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									AIR presentation:
Open Source Dynamic Fact Book: Construction Kit
Dr. S. Wickes Westcott III and Nancy T. James
Office of Institutional Research
Clemson University
Clemson, SC 29634-5406

Abstract (100 words)
       We have implemented a web fact book that has significantly reduced the time
required for annual updates while substantially increasing viewing options. Views are
constructed via a web form and require only basic knowledge of HTML and SQL query
language. Annual updates only require an upload of new data to database tables. The
application is completely open source, based on Perl and mySQL running on a Linux
Apache server. Application files will be available to others under the GNU General
Public License. We hope to establish a core group of users who will share innovations for
continuous improvement of the application.

Proposal

         The presentation will provide an overview of advantages of a dynamic web fact
book based on database tables. Key components of the system will be described, and
knowledge and skills required to use the system will be discussed. Routine methods for
constructing web views and mechanisms for annual updates will be demonstrated.
Finally, initial plans will be discussed for developing a group of users to share
innovations for continuous improvement of the application, as an open source project.
         The desired audience should include those who are unaware of the opportunities
for implementation of database driven web sites as well as those who have selected other
options for deploying dynamic web fact book. Commercial software can support this type
of approach, but open source software will allow you to implement the application
without financial cost. Support from other users of the application can help during the
initial startup and shared innovations can provide for continuous improvement. The
General Public License allows users complete access to the application code, so any
changes desired may be made by those with the required skills.
         In a random review of university fact books on the web, many still rely on static
web pages or Acrobat Reader files to deliver data to users. This approach does provide
excellent opportunities for presentation style and delivery to a large audience, but annual
maintenance requires such a significant amount of staff time that the overall scope of the
fact book must be limited. When the fact book views are pulled directly from a
supporting database, there is no need to construct new static pages or Acrobat Reader
files each year. You simply load the new data in the database table and it automatically
flows to all views currently available.
         The views in our fact book provide instant access to new and previous years, and
choice of viewing in a web page, spreadsheet, or plain text file. In addition, we have a
mechanism to view at the University level or drill down to the college and department
levels. In the past, we spent significant amounts of time providing this information to
departments for program reviews and surveys. We no longer have that burden and we
have the opportunity to provide targeted views to colleges or other clients who have
continuing needs for this information. Additional views do not add significantly to our
maintenance costs because they all feed from the main database. Each view will include
the latest information immediately after a new load to the database.
        New views may be constructed by entering configuration information into a web
form. This includes the html navigation controls, style elements for the table, and the
SQL query to pull the data. The information is saved in a configuration file that will be
accessed by the program as directed by the calling URL (web address). Construction of
these files requires some knowledge of the SQL query language and HTML, but even
those who do not have a strong background in these areas can develop new views that are
based upon previously constructed views. Often, the desired view requires only minor
changes from an available view.
        The database uploads can be managed from MS Access or via a web application
like phpMyAdmin (https://sourceforge.net/projects/phpmyadmin/). We have used
phpMyAdmin to construct the tables and MS Access to capture the data and upload it to
the mySQL tables. With the mySQL tables linked to MS Access, we can use the query
tools to construct new queries and then copy the SQL for use in construction of new web
views. There is a crude converter included in the configuration form that will scrub the
SQL to roughly meet mySQL standards. Depending on the complexity of the query,
further refinement may be required.
        Web sites provide support for mySQL (http://www.mysql.com/) and Perl
(http://www.perl.org/) if questions arise as new views are constructed. These and other
sites on the web provide extensive documentation and tutorials to help you with any
project. There are also many sites where other users share code and insights from their
own development of applications. We hope that there soon will be a community of users
for the web fact book application that can provide some support for problems specific to
this application.
        Although it will be an advantage to have someone on your staff who could make
changes to the fact book application, it should not be necessary. The application has an
adequate repertoire of options to support many views. Therefore, potential users should
not shy from trying it because they do not want to learn a programming language.
Equally, the required knowledge of HTML is low and many commercial applications will
generate html from other documents. Parts of this HTML can be pasted in the fact book
form and may require only minor adjustments to work.
        The files supplied will include some database table designs and configuration files
that are based on these tables. It should be possible to load your own data into the
database and immediately have a set of views available. As the community of users
grows, we may have some tools to make the startup easier and some may share additional
views that might be added to other fact books. In some cases, entirely new data sources
may be suggested along with new database tables and the associated configurations for
views. It is conceivable that these could be shared as sets of files. Setup up the tables, add
your data, and add the views to your fact book.
        We believe that others could benefit from our work and a community of users
would support further improvements. There may be a need for IT support to provide web
server space and access to a mySQL database, but the rest of the implementation is not
difficult. We are confident that use of this approach will provide substantial benefits in
time savings and increased support for your clients. The time spent learning a few new
things will be paid back many times over.

Presentation Outline
Prior to start, bring up a my Fact Book view, mySQL database table, factbook.cgi, MS
Access database
    I.      Overview – second slide – show database tables, factbook.cgi, and a view.
    II.     Construction of a view – third slide – show Fact Book Maker, configuration,
            and view (just quick flip through steps to load, review, and view a page). Then
            return to fourth slide to review aspects of configuration.
    III.    Components of a Configuration – show parts of configuration in My Fact
            Book Maker – fifth slide – review components of a configuration.
    IV.     Source of data – sixth slide – show MS Access database with mock links to
            mySQL

								
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