Building the AIR Assessment Workbench editor

As part of the development team at Saffron we see lots of new technologies and frameworks emerging on a weekly basis and it can sometimes be hard to pick out which of these new offerings will be the one that you want to experiment with next, but since the launch of the Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR) we’ve been itching for the right project to come along that will allow us to get our toes wet and create an application for the desktop. For us, that project was our Assessment Workbench tool that had recently been made available to download on our website.

The original version of the Workbench was designed to be editable using Microsoft InfoPath, and although this was fine for most of our clients, we now wanted to make the Workbench available as a free download and for this to work it made more sense for the Workbench to be editable without having to purchase any supporting software. So, after exploring our options, we decided to start working with AIR to create a desktop editor for the Workbench.

We began working on few application prototypes to try and work out some of the obstacles we knew we would face when creating the editor. Some of these challenges are listed below:

Selecting an assessment package

From the start, we imagined that the editor would operate as a stand-alone application working outside of the actual assessment package. And to achieve this we needed a process for selecting a valid package located on the user’s PC. To do this we created a new file inside the assessment package with a custom file extension (.awkb). This file would be our handle into the assessment package allowing us to validate the package and find the relevant files needed to edit an assessment.

Saving the package

Editing the original version of the Workbench was a little disorientating as there were various different files that needed to be updated for different sections of the tool and this was something we wanted to tackle with the new editor. We decided that rather than saving the various files individually it would better to save the changes as a package. We were also able update the LMS manifest files at the same time.

Installing the editor

Our last obstacle to overcome was the install process. The initial prospect of having to download and install the runtime, then download and install the editor seemed a little longer than it needed to be for us. Thankfully there are a few install options available from Adobe when it comes to installing your application. We chose to use the badge-install method because it will check whether it needs to install the runtime before installing the application. In addition to this we also added a link to the homepage of the editor that allows you to download a fresh Workbench package to your PC so that you can create a new assessment whenever you want.

Now that we had a collection of prototypes ready and working, the final task was to start putting everything together into one finished application. If you are interested in seeing the finished product you can download the editor by registering on our Assessment Workbench homepage. And if you’ve not yet used AIR, come back next week to find out why I’m such a fan!

About the author

Alastair Maclean - Developer