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The Xerte Project
   
   

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Welcome to the Xerte Project!

Welcome to The Xerte Project! The Xerte Project is an initiative to provide high quality free software to educators all over the world, and to build a global community of users and developers around our tools.

The project began in 2004 at the University of Nottingham, when work began to create a Flash-based runtime engine that would help the in-house multimedia development team speed up the development of interactive learning materials, and provide a platform for re-using good solutions to common problems that developers were typically solving every time they began a new project. Accessibility, in particular, can be a difficult issue for content developers, and an early goal was to provide the very best support for high levels of native accessibility.

To begin with, the tools were aimed at technical users: essentially the engine provided a library of useful classes that developers could access by writing XML to structure content, and writing code to develop interactivity. Early projects were created by hand using tools like notepad. Soon an editor was developed to make this much easier, and the tools were released under a free license in 2006: the Xerte community was born.

We began to discover that many of our users, attracted by the software's features, were struggling with some of the more technical aspects of developing content. Many did not write code and consequently found development difficult. Nevertheless, a community of users and developers began to put the tools to real use in institutions and organisations around the world. These efforts provided invaluable real world use cases which have alway informed ongoing developments, and to this day the project has a very strong base in addressing real world problems.

It was clear that there was a huge number of potential users who found the technical nature of development too difficult. To address this, an additional layer of templates were developed that allowed non-technical users to assemble content using simple forms, and the user community began to grow very quickly. Tools were developed that made it very easy for developers to create additional templates and soon a suite of some 30 templates provided a fairly comprehensive set of tools for authoring rich, interactive and highly accessible content.

As web technologies and standards continued to advance, we began to explore the potential to move the tools into the browser, something that would have been incredibly difficult just a few years previously. Moving the tools into the browser, so users could access them without having to install any software on their computers would have tremendous benefits and enable new features such as collaborative authoring, allowing users with different skillsets to work together on projects in a very effective workflow. The browser based tools would become known as Xerte Online Toolkits, and were first released under an open-source license in 2009.

Core Values

The Xerte Project places three values above all else: ease of use for non-technical content authors, providing best of breed accessibility, and nurturing a positive and friendly community of users and developers.

The software has always been aimed at users who need a rapid authoring tool that can easily be used to create media-rich, interactive and highly accessible content without needing to know any of the underlying technology. At the same time, it is important that the tools can be used by more technical users and that the template-based authoring system doesn't prevent more technical developers from doing what they want to do, whether that is to customise the content with different styles, or to develop new tools and templates to support new types of content. Xerte Online Toolkits is a powerful platform for innovation. The project recognises that users are our success, and has built a friendly and welcoming community.

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Development of the software has always been informed by real world use cases. The developers have always engaged closely with the user community to identify new solutions to real world problems, and this has led to a highly credible suite of tools that address a broad range of real world content development scenarios.

Accessibility remains a difficult issue for content developers, and is often poorly understood as simply providing content that works with screen readers, or that meets the requirements of a checklist. In fact, accessibility is much more complicated than that - it is possible to create content that meets all the checklist requirements that is in fact completely inaccessible to some users.

Accessibility, as it turns out, requires a more holistic approach. The Xerte Project has set out from the beginning to provide the very best support for native accessibility, and to create a culture amongst the user community of high levels of accessible design. Not all solutions for high levels of accessibility can be technical: some need to be considered at design-time by the content author, for example, but where technical solutions are possible, Xerte Online Toolkits aims to provide the very best support. We have worked very closely with Jisc TechDIS throughout the project's development.

The Apereo Foundation

More recently, the developer team have explored the question of sustainability, and after carefully weighing up all the options, the software was put forward and accepted for incubation by the Apereo Foundation in September 2014.

As the software has developed, and the community of developers has grown, the share of the work being done by the University of Nottingham has fallen and significant pieces of work from other individuals and organisations have been contributed to the project's codebase. The transition of the software to the Apereo Foundation reflects the ongoing growth of the community and the maturity of both the software and the user and adeveloper communities, and removes a number of barriers to adoption for potential users. It removes a single point of failure for the project by placing ownership firmly with the developer community, and brings a more robust framework of governance and decision making to the developers.

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Downloads

All software downloads and support forums can be found at http://www.xerte.org.uk

Learning Technology

B158 King's Meadow Campus

Lenton Lane
Nottingham, NG7 2NR

email: learning-technologies@nottingham.ac.uk