about the progress of users through the system, or do not store this information at all. This makes tracking the overall progress of students at any point in time difficult as the information is distributed though separate systems. What is needed is a toolkit that allows the easy addition of tracking to existing tools which can then be collated and reported upon via a central service.

The technology developed here will be usable by other systems that intend to integrate service-based tools in a similar fashion to that described above.

Aims and Objectives

We will provide a toolkit which addresses the Tracking and Reporting ELF services and contains the following components:

  1. an event tracking service (database) [Java library and documentation]
  2. an event reporting service [Java library and documentation]
  3. a tracking interface for implementation with a tool that uses the tracking service for data storage [Java API and WSDL]
  4. a search interface for implementation with a tool that holds tracking information [Java API and WSDL]
  5. documentation detailing design and architecture with guides explaining how to deploy the software and how to attach non-intrusive tracking to existing services using Aspect Oriented Programming (AOP).

We will demonstrate use of the above toolkit elements using two existing applications, an open source discussion forum (which provides no tracking information) and the Bodington VLE which has its own internal tracking store. All additions will be contributed back to the community.This schemactic diagram may help to understand the architecture. 

Implications/ Deliverables/ Stakeholders

At a recent JISC / CETIS conference in Edinburgh (15/16 Nov 2005), a number of strands identified tracking as a service that was required. There are currently no toolkits listed against either the Tracking or Reporting ELF ‘boxes’; by providing a ‘full solution’ (with extensive documentation) and a guide about how to use AOP to attach non-intrusive tracking to existing e-learning applications, we feel that the project has the potential to appeal to a very wide audience.

We are gathering requirements by speaking to teachers, VLE administrators and e-frameworks developers so expect the resultant system to widely applicable. To maximise uptake, we aim to keep the toolkit as simple as possible without compromising reliability, performance and security whilst concentrating fully on user needs.

The project will produce open source software and employ communication mechanisms that maximise the opportunities for other e-learning groups to work with the TReCX project team as users, testers or developers. The main dissemination routes will be via the following: the TReCX presence at sourceforge (software artefacts), JISC/CETIS events and networks and through appropriately targeted mail-lists. OSSWatch will also be kept informed of progress.