I should firstly contextualise this post by saying that myself and a few other members of the Xerte community spend a lot of time supporting organisations, teams/groups and/or individuals in their use of Xerte, whether that be formal contracted support or more often free support provided to the wider Xerte community via the various public channels. Part of the reason for this particular blog post is set the scene so to speak and perhaps provide some guidance towards improving the efficiency for those asking questions and seeking answers and also those providing answers and support. Given that the Xerte community thrives on the back of a free and open source tool developed by a small but dedicated team I think we all need to take responsibility for whether, when and how we ask questions and indeed likewise whether, when and how we answer those questions. Firstly a few points that I think set the scene:
1. Project maturity
Xerte as a tool or suite of tools and Xerte as a project with a 10+ year history in the development of those tools, is now a mature and thriving project with a large and ever growing user community within and outside of the Apereo community. Indeed arguably if you use Xerte you are already part of the Apereo community too even if you or your organisations aren’t currently paying members of Apereo.
2. User base vs contributor numbers
The number of actual developers and direct contributors to the project now and over the previous 10+ years, is arguably tiny in comparison to other open source projects with a similarly large user base. I think it’s true to say that from the point that the Xerte tools were released as open source we have always had a situation where the ratio between the number of organisations and end users who are using and benefiting from the tools, compared with the relatively small number of direct contributors we’ve ever had and have now, is arguably hugely disproportionate. It’s difficult to put a specific ratio to the number of contributors vs the number of organisations and individuals benefiting but it’s certainly one to many! We have a very small but dedicated and committed core team, the membership of which has sometimes changed and evolved over the years, and it seams each year one or sometimes a few new people get involved in giving something back to the project, but many many more benefit from those who do contribute.
3. Development vs support
Clearly many open source projects start with a very small team of developers and that number inevitably remains relatively small in comparison to the number of end users, but becoming a contributor by providing support and resources, or just sharing examples, is where the ratio can be reduced and where the user community can easily give something back. If you’re reading this and you’re an existing Xerte user, or just beginning to use Xerte, or likely to become a Xerte user in future, you can certainly contribute to the project and give something back! If you’d like to help read on…
4. Channels for support and contribution – where and how can you help?
We have a number of different channels and some specific purposes for each:
Community site and forums http://xerte.org.uk
This is our community site where we share publicly available guidance and resources (including community examples) and also where you can download the latest versions of the software and extras such as language packs etc. This is also where the community forums exist and of course this where you can not only ask questions and get free support but where you can give something back by answering questions yourself too. Indeed one of the easy things you can do to help and take responsibility for, is to always search the forums before making a new post to check if your question has already be answered previously. This saves us time repeating answers and saves you time waiting for a response where you may have been able to find the answer and quickly resolve the issue yourself. Furthermore if you resolve an issue in this way or by getting subsequent support you can then give back but answering similar or related questions by others if only pointing them to the same answer you found or received.
Xerte mailing list http://lists.nottingham.ac.uk/mailman/listinfo/xerte
Our main technical list is meant for technical questions only. Obviously before posting there you can still check if your question has already been answered either by searching the list archives or by searching the community site forums first. When posting to this list or the others detailed below please do think about the nature of your question and where it should be posted e.g. if technical in nature you shouldn’t post that question to the xerteforteachers list or to the wrong topic area on the community site.
Xerteforteachers mailing list http://jiscmail.ac.uk/xerteforteachers
If you have teaching and learning related questions about Xerte please post to this list or to the relevant community site area. We try to keep this as a teacher friendly and non-technical list and ideally a place for teachers to not only ask questions but also to share their experiences of using Xerte along with examples for others to learn from. We have opportunities to share examples via the community site too and in terms of giving something back to the project this is something we can all do quickly and easily by posting links to examples along with a few comments etc.
Social Networking #xerte
One of the easiest ways anyone can share their experience, examples and reflections is to share those links, perhaps to longer blog posts or direct to examples, via social network and in particular Twitter using the #xerte hashtag. You might also share video via YouTube, Images via Flickr, or any other common public and social sharing site tagging with xerte.
Xertedev mailing list http://lists.nottingham.ac.uk/mailman/listinfo/xerte-dev
If you’re a developer and would like to contribute to the development of Xerte or have questions about Xerte development then we’d encourage you to join and post to this list.
5. Helping us to help you
We get lots of questions via the various channels, from new and experienced users alike, where a lot of time can be saved by providing as much detail as possible to begin with. When posting a question about an issue or a question about how to achieve something then we can all take responsibility to be as clear and specific as possible including details of what we’ve tried or want to achieve, complete with links, screenshots, version details, steps to replicate etc etc. This can make a real difference to how quick and useful a response you get, especially if your question is about something that is seemingly not working, or something that you want to achieve but perhaps it isn’t obvious how to achieve that. The following is a simple example of how a question, in this case posted to the xerteforteachers mailing list as well as direct email, can result in different responses and suggestions. Nothing wrong with the question or responses in this example but it does demonstrate how the clearer we can be, whether posting the question or an answer, then how time can be saved and the usefulness of responses improved.
An example question and the various responses and suggestions made:
Here’s a recent example where the following questions was posed via the xerteforteachers mailing list:
“I am creating a Xerte resource that I would like to show the Menu – Table of Contents dropdown box on each page but NOT the forward/back arrows. Does anyone know how to do this? Is it possible or does it need customisation – if so could some-one let me know how to go about doing this!”
“You can hide the navigation with the optional properties on the LO icon.”
“It’s possible to disable the back and forward buttons on each page, using the optional properties. But I don’t know if that’s what you mean.”
“In the editor you can change Navigation from Linear to Menu. This will remove the forward/back buttons and just leave a menu button at the bottom which will take you to a menu page.”
This is obviously a simple example and certainly demonstrates the fantastic free support provided to the community. However this also shows how a question can lead to quite a few different interpretations unless the question is very detailed or accompanied by screenshots or visuals of some kind. In short the better we describe our questions the more likely we are to get a quick answer that provides a solution.
I also responded but decided to put the response in a learning object to demonstrate the suggested solution along with a caveat about accessibility. You can see that response embedded below:
When asking questions via any of the Xerte community channels please be as specific and detailed as possible and include links, visuals and steps to replicate if appropriate.
Likewise if you’ve benefited from community support please endeavour to help others too. If you do respond with an answer and suggestion keep in mind that it’s just as important to be detailed and clear so that anyone else discovering the thread in future can learn from both the initial question and the answers and hopefully not need to repeat the question themselves. We can all do our bit to contribute and give something back to what is an ever growing and to some extent ever demanding community.