Shaman : introduction
Embedded products
Management plan
Use Cases
Dev (full)


This documents describes the motivations which shape the Shaman product.

Of Shamanism...

"Shaman" name has been found because the first incarnation of the platform takes form at l'Université René Descartes, Paris 5, teaching medicine. "Shaman" name recalls (1) the goal which is to learn how to heal people, and (2) the uncertainty intrisically bound to all kinds of numerical processings ;-)

And it's typically Shamanic that how the work is done remains mysterious for the non-initiated ones (those who don't read documentation).

Embracing change

"Change is the only constant" (programmer's proverb)


Shamanism exists all around the world, across different cultures. It seems to be the same with pedagogical content standards.

For all teachers asked to translate their MS Word-based courses to HTML pages, then transform HTML into something printable, then extract pictures for a Powerpoint slideshow, the purpose is obvious : a standard is a guide for decoupling content from presentation, and avoid doing the same job three times or more.

The problem became the standard to adopt. We discovered soon that LCMS standards like SCORM, EML, IMS, LOM, rather focus on metatata, instead of the course content itself. DocBook could appear too complex.

And even if a particular standard was fitting all our needs, there was some problems left to deal with :

  • A governemental choice could impose another standard.
  • There is already hundreds of courses in the form of static HTML site. They cannot be translated in clean, presentation-free content in a snap.
  • Teachers have their own work habits, essentially based on word-processors. This will take time to make them change.

Since standards supports was a major point for Shaman's credibility on the market, we took the following decisions :

  • Raw content (legacy static Web sites, PDF docs, etc) should be supported.
  • Several XML-based content standards should be supported as plugins, each allowing different transformations for publishing on different medias (HTML, PDF...)

Supporting Workflow evolutions

Distant Learning implies several workflow aspects :

  • Content creation, approbation, publication.
  • Content access by Students.
  • Content-derived actions by Students : Questionnaires fill-in and review, statistics on accessed pages, etc.
  • Asynchronous communication between Students and Teachers. This can be done through Forums, support requests, etc.

The Workflow detail may change with pedagogical decisions. Questionnaires are an obvious example (overall note calculation, should solution be shown ? ...).

We observed that, unlike other CMS systems, there is a necessary coupling between content and workflow. For example, Questionnaires and Forums are scoped inside a particular Course (though statistics will be probably transverse).

Defining limits

The paragraphs before pointed out from where the Change should come from. In parallel, we established what the system should not do, for making things simpler from both technical and functional point of views.


Once validated for being accessed by Students, a Publication cannot be modified anymore. If you want to modify it, create a new version.

Content access

Content is made to be accessed. Once validated, no access restrictions. Knowledge, like software, is to be shared amongst people.

Collaborative content creation

No complicated process. Authors just share a WebDAV folder. A simple lock system prevents of concurrent modifications.

Note WebDAV is a protocol for sharing files over Internet. It is currently endorsed by most commercial products, like Adobe Photoshop, Macromedia DreamWeaver, Microsoft Office XP, Windows 2000, and many others. Shaman comes bundled with a ready-to-use WebDAV server.


Shaman does not provide any content editor. Just put your files in the WebDAV repository by some appropriate mean.

Note Today, there is no easy-to-use XML editor for courses content, mostly because of the lack of an adapted standard.
Should we also create our own ? We decided to focus on Content Management and Workflow instead.

No on-line exam

Don't expect any Distant Learning platform to be a reliable exam platform. On-line evaluation makes cheating too easy.
For example, there is no mean to ensure that the student is really the one passing the exam.

Perspective : seducing Users

"We're mature. They're mature. So, we can legally do it."
(anonymous Shaman developer)

Content is the beef. Content is the essence. Shaman must seduce Students by making wished content available. Shaman must also seduce Teachers, who produce content.

After proving that any type of content is supported, we hope to make Teachers converge towards an XML-based content format which will help them to produce their courses on different forms (static HTML, printable, slideshows...). There is a strong demand for this. This format will probably define the structure of a course. This will allow uniform content display, making courses more readable for Students.

Some efforts have already been deployed (with results) for showing Teachers the interest of basic RTF which can be easily converted to other formats. The intend is to make a smooth transition from format melting content and presentation, towards XML-based content format.

Copyright 2002 Laurent Caillette and l'Université René Descartes, Paris 5.
All rights reserved.