Interfacing Feedback

My framework for feedback generation does not need a nice graphical user-interface. The input is simply a set of strings (current term, previous term and maybe some file names), and the output is also a string (the generated message). Since I am perfectly capable of using a command-line interface, why should I spend time on designing a fancy interface?

For one simple reason: Testing.

In order to know whether the feedback that is generated can actually be of use for students I am going to test the tools on real-life persons! This will not only give me a change to get out the lab and mingle with normal people, it will also provide useful feedback about the usability of the generated feedback. I intend to test the tools on students and teachers in a normal school setting, something which will probably result in nice anecdotes of system crashes, hanging computations and incomprehensible error-messages. Definitely something to look forward to :)

I thought that the easiest way of making sure that the tools can be tested everywhere is by providing a web-interface. No problems with installation or configuration, simply fire up the browser and lets start the fun.

Unfortunately, the choice for a web-application raises some other problems like different interpretations of web-standards and dealing with response time.
The first issue is a matter of using the standards and applying some hacks here and there. The last issue is (hopefully) solved by making use of AJAX (yes, my thesis is buzzword compliant). I haven't had the pleasure of programming with this technique so this is a nice opportunity.

A different issue with the design of a graphical interface is more personal. I am not that great in designing user interfaces. Most of the GUI's I have designed have the same design or are only input-output fields. It is not that this describes my GUI's, but I will probably not bring home any awards either. This is definitely something I want to learn.

Fortunately I love a challenge, so I intend to make a high-quality web-interface for my feedback generation framework. I have read several papers and books and I think that my current design is (theoretically) pretty good. It is rather minimalistic, gives visual indications for different zones and allows the users to adapt it to their personal taste.

Please feel free to comment on the design. After all, feedback is critical for learning ;)

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