Home NODE Project Background Technical Approach
Technical Approach Print E-mail
Written by Todd Viola   
Friday, 01 June 2007 13:59

Generally speaking, our approach to software and technology development will be to adapt existing tools rather than develop new software. To address the requirements for the data translation system and Web-based interfaces, we propose starting with two tools that have already been developed. By employing Web services and published protocols, we believe we can incorporate the capabilities of these existing tools into new, customized  interfaces which we will design. We believe that these two initial tools will address a number of educational activities and data types. However we are open to identifying other approaches and starting points in consultation with NOAA staff.

Our proposed approaches are:

1. Modify and customize the Live Access Server (LAS) user interface.

The Live Access Server already offers an IOOS DMAC compliant method for discovering and selecting data sets based on published meta data as provided in the OPeNDAP protocol. However while LAS offers great flexibility and a robust selection interface for scientific users, the current Web-based forms can be very lengthy and confusing for educational users.

We propose to develop a new interface for LAS to address these issues. Our solution would entail the following:

  • Simplifying the data selection process by reducing the number of steps (clicks) needed to select data.
  • Rearranging the placement of buttons on the interface to make it more visual and intuitive. Users should have a sense of the step-wise nature of the selection process before they wade into it.
  • Developing visual guides and descriptions using language that is intuitive for educators and students.
  • Customizing meta data to create data groupings that will be intuitive for our audiences and relevant to our curriculum modules. We believe that much of this customization may be possible using the “category” grouping capability already documented for LAS. We anticipate needing to work with NODC staff in order to develop and implement customized meta data for some existing data sets.

The LAS functionality is particularly good for displaying spatial data, which we anticipate using in a variety of educational applications. Using LAS as a platform has an additional advantage of allowing us to deploy our own server but also access data on other LAS servers. We are prepared to install and host our own Live Access Server as part of the NODE portal. This would seem to give us the most flexibility for modifying and customizing the LAS interface.

2. Adapt existing Web tools of the NERRS Centralized Data Management Office.

The NERRS data site offers access to an impressive collection of data at monitoring sites across the country. It is particularly well suited to displaying and comparing station data for things like water conditions, weather conditions, etc. Our approach would be to utilize Web services published by the NERRS Centralized Data Management Office to offer this functionality in a new interface.

As with LAS, the new interface would reside on the NODE portal. Our solution would entail the following:

  • Clarifying and simplifying the data selection process, making it more graphical and less dependent on long lists.
  • Using a scripting language such as PHP to make calls to NERRS Web services . While the Web services and code examples provide an excellent start, we may need technical support from NOAA staff in the use of the application interface.
  • Employing a new graphing and display package to create attractive, customized visualizations of retrieved data. We want the new interface to resemble a data dashboard which can present real time station parameters in an intuitive display.
  • Focusing on parameters identified in the SWMP/IOOS Needs Assessment as those which teachers are familiar and comfortable with already, and using those as the basis of standards-based activities.

In all cases, data query and selection interfaces will be highly simplified and designed to relate directly to lesson objectives. While striving to develop compelling, inquiry-driven lessons, we will work to limit the number of selectable parameters that students must choose from. This will keep the number of clicks to a minimum and  help assure that students are successful in finding relevant results and are not frustrated by empty or meaningless searches. Data query tools will be integrated with activities within the NODE portal and will not be external links to other web sites.

In contemplating our technical approach to this project, we recognize that there is a tension between trying to develop a very generalized set of tools for discovering and accessing data and integrating those tools tightly within an instructional framework with specific educational goals. This tension is evident in some of the existing IOOS data sites that are currently available – they are effective at providing a generalized interface to lots of different data sets and sources. However this general utility often results in a dizzying array of choices for educators and students.

Contending with this issue is central to this project. Our goal will be to make sure than any software code operating behind the scenes – to query, sort, or display meta data – will be highly general and will conform to IOOS DMAC principles. However the front end interfaces may be highly customized and specific so that the tools are presented seamlessly in the context of a particular activity or lesson. In some instances, we may choose to “hard wire”  meta-data selections within the code of a Web page in order to reduce the complexity and number of choices exposed to users. Our aim will be to make the back end tools as extensible as possible, but to always be able to customize their presentation and use on the front end.

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