Xerte Online Toolkits
Xerte Online Toolkits is an award winning suite of browser-based tools that allow anyone with a web browser to create interactive learning materials quickly and easily. Content can be delivered to all devices using standards compliant HTML5 and a responsive template can deliver material to both small screens and large desktop computers.
Xerte Online Toolkits provides a suite of tools for creating rich, accessible interactive content. For many educators, effectively exploiting technology in their teaching requires overcoming a number of technical barriers. Xerte Online Toolkits provides simple online tools that anyone can use to create effective interactive materials easily.
Xerte Online Toolkits provides a number of project templates for creating online presentations and interactive learning materials. Content is assembled using an intuitive interface, and multiple users can collaborate on shared projects, creating a powerful and efficient workflow for teams of subject matter experts, media specialists and interactive designers. Xerte Online Toolkits is free software.
2004 – 2006: The Xerte Project
The project began in 2004, when we began writing some general classes that would develop flash-based content faster, using some object-oriented programming techniques. At the time, Flash was the best solution for delivering interactive content on the web, and the team were looking for a tool that worked more like the flow-line development metaphor used in Authorware, which had been widely used in the team up until that time.
The engine used an xml file to define the structure of an interactive project, and used an interpreter to execute code included in the file to create interactivity. The engine loaded and parsed the xml file, and the presentation was created at runtime. Early projects were created by writing the xml by hand - which was tedious and error prone. Soon, work began on an editor for the xml files, which meant projects could be developed much faster, and the team at Nottingham began using the tools for a number of in-house projects. As more projects were developed with these new tools, new features were added and issues resolved. The work was presented at ALT-C in 2006 when the tools were first released under a free license, in the hope that others might find them interesting or useful. The name 'xerte' was adopted, an acronym for Xml Editor and Run Time Engine. Through sheer good fortune, Xerte also means 'to know' in Greek, an excellent name for an elearning development tool!
Development continued to place a very high value on native accessibility, and Xerte has since been used as a benchmark for accessible best practice.
2007 – 2008: Templates
During 2006 and 2007, the user community began to grow quite quickly. The tools were receiving a lot of positive reaction, although we saw that many users were struggling with the more technical nature of the tools at that time.
The first Xerte Community workshop was held at The University of Nottingham in June 2007, and it was becoming clear that there was a huge and largely unsatisfied demand for easy-to-use tools for non-technical content developers. The University of Nottingham began working with JISC TechDIS and Ron Mitchell to begin to build a new layer of tools that hid the technical authoring environment from users, and allowed content to be developed using simple forms. The approach also made it very easy for developers to create new tools for authoring new types of content, and before long the software included nearly 30 templates for presenting different types of media and interactivity. JISC TechDis and the JISC Regional Support Centres began actively promoting the tools.
2009 – 2010: Open Source
In January 2008, the team began a project known tentatively as 'Web-based Xerte', and the development of Xerte Online Toolkits began. Web 2.0 technologies were creating new opportunities for web developers at this time, and with the continuing development of web standards, it became possible to do things that would have been very difficult just a few years beforehand. The idea was to develop a suite of tools that hid all the technical complexities form users, who could develop content in a browser-based interface, and collaborate with other authors, subject matter experts and media specialists on projects.
In July 2008, The Xerte Project's suite of tools were released for the first time under an open-source license, with the source code being made available to the wider community of users and developers. Before the end of 2009, the team received their first taste of recognition after being shortlisted for the Times Higher Education Awards. JISC TechDis opened the Xerte sandpit, providing a place for potential users to try the software for free, and the first version of Xerte Online Toolkits was demonstrated at ALT-C in Leeds, where the team also won the ALT Team of the Year Award. Xerte Online Toolkits was made available to staff and students at The University of Nottingham for the first time, and take-up was rapid.
2011 - 2012: Community
The launch of Xerte Online Toolkits was a huge success. The user and developer communities began to grow very quickly. New developers joined the community and began to contribute significant pieces of work.
JISC funded the Xenith Project, a small 'rapid innovation' project that aimed to replace the existing Flash-based runtime with a runtime entirely devloped in HTML5. This would allow content to be delivered to devices that didn't support the flash player, and allow develpers to engage with the project through familiar technologies.
JISC also provided funding for the 2012 Xerte AGM. Here Professor Wyn Morgan introduces the event, Amber Thomas talks about the Rapid Innovation projects and Julian Tenney reflects on the project's development:
Here Fay Cross demonstrates the HTML5 output, and Alistair McNaught shatters some myths about accessibility:
2013 – 2014: Sustainability
During 2014, the main focus for the team has been the development of an HTML-based editor to replace the existing flash-based tools, and to put the project on a more sustainable footing given the success of the tools and the growth of the developer community.
The re-development of the editor is a significant piece of work which will allow authoring to be undertaken on devices that can't run the Flash Player. The work is still progressing and should be ready for release later in 2015.
In September, the project was accepted for incubation with The Apereo Foundation. After looking closely at all the options, it became clear that transitioning stewardship of the project from The University of Nottingham to The Apereo Foundation was in everyone's interests. Progression through the incubation process has been rapid, and we expect to graduate as a fully-fledged Apereo project with the next release of Xerte Online Toolkits. Apereo represents a fantastic opportunity for the project to grow into new user communities and attract new developers to the team.