Author Archives: Seb Skuse

StudyBar: Good for website owners, as well as users

Two weeks ago we rolled out a beta version of StudyBar to a select few Beta testers.

During this testing period we have fixed many bugs, and improved a lot of the core features of StudyBar. I would like to thank everyone that has participated in the Beta testing, and encourage them to continue submitting bugs!

Today I would like to announce a new feature that will be available in StudyBar – the ability for website owners to launch StudyBar for their webpages. Without the user having to have StudyBar installed.

How it works

If you operate a website and wish to integrate the features that StudyBar provides without having to re-invent the wheel, or requiring users to install software, you can now include a piece of HTML code in your webpage which will produce a launch button. Once the user clicks this link, StudyBar will be launched for your website. Including a piece of JavaScript on each of your pages that you want StudyBar to work with will allow it to launch for these pages.

Also of note, this functionality is useful as well to users. By dragging the link below into your bookmarks, you can launch StudyBar on whatever web page you are currently on. We’re calling this StudyBar Lite, as it does not require you to have anything installed.

There are some drawbacks – StudyBar will not launch when you open or refresh a page, only when you click on the button. In FireFox, it will be marginally slower than using the installed version, and it may not work on some installations of Internet Explorer on locked down machines. However, no installation!

Why not give it a go? Either click the link, or drag it to your favourites for use later – StudyBar.

StudyBar update

The core of StudyBar has been successfully implemented into all of the major browsers in use today – Firefox, Internet Explorer (6+), Google Chrome, Safari (Snow Leopard requires Safari to be run in 32-bit mode to use StudyBar), and Opera across the Mac and Windows platforms where applicable.

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StudyBar allows users to perform tasks on content displayed in the current webpage, such as inline editing of page styles, spellchecking of text input, dictionary search, text to speech, and much more without need for popups.

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At this stage of development the base loading functionality is working in all browsers, as well as a few of the more basic functions. The Spellchecker framework now works in all browsers, so simply needs tuning so that it works more effectively. Efforts are now concentrated on getting Text to Speech linked up and working in FireFox as well as some of the other browsers, referencing and dictionary working and tuning the text and colour manipulation controls.

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StudyBar – the cross-browser toolbar

The aim of the StudyBar project has been to create a toolbar which can be used in all modern browsers (FireFox, Internet Explorer 8, Chrome, Safari, Opera), which provides users with customisation options and tools to aid studying. StudyBar is an improvement upon the current Techdis Toolbar, which currently only works in Internet Explorer.

There are currently toolbars out there that offer some of the desired functionality, but as of yet there is nothing to provide everything in a concise package, let alone to any browser. To allow us to develop for multiple browsers we have opted to use the JavaScript language (which is interpreted by the browser itself, and supported by every browser – one installation package will work across the board, and even the possibility to be ported to mobile platforms at a later date) which gives us much finer control over the page than traditional toolbars.

During the prototyping phase it was discovered that most browsers have disabled JavaScript from performing page-manipulation on remote pages for security reasons (see Same Origin Policy). Because of this reason, we have opted to use GreaseMonkey, a technology that allows JavaScript to be stored on a user’s computer and used on any web page, therefore not having to deal with the Same Origin Policy.

At this stage of development we have spec’d out the technologies that will be used, and are currently working on:

  • Dynamic toolbar items.
  • Text To Speech Server based on the Festival engine.
  • A SpellChecker with intelligent suggestion.
  • Preset CSS style loading into webpages.
  • Increase/Decrease text size on page.
  • Alter colour of toolbar.

These functions will be available to any page that the user is viewing, using any of the aforementioned web browsers.

At the current stage of development, very rudimentary versions of almost all of these features are present, although slightly buggy. More features will be added as the development time passes to bring it in line, and hopefully surpass current toolbar featuresets.

Accessiblog

Accessiblog has been started as we have several accessible technology projects on the go including LexDis, Web2Access and Synote and we wanted to have a space to track other projects as they progressed.  These all have working titles and  include:

StudyBar

StudyBar will build on existing tools such as those provided by Google, Firefox Accessibar and the JISC TechDis Preferences Toolbar, to develop an independent toolbar that works alongside the most widely used web browsers.  The aim is to help all staff and students (irrespective of their skills and abilities) save time when interacting with on-line environments.  Currently staff and students are switching between complex toolsets, especially when undertaking e-learning activities in Web 2.0 environments, such as using blogs, wikis and discussion forums, where time is of the essence.  They also have difficulties summarising and referencing works and require user-friendly tools to support and complete these tasks.

StudyBar will provide easy access to study support services to augment technology enhanced learning strategies.  Time spent working with a series of different or complex tools can be avoided by having a ‘one stop shop’ of easy to use services, appropriate for studying.  Time constraints are an issue for all students but in particular for those with disabilities especially when learning to use new technologies.

Current development is for use with Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Safari and Opera.

The work is being undertaken with close collaboration with JISC OSS Watch, JISC TechDis and JISC RSC Scotland N&E

This project has been funded by JISC TechDis and will run from July 09 to November 09

The Pen Drive

This pen drive is designed for both staff and students working in a teaching and learning environment. The accessible menu system will allow users to launch a range of assistive technologies from text to speech to magnification.   There will also be a portable browser with additional toolbars to provide staff with a means to evaluate online technologies before using them in a teaching and learning situation.

The entire menu system can be customised and all developments will be available via Google Code with the ability to download the source code and make changes.

Current development is for the Window platform but much discussion has taken place around the use of HTML and the Mac operating system.

The work is being undertaken with close collaboration with JISC OSS Watch, JISC TechDis and JISC RSC Scotland N&E

This project has been funded by the Learning and Teaching  Enhancement Unit of the University of Southampton and will be trialed in the Autumn 2009 – February 2010  with a full set of guides on making choices about the accessibility of Web 2.0 applications such as podcasts, blogs, wikis, social networking RSS feeds, bookmarking and microblogs.

Web2 Access Validation toolkit.

This online toolkit will be developed so that all users of the Web2Access.org.uk website can evaluate the accessibitity of any chosen Web 2.0 application at the outset and eventually software applications.  The fourteen tried and tested checks based on WCAG 2.0 guidelines will be developed into an online wizard with accompanying narrated screencasts to aid both developers and those new to accessibility issues.

The 14 tests with levels of accessibility in different contexts provide a framework that is capable of validating accessibility in a way that is useful to potential users  for example supports those with visual impairments or has poor text size and contrast levels.  The service provides a ranking that is potentially valuable to providers as an indicator of accessibility although it is always advisable to check sites with disabled users.

Current development is for use with Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Safari and Opera.

The work is being undertaken with close collaboration with JISC TechDis

This project has been funded by JISC TechDis and will run from July 2009 – Jan 2010

Accessibility Cloud

The Accessibility Cloud project will be harvesting the existing accessibility content from previous JISC funded projects, making the data commonly available and searchable and making sure that the engine and data are secure, portable and able to be mirrored.  The initial projects providing the linked data are LexDis, Web2Access, Phoebe, Gateway to Excellence and JISC RSC Yorkshire and Humberside ‘Excellence in Inclusivity’.  Each site offers a different approach to the subject of teaching and learning with the use of technology.  This will mean that users of the accessibility cloud will have the chance to see for example the use of portable devices in colleges, their impact on various disabilities, the strategies developed by students and the way they can be used by staff in their day to day teaching.

It is hoped that it will be possible to browse by a series of categories and search the active data from all the websites but in a way that allows for different perspectives such as a pedagogical approach, disability viewpoint and technology choices.

Current development is for use with Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Safari and Opera.

The work is being undertaken with close collaboration with JISC TechDis

This project has been funded by JISC TechDis and will run from Oct 09 to Sept 2010.