Monday, July 23, 2012

Policy Delivered on Tablets

The rapid uptake and use of tablet computers, particularly the iPad, across schools and in the wider community has prompted an investigation into how they might be used with the new Internet. Initial testing has indicated that Internet browser access on the iPad should work well. But tablet (iPad/iOS and Android) computers offer other interesting possibilities.

New documents being access through the Bookshelves App.
Reading for the Vision Impaired: On the iPad any PDF link in a browser can be opened in the iBooks App. The advantage of this is that the iPad's VoiceOver accessibility option will read the document very clearly.

Live Sync with DropBox: The Bookshelves App will synchronise with a number of online services including DropBox. When new or updated documents are placed in the linked DropBox folder they will automatically appear in the Bookshelves App when the iPad next goes online through wireless or 3G.

PDF Reader Functionality: A number of PDF reader apps are available that provide a number of functions in addition to those available in iBooks or Bookshelves. For example the Adobe Reader App allows:
  • document annotation
  • completion of eForms
  • navigation through PDF bookmarks
  • electronic ink signature
There are some exciting opportunities here that warrant further exploration.

Friday, July 20, 2012

In Good Form

One of the document types being considered are forms. Both staff and the public now have an expectation of being able to complete a from online or print it. Current forms vary in quality and functionality so I've been learning how to design eforms.

An eForm being completed on an iPad
I've discovered that Adobe Acrobat Pro X has a form wizard - and it's magic! It will
  • create a form from an existing Word document
  • fields can be customised
  • simple calculations can be automated
  • a signature can be added
The resultant form can be completed on an iPad (or other tablet) using the Adobe Reader app - and then submitted via email or printed.

I've also discovered that several form management options are available in Acrobat Pro X and at Adobe Form Central. Something to consider in strategic planning down the track.

A recent delay of a few weeks in the launch of the new DoE Internet caused by the need to upgrade server performance to meet anticipated user demand will allow some additional time for this to be further investigated.

In the meantime a 'light' eform solution that provides forms that can be completed fully or partly online looks like a possible option.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

What's in a Name?

Spaces? Dashes? Underscores? Caps? Who would have-thought-that-naming_a_document_would%20be%20SuchAnIssue.pdf?

The DoE already has a document naming convention but it wasn't designed for today's systems or devices. Over the years document names have lengthened in order to be more meaningful and also to distinguish them from other similar documents. Our current content management system is not accessible through the Internet and so it allows spaces. The new Document Centre for the new Internet website will show document names in a URL and spaces will be replaced by %20 which is messy.

It's common to replace the spaces with a dash (hyphen) or an underscore - although opinions are mixed as to which is the better option.

SharePoint 2010 allows for each document to have a title which can be displayed in web parts making them easy to read. SharePoint also has provision for customisable document IDs which means
  • the URL has no spaces
  • a document can be searched for using its ID
  • the ID doesn't change if the document name, version, title or location changes
  • the ID can appear on printed documents making it easier to check for updates online
This might be a neat solution allowing us to use spaces in the document name.
The advantage of this is that when documents (which are mostly PDFs) are viewed in Explorer or on tablet computers their names look nice. Most applications handle spaces in file names very well.

So... do we need to convert spaces to dashes or underscores? Perhaps it depends on how often the end-user sees the URL.

SharePoint Document IDs are worth a closer look.

Document IDs could be included in the footer

They could be included in the document footer making it easy to locate the online version. Although the IDs are 11 characters some test searching showed that documents can often be located by searching for just the last 3 or 4 characters.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

What's On the Menu?

Usability testing with the general public occurred early in this project and provided a useful foundation on which to design and build menus and meta-data tags. Not surprisingly a large proportion of those interviewed  said that they used external search engines (mostly Google) to locate information and services. Others would browse menu options IF they made sense to them and only a few clicks were required to locate desired information.
Screenshot of the top menu for new DoE public Internet site
A great deal of consultation has taken place to develop the menu that will appear at the top of pages. 'Mega-menu' tags reflect different public audiences and about 50 sub-menu tags provide internally consistent browsing options. The menus are not built around organisational units and this is a radical departure from past practice which has challenged teams to rethink why and what they publish online for public access. 

Brief accessibility testing with the popular JAWS screen reader indicates that the menus can be read.

A left hand SharePoint generated menu also exists and this will be discussed in a later post.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Launching into Video

Embedded 'Launching into Learning' Video

Several staff are interested in displaying video so this is a check that a video can be displayed from a YouTube channel. As it turned out a quick CSS edit had to be made because the top menus dropped down behind the video - not a good look  :-)

The intention now is to showcase a number of videos that will be uploaded to a YouTube channel.

Pictures from a recent photo-shoot in schools and colleges across the state makes me wonder also about displaying a FlickR badge. Something to take to the Project's Advisory Group.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

What's in a Cover?

Designing templates for documents to upload to the new Internet site is a very long process... Draft templates have already been through many versions and we aren't there yet - although we are getting closer...
Policy Template (updated 19th July)
Templates are being designed for master documents which will be in Word (.docx). When approved documents will be saved in PDF format for upload to the new Document Centre (SharePoint 2010) and then linked to the new Internet site (another instance of SharePoint).

Templates have been designed with the following in mind:
  • A simple and recognisable cover that complies with the Tasmanian Government Style Guide
  • Standard headings and structure for policy, procedures and guideline documents that are designed for easy readability for a public audience
  • Designing for accessibility in Word and the exported PDF. PDF Accessibility for Everyone presentations usefully summarise the workflow required from Word to PDF to ensure readers for the vision impaired can smoothly process the documents.
A decision must be made soon about providing alternative formats for online documents. Should we provide one or more alternative formats?
  • PDF
  • Word
  • HTML
National Web Accessibility Guidelines state that "Agencies are reminded that it is still a requirement to publish an alternative to all PDF documents (preferably in HTML)". The guidelines also state that "any technology may be used, but where it cannot prove its accessibility support, agencies must provide multiple accessible formats". SharePoint 2012 does claim accessibility support. 

Vision Australia have a 2012 report that includes an assessment of SharePoint 2010 conformance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0).

We have more planning to do here.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Turning the Pages

The current DoE public website has well over 1,200 pages - and so far different organisational units have agreed to archive or move to the staff Intranet over 500 pages.

I've discovered that archives exist of the Department of Education website going back to 1999.
LINC Archive of Tasmanian Education Department Website

It's interesting to reflect on changes in web design over the years and to plan forward. I built my first website in 1992 and although it's been updated it still fundamentally reflects old design principles. 
Apart from the cute animated gifs one can see a shift from very long web pages in the 90s as documents were 'dumped' online to much shorter 'screen size' pages over the last decade. 

But some believe the pendulum may have swung too far and that is better to have an informed balance of small web pages and longer downloadable documents that is driven by user need and purpose. Currently some documents are broken down to so many web pages that editing and navigation have become very challenging.

National web design guidelines point to accepted best practice - and mandatory requirements. Tasmania also has a Government framework for web design and publishing. Accessibility and usability are key national issues with WCAG 2.0 compliance high on the agenda. There is also recent advice on the accessibility of PDFs.

Much to consider...  :-)