On the 23th and 24th of March I ventured up to the University of Bolton (UoB) to the JISC/CETIS widget bash. It was a session designed to promote and aid developers to understand the Wookie widget solution. The first day started with an couple of hours where developers could present their own developments of widgets and extensions to different systems. I had a short presentation of 5-10 minutes showing what we have done up until now within this project.
After that there was lunch, and then the Wookie framework was presented by Scott Gartner from a perspective of how to use it to develop new widgets. The most unfortunate part of this was, that right at the beginning it became clear that the development “suite” we had been asked to prepare for the days was using the wrong files. It was the binary wookie server, and we would need the source version. I say this was unfortunate, because suddenly a considerable number of people had to download this at the same time. It took a lot of time to check it out of the repository, this was not helped by the, at times, lacking wireless network at UoB.
After downloading this it had to be built using ant. I did this, but unfortunately after over 10 minutes of building it errored! I cleaned it up, and retried only to find the error again. I started investigating and found after some time on the Wookie bug reports that there was an issue with ant v1.8, which is the latest ant and on my Ubuntu indeed is the default. I started downloading on older ant version (although I hate using old versions of software) and started installing it manually. Unfortunately this isn’t “controlled” by the debian update-alternatives system, and it turn out to be a bit of black magic as manually created dynamic links was overridden, and after working on this into the morning of the 24th, I gave up trying that approach. I instead installed an even older version of ant (v1.7 instead of v1.7.1), which is installable through the Ubuntu repository. This worked and I started building, only to get another build error after over 25 minutes!! I tried again to clean everything up and rebuild but without any luck. As this happened shortly before 12, I decided to give up and talk to Steve Wickers of University of Edinburgh, whom at this point also had given up getting it to work. He also develops building blocks (B2) for Blackboard, and it was a very fruitful talk, discussing B2 development and IMS LTI progression.
It might sound like it was a fruitless time spent in Bolton, and to some extent I must say that it felt bad going up there just to find out that Wookie is a bit “temperamental” to set up on an up-to-date Ubuntu machine, and I can only say that this showed that for the production environment at UoR this solution isn’t mature enough at this stage, and if we are going to use W3C widgets within the project we probably will go with a more traditional Widget API provider such as Netvibes or Google, who has the added benefit of providing production ready widget servers – well-knowing the benefits that an open source solution would bring!
But more importantly, by talking to Steve, I now know that I will try to use IMS LTI basic through the BB LTI functionality, which became available in BB Services pack 4 for v9.1 in Dec/Jan. This provides some very interesting possibilities for the widget we are going to develop, especially the content plugin, and this will be interesting to explore this technology.