eSchool is a web-based enhancement of a broadcasted, streamed or CD-Rom based lesson generally consisting of rich content like Flash, interactive elements such as polling and trivia questions and chat. The content or data is pushed to the users at the appropriate times as dictated by a series of events called a playlist.

eSchool more specifically is an enhanced streaming educational platform. It differs from other ACTV applications in that with eSchool the playlist is driven by user interaction and embedded triggers within a video (streamed or otherwise). McGraw Hill will be the first to launch an educational series with this platform. eSchool programs are generally based on specific subjects like Algebra or Geometry.

Isn't it expensive?
These types of products are very rich in content and often demand a high level of custom content creation. Customized content provides a rich visual experience, however the cost for creating custom content in an episodic series adds up quickly. Customized content can be reused on a one-off, "copy/paste" methodology, but it is not optimized for re-use and is error prone. Also, clients often wish to create content on their own to control costs and work flow.

To solve this problem, my team developed a tool suite called the Episodic Interactive Content System, an engine optimized to deal with this scenario. The EICS breaks up presentation and content so that the design of an interactive experience is not coupled with the content. The benefits of this system provide a cost-effective solution, a consistent look, multiple platform support, series branding, and client authoring capabilities.

The largest benefit of this infrastructure design is that interactive experiences are more easily portable from one delivery platform to another. To deliver to a new platform, a new delivery template simply needs to be created for the platform, be it a PDA, a WAP phone, a WebTV box, a digital cable box, or the web.

Click here for a demo of McGraw-Hill's implementation "Mathematics YES!"

Click here for an eSchool Online Demo

eSchool is made up of two main applications - the user application and the Learning Management System (LMS). The LMS for eSchool 4.0 is a customized version the popular Prometheus software built with ColdFusion. We have extended the Prometheus software integrating it with the eSchool backend architecture. Though these systems are integrated they are very separate systems. eSchool 4.0 was originally designed with the ability to adapt to any third party LMS.

The user application is a set of rich content that is driven by a playlist that is embedded into a video stream. A playlist is a set of events that dictate which piece of content the user is presented with and when. The architecture not only provides for this synchronous type of interaction (all being driven by the video) but also asynchronous interactions all produced by the user. This unique feature allows an eSchool lesson to seamlessly mix and match its content from video driven content and Flash animations to HTML markup and interactive questions and activities.

The user application can change its appearance simply by creating what we call a skin. A skin defines the look, feel and layout of components. The producer has a choice of components they can choose from including a table of contents control, a pop-up notepad, a pop-up glossary, a video player, etc… The user application automatically controls the interaction of the components as well as the synchronization of the playlist with the components being used. For example, by clicking on an entry in the table of contents, the video will jump to the proper offset and the content will synch up with the video.

As explained above, to keep costs down for the client, we developed a suite of tools that drive the content creation. The EICS is a set of authoring tools that allow a producer to quickly form a playlist based on some video asset. This video can be streamed or provided from a CD-Rom and can use any of the more popular streaming technologies including QuickTime, Real and Microsoft Media. These tools allow the producer to select from a large selection of predefined templates for content layout. Being web based, these tools allow the producer to change the content dynamically at any time from any place.

Oracle, Java, JSP, ColdFusion, Flash, Shockwave, DHtml, JavaScript, streaming technologies such as QuickTime, Real and Media Player
Sample screenshots.
Fig. 1 - Front page of the Learning Managment System (LMS)

Fig. 2 - After loggin into the LMS, the user can select from their courses as well as see how far they have gone in their assignement.

Fig. 3 - The eSchool User Application showing the table of contents in the upper left, and rich content on the right.

Fig. 4 - The eSchool User Application with a large video. This exercise would play a long segment and then be followed up with an activity or questions.

Fig. 5 - This is an example of a Q&A type question.

Click here for additional screen shots.