A publishing system to support secondary school teaching and learning

Paul Bristow and Matthew White

School of Environmental and Information Science,
Charles Sturt University, PO Box 789, Albury, NSW 2640, Australia

We describe a publishing system which: supports a large number of geographically dispersed publishers; scales to very large information systems; supports publishers with minimal Internet knowledge; and reduces the infrastructure requirements of publishers.

Publishing environments; Metadata systems

1. NSW HSC On-Line

New South Wales HSC On-Line uses Internet technology to distribute teaching and learning resources to support the NSW Higher School Certificate (HSC) — the ultimate NSW secondary school qualification. It consists of a collection of 'nodes' (or topic areas), providing specially written material and links to useful external material. Nodes is managed by semi-autonomous teams within guidelines set by a Board of Management. Most nodes are based on subject areas within the HSC — e.g. Mathematics, or English.

The project is a joint venture of Charles Sturt University and the NSW Department of Education & Training with representation from the Joint Council of NSW Professional Teachers' Associations and the NSW Board of Studies and support from Access Australia.

2. Requirements

For the Web to succeed as a medium for authoritative information, publication must be by people knowledgeable about the information. This requires systems to reduce the amount of technical knowledge and specialist hardware and software required. Large scale publication must also enable co-operation among geographically dispersed publishers.

Nodes are published by teams selected for expertise with the node's information space, not for technical ability. The system allows an Internet neophyte to manage a node. Requirements are a computer, an Internet connection, and a Web browser.

3. Managing a node

Editors see the node from a file management perspective where files can be moved, copied, deleted etc. All files in the subject are displayed as a tree. Editors select the files and/or directories they wish to edit and click the appropriate button.

Resources are published by selecting topics and resource type areas on a form and entering metadata such as quality ratings. On submission, the resource is moved from the incoming to the live area and links are created. Resources can be published to multiple areas as one action. Forms are also provided to edit publication metadata, including unlinking or moving the resource.

4. A technical perspective

The publishing system is implemented using HTML pages, and Perl CGI programs. Information on resources is stored in an Oracle database, containing 3 tables:

  1. Node Areas (Keyfield, Node, Course, Topic, SubTopic, SubSubTopic, Sequence).
  2. Resources (Keyfield, URL, Label, Publisher, Node, Quality Rating, Description).
  3. Links (Node Area Key, Resource Key, Resource Type (e.g. tutorial), link URL, Approver)

Publication involves inserting a record for the resource and a record for each link. Each time an editor inserts, updates, or deletes a record from the database all pages affected are regenerated. A query selects all topic and subtopic areas and resource types for the modified resource. Each affected page is built from a query selecting URLs and Labels for which the Topic Area and Resource Type match. Page headers and footers are inserted from manually generated masters as Server Side Includes. New nodes are created by writing configuration files in an SGML-based format which are used by a script to insert database records and create the directory tree.

State information on users' actions (e.g. which form they are looking at, what node) is maintained by the use of a cookie-like reference passed around from form to form and a file on the server.

5. Discussion

The system implements Green's [1] model for on-line publishing which described online publishing as a sequence of stages — Submission, Acquisition, Quality Control, Production, and Delivery. The system for implements this sequence and realises many of the model's expected benefits, e.g., "editors (do not) require great technical expertise", "systems operations that support a publication should be transparent to its editor, who should be able to oversee the process on-line from (say) the other side of the world".

The publishing system makes explicit the metadata which drives the publishing process. Metadata determines whether to publish information and if so where. The directory structure of the Web server reflects the metadata structure of the publishing system, defined by the fixed vocabulary of the topic and resource type fields.


[1] Green, D.G., A general model for on-line publishing, in: T. Bossomaier and L. Chubb (Eds.), Proceedings of AUUG'96 and Asia-Pacific World Wide Web '96 Conference, Australian Unix Users Group, Sydney, 1996, pp. 152–158,


New South Wales HSC On-Line http://hsc.csu.edu.au/