Responsive Web Design with Exam Engine and Training Studio

Responsive Web Design is a fairly new concept with the idea being that we want our web content to adjust to different browser capabilities and, in particular, viewport or screen sizes. So rather redirecting to a different set of content when accesses by an iPhone, iPad, or Android device with a smaller screen, we adjust our content accordingly. Ethan Marcotte coined the phrase and is one of its biggest proponents. Here are two articles that we found helpful: http://alistapart.com/article/responsive-web-design and http://unstoppablerobotninja.com/entry/fluid-images. We first learned about the concept in this excellent book: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B007SVJA3M/ref=oh_d__o00_details_o00__i00.

Making Exam Engine and Training Studio content responsive is challenging in the sense that you have to deal with both the background (index.htm) and the templates shown within the iFrame. But having templates rather than individual pages of training makes it quite a bit easier as there are a limited number of templates to fine-tune. The approach we used is to adjust the background elements both horizontally and vertically so they fit with both small and large screen sizes. With the templates, we only adjust them horizontally. This keeps the templates from running over the navigation buttons and so forth when they are resized[1]. Here is a matching template from Exam Engine at full size:

matching

Here it is again at a width of about 520 pixels:

matching500

Notice that we moved the Previous and Next buttons
to the left of the screen. The status text (not shown) is now below those
buttons and above the audio controls (which the items within the template have
sized automatically so they still fit on the screen). The drag and drop
functionality still works fine, though with this particular template the
“reset” functionality only operates correctly
when the user has not resized the screen while this template is
displayed.

Here is the same screen at about 390 pixels. It
still looks good but any smaller and we start running into problems with the
support text wrapping into the question text and so forth. Notice that we have
moved the exam name to its own line so that it doesn’t overlap the “Question 10
of 10” text. We have also moved the “countdown timer” right next to the Score
Exam button so that it doesn’t get cut off.

matching400

Here is an even smaller screen size (290 pixels). We have moved the support text to its own line[2]. It now wraps and gets in the way of the question text. But some minor adjustments on the length of the text or omitting the support link altogether would take care of that. Long feedback and status text also causes problems at such a small resolution. But even without these adjustments, we’ve gone a long way towards making our content quite viewable at multiple screen sizes.

matching300

The general approach to making this work is to first leave the style sheets as described above alone until we get to a width below our default size (800 pixel width for the templates that come with Exam Engine). We then use a CSS media query to adjust from there. It is important to understand that these CSS settings then stay in place until either another media query kicks in (such as at 400 pixels or whatever) or if the user resizes her browser above the value[3].

backgroundstyles.css

There are multiple media queries. At the first one (800 pixels width), we change all left and width values to the corresponding percentage values. As discussed in the references above, this uses the all-important formula: result = target / context. In our case, the context is our width, typically 800 pixels. The target is the existing amount in pixels. So if we have left: 8px;, we change it to left: 1%;, since 8 / 800 = 1%. Here are the media queries with some comments in line.

@media screen and (max-width: 800px)
{
	#userNameLabel
	{
	     left: 2.5%; /* 20px (target) / 800px (content) = 0.025 - 2.5%*/
	}

	#numQuestionsLabel
	{
	     left: 31.25%;
	}

	#examNameLabel
	{
	     left: 53.75%;
	}

	/* rest omitted for space reasons */
}

@media screen and (max-width: 768px)
{
	/* We switch the left and width of the status label and the various buttons to a fixed pixel amount so that they won’t move further or get too thin. */

	#statusLabel   
	{ 
	     width: 235px; 
	}   

	#previousBtn 
	{ 
	     left: 250px; 
	}   

	#emailResultsBtn 
	{ 
	     left: 310px; 
	}   

	#previousImageBtn, #emailResultsImageBtn 
	{ 
	     left: 318px; 
	}  

	/* rest omitted for space reasons */

}

The templatestyles.css and the individual style sheets for the templates have similar media queries. Of particular interest is the handling of images and media that are designed to fill a particular portion of the screen. Here is the media query from hotobjects.css.

@media screen and (max-width: 791px)
{
	#answer_1, #answer_2, #answer_3, #answer_4, #answer_5, #answer_6, #answer_7, #answer_8
	{
		max-width: 23.75%;
	}

	#answer_2
	{
		left: 23.75%;
	}

	#answer_4
	{
		left: 23.75%;
	}

	#answer_5
	{
		left: 47.5%;
	}

	#answer_6
	{
		left: 47.5%;
	}

	#answer_7
	{
		left: 71.25%;
	}

	#answer_8
	{
		left: 71.25%;
	}

	#instructionsFeedbackText
	{
		width: 55.375%;
	}
}

We use the max-width setting to ensure that the images (answer_1, answer_2, etc.) scale down as we reduce the screen width. On an 800 pixel width screen, the images are designed to be a maximum of 190 pixels wide. So we use our result = target / context formula to come up with 23.75% = 190 / 800. Note that this query starts at 791 pixels rather than 800. That is because the iFrame itself is 792 pixels wide and testing revealed that we needed a 1-pixel offset.


[1] Another way the media query could go away or change to a different value is if the user changes the orientation of the device, such as going from portrait to landscape.


[2] All of these screen shots have a spot for the student name, which accounts for the space at the top of the screen.


[3] This can still happen if you have long feedback or lots of text. If you are deploying to smaller devices like iPhones, we recommend either limiting question feedback or adjusting backgroundstyles.css to further push down the navigation buttons.

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About Jeff Rhodes
Jeff Rhodes is the Chief Technical Officer and owner of Platte Canyon Multimedia Software Corporation, a leader in developing commercial software that Improves the Lives of Training Developers. He graduated at the top of his class at the Air Force Academy, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering. Jeff received a Masters degree in Economics from the London School of Economics, which he attended under a British Marshall Scholarship. Jeff is the author of "Programming for e-Learning Developers: ToolBook, Flash, JavaScript, & Silverlight" and "VBTrain.Net: Creating Computer and Web Based Training with Visual Basic .NET." He also co-wrote "The ToolBook Companion." He has had numerous articles on training development published and is a frequent presenter at conferences both in the U.S. and Europe. Jeff lives in Colorado Springs with his wife Sue and sons Derek and Michael.

One Response to Responsive Web Design with Exam Engine and Training Studio

  1. Pingback: History and Advantages of Template-Based e-Learning Authoring | Platte Canyon/Jeff Rhodes Blog

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