The Adaptive Digital Publishing Engine

Metamorphosis and Adaptive Digital Publishing

mLearn Project Team

Charles Sturt University

Wagga Wagga

Contents

Introduction

Background

TADPOLE

Example Adaptive Media Elements

Publishing Profiles

Outcomes

References

Introduction

Metamorphosis and Adaptive Digital Publishing

This resource is the result of the exploration and conceptual work undertaken at Charles Sturt University through the mLearn Project. The Adaptive Digital Publishing Engine (TADPOLE) is an attempt to envision a distinct way of creating, structuring and publishing educational resources for delivery to a wide variety of platforms and media.

TADPOLE adopts a 21st century approach to publishing that embraces digital affordances and uses metamorphosis, rather than translation or transcription, to convert content from one format to another.

This method allows a resource and its associated media, content and presentation to be adapted to match the unique requirements of each publishing and delivery platform that is required.

Background

Understanding the Present

There has been a dramatic uptake in mobile devices since their introduction. From 2011 to 2012 the number of Australians with smartphones rose from 25% to 49% (ACMA, 2013). This has opened up avenues and opportunities to publish content on new platforms and take advantage of digital tools that embed rich media and interactivity. During 2012 the mLearn Project at Charles Sturt University (CSU) undertook an investigation into transitioning and developing educational resources for mobile devices.

The project found that whilst some resources had been professionally developed and optimised for the modern era, many were compromised by legacy software, content lock-in and the attachment of proprietary code and formatting to content due to ad hoc development processes. This severely hampered the process of converting this content for delivery across a wide variety of mobile devices and platforms.

The many different types of content across diverse subject matter and discipline areas at CSU adds a further level of complexity to adapting existing content for the mobile realm. To cater for this diversity there is often a need for bespoke and customised solutions, which require exemptions from standardised processes and content and authoring workflows.

The most crucial observation from the project was that the current state of our systems, processes and software are tied to an analogue way of thinking, developing and working.

The current methodology places emphasis on the output of an artefact, with little regard shown for the process of creation and development.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this model, it works in the singular context and output to which it is applied, but we have learnt through our exploration that we have reached the limit of this process because there is no longer a single context. The need to publish for print and web and eBook breaks the current model, and with a proliferation of devices, formats, operating systems and standards now abundant, the future is multi-contextual.

A solution to the multi-contextual future that mobile culture heralds, requires not a ‘one size fits all’ approach, but a way of creating content that is adaptive to many possible endpoints – print, web, app, eBook. This solution would also need to emphasise creativity and adaptability in the creation and development of content, rather than focus solely on its output. This solution must adopt and build on the concept of “Create Once, Publish Everywhere” (Jacobson, 2009), devised as part of the National Public Radio’s content management strategy. This offers a better way forward.

Content has traditionally been directly linked to presentation – books were developed to be printed, web pages for web sites, video for TV. However, new digital formats and devices are challenging that behaviour.

Tablets and smartphones blur that line, as they are able to present content from the printed page, access the web and deliver video. Tablets and smartphones also offer new ways of presenting and creating experiences as well as new ways of interacting with content such as touch and gestures. Given the diversity of technology there is also a need to consider how we provide a consistent user experience. If we want to cater for this model of the future we need to ensure that content flows like water, changing its shape to match every presentation channel to enable use across a broad ecosystem (Weston, 2012).

Starting with Digital

The essential problem we need to deal with is that analogue systems and processes have been shoehorned into digital spaces. We need something new which accepts that content today is primarily created, authored, edited, produced and published in the digital space. We must work within a purely digital environment, which requires >“a shift away from artefact, and back to essence” (Gemmell, 2013) and co-opts the essential benefits of the digital space.

The first uniquely digital concept is that of metadata. It allows us to create structure, define subjects, formulate messages and construct relationships in a way that is embedded within the content itself. It allows us to develop a structured authoring process, which engenders a sense of purpose for the content.

The second concept builds on structured content so that it can be authored within the database. This adopts the process that evolved from the web where we replace the artefact, the static HTML page, with the essence, “dynamically pulling out the content you want and rendering it in a view” (Johnson, 2013). The traditional print publishing process has only ever utilised databases for storage of the finished artefact. While web publishing has adopted the database into the Content Management System, it is rarely used to its full potential or used beyond the web, for content that is complex or for rich media.

Incorporating the database into the authoring environment allows the power of logic to be utilised to construct and publish to a variety of endpoints dynamically, shifting when transformation occurs to the publishing point rather than at the point of creation so that Create Once Publish Everywhere (COPE) can become a reality.

TADPOLE

The aim of TADPOLE is to develop a new type of system that is neutral to the delivery channel and where content and narrative provide shape and form rather than artefacts. By instilling a Content First (Keith, 2011) approach to publishing and employing metamorphosis rather than traditional methods of translation or transcription we have conceived The Adaptive Digital Publishing Engine.

Metamorphosis is an evolutionary model where there is conspicuous and abrupt transformation accompanied by changes in habitat or behaviour (Britton, 2009).

The concept of metamorphosis corresponds directly to the current disruption and changes that technology, in particular mobile technology, has heralded in our culture.

The environment isn’t changing, it’s changed already, “User behaviour always evolves much faster than companies can keep up” (McGrane, 2012) and this is where we find ourselves in Higher Education. Our students and teachers have made significant changes to their behaviour around the consumption of content and the habitat where they do this. They are increasing their consumption of rich media, such as video and audio, while moving away from traditional delivery models, paper books and desktop computers. Applying metamorphosis to the publishing process allows us to create specialised content adapted specifically to this new environment.

TADPOLE attempts to do is dramatically re-form and re-shape content to suit different contexts.

This process will capitalises on the affordances of a digital environment that lacks any physical restrictions. Rather than simply transcribe content from one format or file type to another, it capitalises on the inherent logic in the machine, to process and metamorphose content and adapt it to various media, devices and contexts in a specialised form.

By fully leveraging the database and metadata information captured during authoring, we develop a highly adaptive publishing system that can change in an agile manner. This eliminates the need to re-create, re-encode, or translate content into many different formats, allowing automation of the publishing process based on structure and logic patterns.

Basic Principles

To do this we need to:

Introducing Adaptive Media Elements

Traditionally the publishing endpoint has dictated the authoring process, but TADPOLE flips this around and treats the content as primary, and the publication channel as an important, but less inherent component, changeable and ultimately disposable. The innovative component of TADPOLE is how the database is embedded into the authoring and creation process. We have developed the concept of the Adaptive Media Element (AME). The AME is in essence a meta-object made up of self-contained referential information. An AME is not a single file per-se, but a container for more detailed and expressive metadata that logic can be applied to. An AME allows this related information and media to be flexibly incorporated into the narrative structure and presented suitably for each endpoint.

For example an AME might contain a reference to the type of media, a file itself, a web link to external storage or library, source information for where it came from, reference information, alternative files and metadata like a title, caption and description

Figure 1: An example of the structure of a video Adaptive Media Element. It illustrates the possible configurations and meta data that could make up an AME when applied to a video element.

As far as the authoring environment is concerned it is treated as a single object, inserted into the context of the narrative (using WordPress short codes). It is only when published that the logic transforms the AME to suit the selected delivery channel. When a resource is published the relevant workflow chooses the most appropriate components to insert. So for a print PDF it wouldn’t insert a video, instead it would include an image and a link to YouTube. An eBook may embed the actual file so that it can be downloaded as a self contained artefact and a HTML5 version could include an embedded file or a link depending on how it was to be delivered – offline, online, public or private.

The AME is a customisable concept that can be applied to virtually any kind of content and for any application. From media to different versions of a text, interactive elements to data displayed in different forms, the AME allows the TADPOLE to be tailored and modelled to support diversity of content and provide the narrative with a supportive and ‘chunked’ structure (McGrane, 2013).

Imagining the System

The structure of TADPOLE includes three key components:

  1. The Authoring Environment – A simple and intuitive HTML5 mark-up structure. This has been developed using the open sourced tools WordPress and Pressbooks and provides a featured
  2. The AME Library – A form interface for a database accessible through the Authoring Environment. This is a custom built database and been integrated directly into the WordPress/Pressbooks environment
  3. The Metamorphosis Engine – The final process applies logic to develop the base resource which compiles all the relevant resources and content. For the proof of concept the presentation layer is added manually but templates can be developed and built into the process.

How it Works

The Authoring Environment utilises the existing functionality already available in WordPress – a web based Content Management System. This provides a framework for the development of documents and ways of imposing structure to marked-up text.

The AME Library is a customisable database that can be mapped to the requirements of each type of AME required e.g. Video, Data, Images, and Audio.

Once the resource has been authored and is ready to publish the user will initiate the Metamorphosis Engine to export the final artefacts. For each output a profile is developed that defines which components from an AME will be published and how they will appear in the resources.

Figure 2: An example of how a profle desfines the compoents of a video Adaptive Media Element. The Video AME is assembled using the publishing profiles ready for export.

This will call on predefined profiles for each output type that the user has selected and then parse the resources and apply logic to each AME to create a base resource. The base resource is then sent through the metamorphosis process where it is combined with a presentation template and the final files are produced

Once the final markup file is developed the relevant template and presentation elements are added and the finished file(s) is made available to download.

Example Adaptive Media Elements

For the development of the proof of concept we defined a number of common AME types used in Charles Sturt University’s learning resources in print, CDROM and online. They are common media forms across most digital publications and representative of typical “break points” that require content to be transformed, re-encoded or replaced.

These are precisely the areas that the AME sets out to address.

Videos

Videos is a complex medium to publish across multiple platforms because of the variety in file types, sizes and quality settings. Each one of these elements affect the suitability of the video. High quality video means large file sizes while small file sizes can substantially impact on audio and visual quality. Add to this the variety of file types and questions around compatibility across devices and platforms and the associated issues around offline and streaming there is simply no one size fits all approach possible.

The complexity and diversity of requirements to deal with video is one of the best show cases of the ability of the AME concept. Depending on the device and platform that you’re viewing you could see the Video AME displayed below in a variety of ways:

Examples of student work produced while studying the Bachelor of Arts Animation and Visual Effects.

The Current Variables used for the Video AME are:

Images

Images also present a variety of challenges when publishing across platforms. For print and newer mobile devices with ‘retina’ quality screens require high resolution images. Web sites normally look to optimise images and deliver lower quality images because typical computer screens are a lower resolution and it saves on download and bandwidth. Depending on the device and platform that you’re viewing you could see the Image AME displayed below in a variety of ways:

The Governor-General, the Honourable Quentin Bryce AC CVO, and Mr Michael Bryce AM AE visit the Regional Inter-Professional Clinical Simulation Centre at Charles Sturt University in Bathurst on 14 May 2013.

Current Variables:

The image AME could be expanded to include images in a variety of size ratios to suit different publications – 16:9 and 4:3 at varying sizes and levels of quality could be added to the AME so that images could adapt to being used in multiple ways. In a thumbnail gallery, as back ground images or as clickable feature images used to illustrate content.

11

Audio

Audio files are similar to video files in that their are a range of appropriate file types depending on the application required. Fidelity of quality is paramount to many applications of audio, in particular music, so an Audio AME could be used to deliver better quality or a range of choices for users to access.

Interview with Zoe Rathus for the Journal of Social Inclusion Transcript Link

Current Variables:

Data

Displaying data visually can often be challenging but making it available across multiple platforms is almost impossible. One of the great possibilities with data sets in a digital environment is that they can be manipulated to generate graphics and tables on the fly. Data can be displayed in a variety of graphs and charts and choice of these can be given to user. Using the javascript and SVG to generate and display images also means that a single source of the data - the CSV file - is required reducing the possibility for error and redundancy.

Rainfall at Jeeralang, Victoria
Product codeStation numberYearMonthMonthly Precipitation Total (millimetres)Quality
IDCJAC000108500719991163.6Y
IDCJAC0001085007199912104.8Y
IDCJAC0001085007200001117.8Y
IDCJAC000108500720000253.1Y
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IDCJAC000108500720000777.2Y
IDCJAC0001085007200008105.6Y
IDCJAC0001085007200009217.4Y
IDCJAC0001085007200010137.6Y
IDCJAC000108500720001179.6Y
IDCJAC000108500720001241.2Y
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IDCJAC0001085007200112165.6Y
IDCJAC0001085007200201113.8Y
IDCJAC000108500720020292.4Y
IDCJAC000108500720020346.6Y
IDCJAC0001085007200204167.6Y
IDCJAC000108500720020586.8Y
IDCJAC0001085007200206138.2Y
IDCJAC0001085007200207149.0Y
IDCJAC000108500720020857.4Y
IDCJAC0001085007200209118.0Y
IDCJAC0001085007200210127.8Y
IDCJAC000108500720021166.6Y
IDCJAC000108500720021256.8Y
IDCJAC000108500720030128.6Y
IDCJAC000108500720030218.0Y
IDCJAC000108500720030567.0Y
IDCJAC0001085007200306165.4Y
IDCJAC0001085007200307162.2Y
IDCJAC0001085007200308120.6Y
IDCJAC0001085007200309179.6Y
IDCJAC0001085007200310156.6Y
IDCJAC000108500720031171.4Y
IDCJAC000108500720031249.4Y
IDCJAC000108500720040197.4Y
IDCJAC000108500720040245.6Y
IDCJAC000108500720040333.8N
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IDCJAC0001085007200406178.6Y
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IDCJAC0001085007200409150.6Y
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IDCJAC0001085007200411113.2Y
IDCJAC0001085007200412205.2Y
IDCJAC000108500720050174.2Y
IDCJAC0001085007200502233.6Y
IDCJAC000108500720050354.8Y
IDCJAC000108500720050437.8Y
IDCJAC000108500720050557.8Y
IDCJAC000108500720050691.8Y
IDCJAC0001085007200507143.4Y
IDCJAC0001085007200508156.6Y
IDCJAC0001085007200509138.4Y
IDCJAC000108500720051086.0Y
IDCJAC0001085007200511163.6Y
IDCJAC000108500720051281.6Y
IDCJAC0001085007200601103.0Y
IDCJAC000108500720060245.4Y
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IDCJAC0001085007200604180.6Y
IDCJAC0001085007200605196.4Y
IDCJAC000108500720060664.6Y
IDCJAC0001085007200607129.0Y
IDCJAC000108500720060855.2Y
IDCJAC000108500720060996.2Y
IDCJAC000108500720061043.8Y
IDCJAC000108500720061158.4Y
IDCJAC000108500720061234.2Y
IDCJAC000108500720070170.6Y
IDCJAC0001085007200702172.8Y
IDCJAC000108500720070369.4Y
IDCJAC000108500720070441.8Y
IDCJAC000108500720070585.0Y
IDCJAC0001085007200706310.4Y
IDCJAC0001085007200707184.4Y
IDCJAC0001085007200708130.0Y
IDCJAC0001085007200710103.2Y
IDCJAC0001085007200711184.0Y
IDCJAC000108500720071287.4Y
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IDCJAC000108500720081039.2Y
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IDCJAC000108500720090222.6Y
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IDCJAC0001085007200907138.4Y
IDCJAC0001085007200908177.2Y
IDCJAC0001085007200909205.0Y
IDCJAC0001085007200910109.4Y
IDCJAC0001085007200911140.4Y
IDCJAC000108500720091268.8Y
IDCJAC000108500720100131.6Y
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IDCJAC0001085007201003130.8Y
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IDCJAC0001085007201105129.4Y
IDCJAC0001085007201106143.8Y
IDCJAC0001085007201107311.6Y
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IDCJAC0001085007201110149.2Y
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IDCJAC0001085007201308205.4N
IDCJAC0001085007201309163.6N
IDCJAC0001085007201310147.0N

Current Variables:

Equations

Maths equations are common across many disciplines and frequently cause problems when trying to convert content from platform to platform. They are also often static when displayed digitally failing to make use of the potential to make them “active” components.

Simple Equation

When $a \ne 0$, there are two solutions to $ax^2 + bx + c = 0$ and they are $$x = {-b \pm \sqrt{b^2-4ac} \over 2a}.$$

 

Active Equation

$ax^2 + bx + c = 0$

Interactive Graph
a =
b =
c =
Formula = $ax^2 + bx + c$

If you are looking at the web version of this resource then you can manipulate and change a number of of the values and see its affect. You could also try the link here: http://goo.gl/p5IEE0

Current Variables:

Potential Developments

The concepts behind the Adaptive Media Element allow them to be constructed to suite a variety of applications. They could be co-opted to not just create adaptive media – but adaptive content too. This opens up a range of possibilities including:

Publishing Profiles

The effectiveness of an AME ultimately results in the application of logic that is applied during the final publishing process. TADPOLE uses a publishing profile to define the conditions that are applied to an AME to build the final output.

For the Proof of Concept we developed an array of publishing profiles that were developed to meet the primary platforms required at Charles Sturt University:

Potential Profiles

While the focus of the proof of concept profiles is on publishing to platforms a profile could be used to publish for an audience. In this way a resource could be constructed using AMEs to suit specific groups of students:

Outcomes

The project aims to develop a functional prototype of the system with custom Adaptive Media Elements and output options developed specifically for use at CSU. The system is aimed at complementing our existing LMS, CMS and Digital Repository. It will not host or serve the finished files and artefacts; instead it is focussed purely on the creation and publishing process. The initial output types are expected to be PDF, ePub and web published HTML.

Conclusion

TADPOLE is an attempt to imagine the future of content, how we author it and how we will publish it. This project aims to provide a tangible way to reduce silos and consolidate disparate production processes to provide greater efficiencies and improve the experience of creating and developing content. It demonstrates a way to future proof our institutions ability to publish content by supporting flexibility and ensure that our students benefit from enhanced technologies.

Our aim is to ensure that publishing is not static, but a dynamic art that uses metamorphosis to evolve and cope with our future habitats and behaviours.

References

Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), (January 2013). Report 3—Smartphones and tablets: Take-up and use in Australia. Communications Report 2011–12 series. Retrieved from http://www.acma.gov.au/theACMA/Library/researchacma/Digital-society-research/communications-report-201112-library-landing-page

Britton, D. (2009, July 9). Metamorphosis: A remarkable change. Australian Museum. Retrieved June 24, 2013, from http://australianmuseum.net.au/Metamorphosis-a-remarkable-change

Gemmell, M. (2013, June 12). IOS 7 [Blog post]. Retrieved June 24, 2013, from http://mattgemmell.com/2013/06/12/ios-7/

Jacobson, D. (2009, October 13). COPE: Create Once, Publish Everywhere [Blog post]. Retrieved June 24, 2013, from http://blog.programmableweb.com/2009/10/13/cope-create-once-publish-everywhere/

Johnson, T. (2013, May 14). Is Structured Authoring (like DITA) a Good Fit for Publishing on a Website? [Blog post]. Retrieved June 24, 2013, from http://idratherbewriting.com/2013/05/14/structured-authoring-versus-the-web/

Keith, J. (2011, April 27). Content First. Adactio. Retrieved June 29, 2013, from http://adactio.com/journal/4523/

McGrane, K., Kadlec, T. (October 18 2012). Content Strategy for Mobile. Fresh Squeezed Mobile Podcast. [Podcast] retrieved from http://fsm.bdconf.com/podcast/content-strategy-for-mobile

McGrane, K. (2013, June 17). Don’t Let Paper Paradigms Drive Your Digital Strategy [Blog post]. Retrieved June 24, 2013, from http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2013/06/dont_let_paper_paradigms_drive.html

Weston, C. (2012, April 3). What do we mean by “content”? [Blog post]. Retrieved June 24, 2013, from http://edtechnow.net/2012/04/03/what-do-we-mean-by-content/