Working with partners: Talis Aspire and Equella

A distinguishing feature of our distributed VLE is integration of a range of complementary learning technologies: Moodle, Equella, Talis Aspire, campusM, etc, based on:

  • web services; and
  • consistent naming of data within different systems.

In consultation with library colleagues we devised a workflow for including digitized materials (stored in Equella), in reading lists, held in Talis Aspire and publicised in Moodle.
Digitizated Materials Workflow
As part of new Unit (module) approval procedures introduced to support MMU’s EQAL curriculum transformation initiative, tutors are required to provide reading lists that distinguish items to buy, essential and further reading. Where essential or further reading can be delivered digitally, tutors are encouraged to use electronic sources and, within the terms of the institution’s Copyright License Agreement, tutors and library staff have been identifying chapters and articles for digitization. Library colleagues are agreeing a format for the “notes for librarians” field that will enable clear digitization instructions to be captured against item entries on Unit reading lists. All Talis Aspire lists are reviewed prior to publication. If digitization requests are encountered then the chapter or article will be scanned, uploaded to Equella, tagged with the Unit code and, finally, the Talis Aspire list item will be updated with the Equella URL. To make the outcome of this workflow as easy as possible for students, we wanted the Talis Aspire link presented in Moodle to be single-sign-on.

In an earlier post, we described a Talis Aspire integration scenario that went beyond the sample code provided for Talis Aspire. We wanted to supply a Unit (module) code and an academic year identifier and retrieve titles and URLs for the items on the reading list for that unit and display the content in Moodle. We prototyped a solution for this which initially parsed the RDF for the unit code to identify the URI for the relevant list and then parsed its XHTML representation. As prototyping began to move towards production deployment we started looking for performance improvements in our code.

On Tuesday, May 24, colleagues from Talis Aspire were on site for a project catch-up. We agreed a new naming convention for identifying versions of lists for particular academic years, provided data for a new Unit hiearchy that reflected this convention, and raised our two technical challenges with Chris and Ian:

  • providing single-sign-on links to Equella resources on Talis Aspire lists when those lists are displayed in Moodle
  • speeding up access to list item titles and URLs for a given Unit code and academic year

Chris demonstrated a new feature of Talis Aspire, which allowed javascript widgets to be added to Talis Aspire pages which could interact with the page’s content or extract data from its calling URL.

After 35 minutes of agile development, Chris had produced and deployed to our Talis Aspire tenancy a widget that could retrieve a single-sign-on token from the querystring of a list item page, and append this to the reading list item URL used to access material in Equella; Alex had modified the web service used to publish data in Moodle from Talis Aspire and Equella so that links to Talis Aspire items were appended with a short-lived token that would grant single-sign-on access to Equella.

Steve, Chris + Alex in agile dev mode

In just 35 minutes, powered by enthusiasm, coffee and a large tub of chocolate, we had achieved our aim of seamless access from Moodle via Talis Aspire to digitized journals and chapters stored in Equella!

Chris also mentioned that Talis Aspire supported CSV representations of lists, as well as the XHTML representations we had been parsing in our web service. We found the CSV representation gave a noticeable performance improvement of over 200ms per call, and have incorporated this change into the production codebase.

Our distributed VLE depends on integrating solutions from a number of different partners, and the kind of working relationship described in this post is a key enabler for delivering our DVLE vision.

3 thoughts on “Working with partners: Talis Aspire and Equella”

  1. Great example of having a clear spec for what you want, and how you want it to work for users (ie seamlessly), and then poking away at the systems until you get them to do what you want! How robust is this sort of thing to any version changes/upgrades in any of the systems involved?

    1. Thanks, Sarah
      We’re hopeful that having used only approved APIs (Equella SOAP and Talis Aspire widget, RDF and CSV) that our integration will be maintained through version upgrades.
      Guess we’ll find out!

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