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IWMW 1998: Web front-ends to databases


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Slides for talk given at IWMW 1998 held at the University of Newcastle on 15-17 September 1998.


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IWMW 1998: Web front-ends to databases

  1. 1. “He left the course 3 months ago?” - Web front-ends to student databases Nick Gould Faculty of Economic and Social Studies University of Manchester
  2. 2. Nick Gould, University of Manchester2 Aim of Talk • Describe efforts to develop web-based front-end to student databases • Discuss problems • Describe solutions used • Are we going the right way about it?
  3. 3. Nick Gould, University of Manchester3 Problem • Large student numbers on modules – 400 plus on some first year modules • Requires a lot of administration – tutorial attendance – work done - essays, projects, exams – end of semester reports for each student on each module • Hard to keep track of students • Time spent on “paper-chasing”
  4. 4. Nick Gould, University of Manchester4 Solution? • Computer based system for storing/retrieving student information • Information to be stored: – student details – staff details – module details – which student is on which module – which staff member does what on which module – tutorial attendance – work done
  5. 5. Nick Gould, University of Manchester5 System Requirements • Teaching staff – recording tutorial attendance and work done – Generating reports • Administrative staff – monitor attendance across modules – Generate warning letters • Students – get information on staff, modules and tutorials • bulletins, dates, times, staff office hours, email addresses – join tutorial groups
  6. 6. Nick Gould, University of Manchester6 System Chosen • Access database – use student registration number/staff payroll number as unique ID • Web front-end (limited functions) – for student use – off-campus staff (tutors) • Visual Basic front-end (all functions) – for module administrators – departmental administrative staff and Faculty Office
  7. 7. Nick Gould, University of Manchester7 Why this system? • Access - previous experience • Interface - why not all Web? – Visual Basic - quicker/easier to develop front-end – Developing Search/browse Web interface is easy – updating/inserting - not so • validation • Student access mostly read-only – apart from selecting tutorial groups
  8. 8. Nick Gould, University of Manchester8 Web interface Overview • Start with login form • one for students, one for staff • Enter ID number and password • password self-selected via registration form • Student provided with a list of their modules • click on module name for tutorial information • if not booked on a tutorial given option to do so • Staff can • mark tutorial attendance • get student information • Web interface uses Active Server Pages
  9. 9. Nick Gould, University of Manchester9 What is Active Server Pages? • Used for interactive pages - dynamically generated • Provides server-side scripting. – Built-in to IIS 3+ • page consists of HTML and scripting language code • Browser calls .asp file instead of .htm or .html • Server processes script then returns HTML to browser
  10. 10. Nick Gould, University of Manchester10 Example Active Server Page <HTML> <BODY> <%  For i = 3 To 7 %>   <FONT SIZE="<%  = i %>">Hello World!<BR>  <%  Next %>   </BODY> </HTML>
  11. 11. Nick Gould, University of Manchester11 Active Server Pages and Databases • Assign ODBC data source name to database. • In the ASP – generate SQL query string – connect to ODBC data source – execute query – results stored in recordset – to return results loop through recordset generating HTML table, say. • See
  12. 12. Nick Gould, University of Manchester12 Advantages of Active Server Pages • Flexible, powerful – compared with FrontPage, dbWeb • In-built database interfacing elements, no extra modules required. • Choice of scripting languages – VBScript, Jscript, Perl • “Free”
  13. 13. Nick Gould, University of Manchester13 It’s worked before! • Web-based multiple-choice system – recording of marks, submission date etc. – administration interface • get scores for student X. • e.g. list all students who have not completed exercise X. – 470+ students in system. Each doing an exercise every two weeks.
  14. 14. Nick Gould, University of Manchester14 Disadvantages of ASP • Microsoft only – use Perl/CGI for portability • Programming required • Debugging - trial and error – but scripts short • Need to investigate other tools – takes time!
  15. 15. Nick Gould, University of Manchester15 Maintaining State • User logs into system with unique ID – ID used to generate personalized pages • Problem - statelessness of the Web – series of one-off transactions. • Need to pass variables from page to page. • Can store in HTML hidden fields - not very secure. – listmarks.asp?ID=97633&module=EQ1040 • appears in browser
  16. 16. Nick Gould, University of Manchester16 Using the Session Object • Feature of ASP • allows you to maintain state between pages • Can store values from forms as Session variables • More secure – listmarks.asp?module=EQ1040 • Easier to program • Session closed after 20 minutes of inactivity (default)
  17. 17. Nick Gould, University of Manchester17 Future Developments • Initially used on a few modules in one department – go faculty-wide • Investigate Development tools • Upgrade to SQL Server from Access – Access not-really multi-user – transaction logging required – won’t need to recode ASP • Interfacing with central databases? – Needs to be university-wide