UCT CS Research Document Archive

Investigating the Efficacy of XML and Stylesheets to Render Electronic Courseware for Multiple Learning Styles

du Toit, Masha (2007) Investigating the Efficacy of XML and Stylesheets to Render Electronic Courseware for Multiple Learning Styles. MPhil, Department of Computer Science, University of Cape Town.

Full text available as:
PDF - Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader or other PDF viewer.


The objective of this project was to test the efficacy of using Extensible Markup Language (XML) - in particular the DocBook 5.0b5 schema - and Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformation (XSLT) to render electronic courseware that can be dynamically re-formatted according to a student’s individual learning style.

The text of a typical lesson was marked up in XML according to the DocBook schema, and several XSLT stylesheets were created to transform the XML document into different versions, each according to particular learning needs. These learning needs were drawn from the Felder-Silverman learning style model. The notes had links to trigger JavaScript functions that allowed the student to reformat the notes to produce different views of the lesson.

The dynamic notes were tested on twelve users who filled out a feedback questionnaire. Feedback was largely positive. It suggested that users were able to navigate according to their learning style. There were some usability issues caused by lack of compatibility of the program with some browsers. However, the user test is not the most critical part of the evaluation. It served to confirm that the notes were usable, but the analysis of the use of XSLT and DocBook is the key aspect of this project. It was found that XML, and in particular the DocBook schema, was a useful tool in these circumstances, being easy to learn, well supported and having the appropriate structure for a project of this type.

The use of XSLT on the other hand was not so straightforward. Learning a declarative language was a challenge, as was using XSLT to transform the notes as necessary for this project. A particular problem was the need to move content from one area of the document to another - to hide it in some cases and reveal it in others. The solution was not straightforward to achieve using XSLT, and does not take proper advantage of the strengths of this technology. The fact that the XSLT processor uses the DOM API, which necessitates the loading of the entire XML document into memory, is particularly problematic in this instance where the document is constantly transformed and re-transformed. The manner in which stylesheets are assigned, as well as the need to use DOM objects to edit the source tree, necessitated the use of JavaScript to create the necessary usability. These mechanisms introduced a limitation in terms of compatibility with browsers and caused the program to freeze on older machines. The problems with browser compatibility and the synchronous loading of data are not insurmountable, and can be overcome with the appropriate use of JavaScript and the use of asynchronous data retrieval as is made possible by the use of AJAX.

EPrint Type:Electronic Thesis or Dissertation
Keywords:XML, XSLT, Docbook, educational technology, learning styles, customisation
I Computing Methodologies: I.7 DOCUMENT AND TEXT PROCESSING
ID Code:398
Deposited By:Suleman, Hussein
Deposited On:30 May 2007