SIOUX: Structured Content in eLearning Scenarios

The increasing availability of networked personal computers and the rise of the World Wide Web (WWW) in the mid-90s gave birth to Web-Based Training (WBT). Unfortunately, as it turns out, HTML, as the lingua franca of online content, lacks much of the functionality needed to fulfill many of the needs of online educators, e.g. no dedicated semantics for online exercises, no support for complex equation rendering, difficult reformatting of HTML content that is to be embedded in new contexts.

The key idea behind structuring educational material is to decouple style from content. Storing course content in elements that reflect the semantics needed in learning applications (e.g. introduction, example, proof, quiz, ...) allows the reuse of data in different situations and formats - adapted to learner preferences, target media or purposes.

Using an XML compliant subset of the widely-used DocBook document type definition standard–enriched with semantics for interactive hypermedia and educational elements– we present a complete publishing workflow for educational online material. The original content is authored in an SGML/XML editor, then processed into a set of XML files containing course structure and contents.

Authoring workflow for structured content.

Finally SIOUX (Servlet Interface for Online User-Adaptive XML content), a web server extension written in Java, renders this XML content on-the-fly into HTML pages according to learner preferences, desired target media or the current educational situation. All user requests and their parameters are logged into a relational database. This allows the collection and sharing of comparable data on applicability and effectiveness of the content and helps to improve the quality of future online courses.

Technical architecture of our learning environment.

The workflow described has been tested and evaluated in a course on evolutionary programming for computer science students. It is shown that certain requirements arising from this topic (e.g. importance of easy authoring and legible display of mathematical equations) can be handled superiorly by the described system compared to non-XML approaches.

Example sites online

The research results are used in several contexts with two courses currently online. You visit them by clicking on the thumbnail screenshots (You may probably need a password to access the complete content offered).

The Cognitive Systems Department participated in the a eLearning initiative Bioinform@tik with an online course about evolutionary algorithms (EA). Having mastered the theoretical foundations of EA, students can further explore genetic algorithms and evolution strategies using EvA, an EA software suite developed at the Cognitive Systems Department in Tübingen.
Another course is currently offered as companion website supporting lectures on electronical engineering aspects of computer science. The target audience consists of freshmen and sophomore computer science students. The course offers e.g. interactive simulations like a Java-based circuit construction kit (programmed by Fabian Sinz and Julian Zeiler, two students at our department).

Further reading

You can find a more verbose description of our work in: Improving Web Based Training Using an XML Content Base. Simon Wiest, Andreas Zell. In Proceedings of "World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia & Telecommunication" (ED-MEDIA) 2001, 25.-30.06.2001, Tampere/Finland, pp. 2045-2050. [PDF] (215 KB)


Simon G. Wiest, Tel.: (07071) 29-77176, Email: wiest at