Curators are organisers and distributors of training materials, but we need more datagrids to help us make the job easier.
GUI Designers of the World – We Need Better Tools!
GUI’s (Graphical User Interfaces) have come a long way in recent years and for many GUI designers have focused on designing a product that looks easy to use, is targetted at the new users of the software and helps salespeople make new sales. Unfortunately, if you are a content curator, you are probably a more advanced user of the software in question and not so primarily concerned with it looking polished and easy to navigate around – you probably want a tool that helps you make changes to metadata and how you organise content in bulk and rapidly.
Why Make Changes in Bulk?
There are a myriad of reasons why we might want to change a lot of data all at once… for example:
- We are using an LMS and we need to make 50 courses inactive because the product they are teaching has been removed from sale. (There are only 5 courses in English, the rest are all copies translated to a local language)
- A company subscribing to the LMS has decided not to renew their contract and we want to make all of their 600 users inactive
- A content authoring tool holds 3,000 learning objects and we want to add new meta data to describe them for reporting purposes
Deadlocks in Databases
We’ve heard excuses that making bulk changes can be problematic from the developers point of view when working on a server, as records can become deadlocked. This is an error that happens when 2 or more people try to edit the same database record at the same time. There is a simple solution though that works for curators as well as developers. The first step in any bulk change process is for the curator to select the database entries that they want to change. At this point the developer locks those records for the curator. Once the changes are complete, the curator releases their selection, and the developer releases the lock. Easy, peasy!
A Typical, Fairly Easy to Use Interface
Many applications use a form-filling based approach to entering and curating data. Here are a couple of examples:
All of these examples are basically forms, and whatever the data is that is being filled in relates to some sort of record in a database. On a cursory glance, they work well, as each of the form fields has some notes and guides the user on how to fill them in, so all is good and well….. right? Well, yes, but only if you are a basic user and don’t mind navigating to each one in turn if you want to make a change to a value.
Datagrids Have Advantages
A datagrid is a spreadsheet style interface where the fields that make up the forms are shown as columns – and critically, each of the forms is now a row. The datagrid opens many records at once removing the need to navigate between records in order to make changes. The cells in the datagrid allow you to change the values for that specific form, and as there are many rows on the datagrid you can compare the way that things are configured in your system quickly and efficiently.
Datagrids become useful when there are large quantities of data that need to be curated and maintained.
Let’s use .MP3 files as an example. Many of us will have large numbers of these files and each of them has meta data associated with them, in just the same way as we associate meta data to courses, training modules and learning objects. An interface that forced us to navigate to each .MP3 and open it to take a look at the meta data would be highly inefficient, as we would spend most of our time navigating between .MP3 files. So, instead developers have produced a datagrid, visible in the screen shot here in the top right hand quadrant. This tool also has bulk-changing of values and content curation clearly in mind, through the “Quick” menu options.
It’s not a particularly pretty interface, but in the training world this should be aimed at curators not learners. (i.e not the basic users, but the more advanced users).
Another way of thinking about this is to use Microsoft Excel as a temporary datagrid. We could export data en-masse, make changes to it and then re-import it. If we wanted to be even more imaginative, then we could even imagine a situation where Microsoft Excel connects directly to the database (MS SQL) and changes are made online from Excel.
As quantities of information and data being stored increase, we need more datagrids targetting the more advanced users who curate and organise training content. Application GUI’s are trending away from this look and feel though and adopting a style over functionality approach.
We’d like to see interfaces that allow us to rapidly:
- Become more efficient at curating content once we have published it and helping us to create it more efficiently as well
- Change the active/inactive flag on multiple training courses quickly and easily
- Give us drag and drop capabilities within a datagrid that allow us to resequence modules and learning objects
- Allow mass changes to profiles, documents and other settings within the application and not forcing us to extract data to Excel and force us to modify it there, before importing it again (although this is better than not having any bulk editing tools at all)
We’d love to hear your comments.