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HTML presentations as OER from Org mode with Emacs

This post has an exceptional topic given the main theme of my blog, but I’d like to advertise and share what I created during summer term 2017, supported by a fellowship for innovation in digital university teaching funded by the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Research of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, and Stifterverband.

I switched my course on Operating Systems from more traditional lectures to Just-in-Time Teaching (JiTT; see here for the Wikipedia entry) as teaching and learning strategy, where students prepare class meetings at home. In a nutshell, students work through educational resources (texts, presentations, videos, etc.) on their own and submit solutions to pre-class assignments. Students’ solutions are corrected prior to class meetings to identify misunderstandings and incorrect prior beliefs. Based on those finding, class meetings are adjusted just-in-time to create a feedback loop with increased students’ learning.

As part of the course preparations, I adopted a different textbook, namely “Operating Systems and Middleware: Supporting Controlled Interaction” by Max Hailperin, whose LaTeX sources are available under a Creative Commons license on GitHub, and I decided to publish my teaching and learning material as Open Educational Resources (OER).

I briefly experimented with LaTeX with the Beamer package and LibreOffice Impress to create slides with embedded audio, but eventually I decided to go for the HTML presentation framework reveal.js. To simplify creation of such presentations, I developed my own infrastructure, whose main part, emacs-reveal, is available as free software on GitLab and satisfies the following requirements:

  • Self-contained presentations embedding audio, usable on lots of (including mobile and offline) devices with free software
  • Separation of layout and content for ease of creation and collaboration
  • Text format for diff and merge for ease of collaboration

Technically, presentations are written down in Org mode. The recommended editor to do so is, of course, GNU Emacs. In theory, you could use other editors because HTML presentations are generated from Org files, and you are free to use my infrastructure on GitLab (which, under the hood, is based on a Docker image containing Emacs and other necessary software).

You can find the source files for my presentations on Operating Systems on GitLab. The resulting presentations on Operating Systems as OER are published as GitLab Pages.

I created a Howto on GitLab explaining the use of emacs-reveal based on a simple presentation. The Org file of that Howto is translated by a so-called CI runner into an HTML presentation whenever changes are committed. The resulting presentation is then published as Howto on emacs-reveal as GitLab Page.

I hope this to be useful for somebody else’s talks or teaching as well.

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