Wednesday, 4 April 2012

MOPE - the future of engaging content?

Here in the School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR) at the University of Sheffield we are experimenting with a new way of delivering content for our distance learning courses. Prompted by the development of a new suite of taught online post-graduate courses, we are producing a large amount of new material for deployment online via our Virtual Learning Environment (VLE).

Well, there's an easy way of doing this isn't there?

Yes, we *could* simply upload our new and existing Powerpoint slides and MS Word documents and host them in our VLE and let the students access them.

Hurrah - problem solved!

Erm, not quite. Having been an online learner myself, I know what it feels like to try and pick your way through the sparce and meaningless bullet points of a powerpoint presentation. It's like someone has given you the dots and all you need to do is try and draw the lines between them. Hardly facilitates learning does it? Especially not when online learning can offer so much more.

Ok, well how about we all copy and paste our Word Documents' content straight into the VLE's text editor box? That would give us a bit of creative license!

Well, that's getting pretty laborious and I don't like the bloated code which comes through using this method. Not one bit...

(Look at that horrible window of bloated HTML code from a MS Word paste. And what does it all mean anyway?)

And besides, this means that everyone contributing content for an online module gets to use their own random styles creating a mish-mash of different font styles, colours, spacing etc.

Fine, let's just let everyone send their content to the Learning Technologist and let them format at it all using Dreamweaver (or, if this person's any good, they'll be able to hand-code it all).

Erm, I don't think that's a good idea either. Staff need to start being empowered to create their own content and improve their digital literacy skills and besides, sending it all to one person creates a bottleneck and also a single point of failure. I hate it when innocent Learning Technologists go under busses unannounced.

Ok, I give in. What would you advise?

I'm glad you asked. We here at ScHARR are using a home-grown tool called MOPE. It's an acronym. Doesn't everyone love a good acronym? It stands for 'My Online Page Editor' although I now realise that this is slightly confusing because you can also use it offline. The 'Online' bit simply refers to the fact that the tool helps you create pages of content for use online.

Sounds cool. How does it work?

Ok, in a nutshell, it is a client application which runs on your PC (Windows-only I'm afraid folks). It basically provides a user-friendly interface which enables academic staff to create pages of content by prompting them for the elements of information which form the basis of each page. These elements could be things like:

  • paragraphs of text
  • weblinks
  • glossary terms
  • screencasts
  • embedded html code (from web 2.0 apps like flickr, youtube etc.)
  • activity boxes
  • multiple choice questionnaires or true/false questions to help student assess their learning as they progress
  • images
  • nice quotation boxes
  • reveal boxes (where some content if provided, a question is provided and the students after reflecting can choose to reveal a model answer, for example)
Once you have told MOPE what you want your page to consist of and you've supplied the relevant information, it spits out some finely-crafted HTML code which are then paste into the VLE's text-editor (via the HTML code view). It's not rocket-science. However it has several unique selling points, such as:

  • It allows a consistant looks and feel across all module pages
  • Multiple pages can be instantly updated since they all reference shared style sheets (which govern the pages' presentation). This ability to make retrospective global edits to potentially hundreds of pages all in one go is a truly powerful feature
  • The pages are constructed using xHTML and CSS and are constructed in a way which means they are very accessible.
  • Screeenreaders and other assistive technologies can access MOPE pages
  • Pages created by MOPE have been tested extensively with a range of browsers (firefox, chrome and safari). 
  • MOPE pages look fantastic when you access them using an iPad!
  • Once your MOPE pages are pasted into the VLE's text editor, you can go back in and use the WYSIWYG text editor (useful for updating assessment deadlines or correcting typos)
  • Staff in ScHARR have found it has been easy to pick up and use and one staff member even felt comfortable enough with it they were able to train up another staff member without my involvement (infact, without me even knowing - suffice is to say finding this out nearly brough a tear of pride to my eye).

So here's what the user-interface looks like...

(Buidling a page using the MOPE user interface)

So here's a page, sitting happily in the VLE which was constructed using MOPE...

(A page created using MOPE as it appears to the students in the VLE.)

Ok, it looks pretty useful. Can I use it too?

Well, originally MOPE was my baby and just for me and my courses. However, I'm now seeing that this could be of use to a wider audience and am currently interested to hear from anyone at the University of Sheffield who might be willing to have a go with it. 

Anyone wanting to try MOPE should contact me in the first instance (



  1. I only figured out yesterday what MOLE stood for, but this acronym is particularly amusing for fans of The Wire.

  2. Have just Googled it - the things you learn!

  3. It doesn't replace what MOPE can do of course but there is a Blackboard supported Paste from Word building block "plugin" that will strip all that MS bloat markup. If anybody would like this added to MOLE2 please ask anyone from the MOLE team.

  4. Must admit, I've not watched The Wire. This made me think about the dangers of picking seemingly random acronyms without a bit of googling beforehand. Something to consider for the future. Also, any plug-ins to remove bloat from HTML would be worth looking at. Paul - please can you let me know if/when this is added in our VLE for general use? I would be interested in trying it.

  5. The next version of the text editor in MOLE will have better support for pasting from word but it won't be with us for a little while.



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