Lisa de Larios-Heiman, Carolyn Cracraft, and Sarai Mitnick will be working on the Syllabus App, which is also the masters project of Carolyn and Lisa. Carolyn comes from a web development background and has extensive experience with HTML and forms, which will be crucial aspects of our interface. Lisa is also taking Nancy Van House's needs and usability class and will be incorporating that work into the project as well. Sarai has graphic design and web design experience, so she is the most aesthetically oriented member of the team. Carolyn and Lisa are more focused on backend technologies and intend to build a functional deployment of the interface in JSP.
The original motivation for developing the Syllabus App was Lisa's struggle with the inconsistency and poor usability of some of her professors' syllabi last spring. The application is intended to provide a common format for the storage of syllabus data, in order for students to enjoy a clear and consistent presentation of classes and assignments as well as combined views of multiple courses at once.
In order for the application to succeed and be widely adopted at SIMS, we need as many professors as possible contributing syllabi each semester. We have implemented our syllabus model as XML, but hand-coding an XML instance is at best tedious and at worst actually too difficult to expect our professors to deal with. Our project for 213 will be to design an interface for inputting syllabus data that will be useful and intuitive enough that professors will actually want to maintain syllabus data through our system. We are essentially competing against whatever method professors currently use, commonly Microsoft Word documents and HTML pages. In addition to professors, we need to consider that TAs will be helping maintain syllabi, and multiple people might be working on the same set of data. Also, the syllabus model is comprehensive and fairly complex, so we need to wrangle a lot information into a clear and concise interface.
Our target users, as mentioned, are professors and TAs. Within the professors, we further consider a difference between visiting instructors who are teaching a class during just one semester and permanent instructors who teach the same class year after year. For TAs and visiting instructors, we believe the primary goal is simply to publish information about the class schedule and assignments with as little effort and overhead as possible. For professors of recurring classes, there is also the issue of maintaining a basically consistent syllabus from year-to-year but being able to easily update and refine it. Furthermore, in talks with Pam Samuelson, we found that one of her goals in syllabus creation is to publish bibliographies that will be references for others in her field.
Happily, the SIMS-centric nature of the application will make it easy to recruit potential users. Many of our friends are TAs and are already helping us by maintaining an XML version of their class syllabi. As for professors, we have received good feedback and interest from many of them, so we believe that they will be interested in helping us out with development.The application will necessarily involve lots of forms for entering information. We need to have an easy way for professors to navigate their way through the different modules in which they will enter general information, texts, readings, class descriptions, etc. Our current belief is that the best way to do this will be to show the professors the same page we use to display syllabus information to students, but in an edit mode where information can be added. So if a professors wanted to add a reading to a particular class, for instance, they could just click a link next to that class day, get a little form to enter the data, and then, on submit, be taken back to the syllabus display so they can immediately see how their change is being incorporated.