Birgit Zimmermann

Pattern-based Process Description and Process Support: A Tool to Support Processes for the Adaptation of E-Learning Material

Supervisor(s) and Committee member(s): Ralf Steinmetz (first examiner), Jörg M. Haake (second examiner)


Creating high quality E-Learning material is a time and cost consuming task. Re-using existing material could reduce these costs. But often a one-to-one reuse of the existing material is not possible, as the new usage scenario differs from the original one. If, for example, a learning resource created for company A has to be reused in company B, it is likely that the layout and the terminology have changed. In this case it is necessary to adapt the learning resource to the new usage scenario.

Predominantly, learning resources are created by domain experts, who have expertise in the domain the learning resource deals with. But often these persons are not experts in adapting the learning resources to new usage scenarios. Hence, it is difficult for them to perform the adaptation processes. There are several reasons for this: On the one hand there are many file formats used within learning resources. On the other hand there are many different kinds of adaptations (like layout, language, didactics etc.). Thus, special knowledge is needed to perform adaptation processes. Therefore, to develop software for supporting adaptation processes, it is important to integrate the knowledge of experts in performing adaptation processes into the development process, as they know how the processes are performed and which functionalities are required to support users in performing the processes.

However, in reality experts in performing adaptation processes are barely involved in the design process of new software. Usually, process experts are consulted for the processes they perform, but the design and the development of the software are done by software designers and developers. As a result, the software often reflects the understanding of these persons of the processes, which in many cases differs from how a process expert understands and performs the processes.

In this thesis, a concept is proposed that allows experts in performing adaptation processes to be involved more directly into the development process of software for supporting adaptation processes. Thus a tool can be developed, that contains the knowledge of process experts and supports other persons in performing the processes. The developed concept consists of three steps, where the first step offers process experts the option to describe the adaptation processes. Relying on this description, a software prototype can be created in the second step. In the third step, this prototype serves as a basis to develop a functional tool for supporting adaptation processes.

For the description of the adaptation processes a pattern based notation formalism is applied in the first step. This formalism has the advantage of using natural language. Thus, it is easy to understand and easy to learn even for process experts, who have no knowledge of process modelling. Moreover, patterns have been proven suitable to document expert knowledge on how to perform certain tasks. Additionally, an input tool has been developed that supports process experts in creating the pattern-like process descriptions.

The input tool creates a machine-readable XML-representation of the descriptions provided by the process experts. In the second step this representation serves as input for a second tool that allows process experts to generate a software prototype based on their process descriptions. With this prototype it is possible to check, if the adaptation processes are supported in a correct and desired way. If a prototype does not meet the process understanding of the experts, the process descriptions can be adapted and a new prototype can be generated. This proceeding can be repeated until the prototype meets the expectations of the process experts.

The prototype developed based on this proceeding reflects the understanding of experts of the adaptation processes. Thus, it serves as a valuable basis for further development. In the third step it can be passed on to a developer, who can add automated functionalities to the prototype. Thereby, a fully functional tool to support adaptation processes is developed. This tool guides other persons through the adaptation processes and gives them support, based on the knowledge of experts. Whenever possible, automated functionalities are offered, to serve the convenience of the user. As a result, even unskilled persons, who are not experts in performing adaptation processes, are supported in adapting existing learning resources to new usage scenarios.

As evaluation of the concepts and tools developed in this thesis, a user test has been conducted. It has shown that the concepts presented here enable process experts, to describe the processes they perform, and to create a prototype, which represents these processes. In addition it has been shown in a second user test that the developed tool for adaptation processes, which has been created based on the discussed concepts, enhances the support for adaptation processes: Users make less errors, the adaptation takes less time and the satisfaction of the users is higher compared to users working with a conventional tool.

KOM - Multimedia Communications Lab


Multimedia Communications Lab at the Department of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology at TUD is headed by Prof. Dr.-Ing. Ralf Steinmetz (Adjunct Professor of the Department of Computer Science). The Multimedia Communications Lab haunts the vision of seamless multimedia communication. Seamless multimedia communication has the potential to create a future where people from all over the world live, collaborate, and communicate independent of geographical constraints. The communication systems that support this collaboration have to be performant, dependable, secure, and adaptable to user requirements. The lab works on different Research Areas towards this vision:

  • Communication Services
  • IT Architectures
  • Knowledge Media
  • Mobile Networking
  • Network Mechanisms & QoS
  • Peer-to-Peer Networking
  • Ubiquitous Computing
  • Networked Gaming
  • IT for Mobility and Logistics

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