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Oracle Application Express (APEX): Effective online help with video demonstrations

Oracle Tips by Burleson Consulting

One excellent feature of APEX is the ability to have in-screen help pop-ups for any screen items. However, text-based help has been very ineffective when compared to streaming videos (shockwave swf files) that talk to the APEX end-user and show the screen in-operation.  Also, see out tip on fast adding of help text to screen items.

Bad online help

The use of item-specific help pop-ups has a very bad historical reputation in online systems because the help text seldom provides any useful information.  For example, we have seen text-based help on a last name field and the pop-up help says only “Enter the last name”.  Gee, that wasn’t very helpful, at all.  Because of this, many end-users don’t bother clicking online help.

Good text-based help

To be effective, online screen item-level help must provide details about the business process.  At a minimum, all text-based help should have the following information:

  • What are the formatting rules for this screen item?
  • Why is this field important to the business process? 
  • How is it used in output documents?
  • How does the screen item relate to the database?  Is it a key field to other information? 
  • How does this screen item relate to other fields on the screen?

Supplemented with online screen demonstrations, field-level help should provide the end-user with insights into the screen’s business process and how everything fits together.

 

Creating APEX Screen Demonstrations

The use of pop-up help text dates to the earliest days of computing and it is very outdated for use in 21st century applications.

Today we have the ability to create and deploy streaming APEX screen usage examples with audio and video example of how to use the screen.  This “how-to” approach to online help has become the de-facto standard for online systems and end-users demand this functionality.  Fortunately, online audio and video are easy to incorporate into APEX.  Let’s take a closer look.

Creating online demonstration help

There are many products that create online demonstrations such as Captivate, and Robohelp.  Here is an example of an online video created by Captivate, compressed to less than 1.2 meg for easy loading:

http://www.dba-oracle.com/demo/design_performance.htm

The products like Captivate allows you to create a screen usage demonstration and store it in a file for uploading and linking into an APEX screen.  First, wee need a screen icon to let the end-user know that they can view a talking demonstration for the screen.  It’s imperative that you use the word “talking” in the icon because many end-users turn-off their PC speakers.

We resized and animated the logo, placing it in the header of the APEX page automatically when APEX detected an swf file with the same screen number as the current screen.

 

The next step is to record the and upload the screen demo file (usually a shockwave file e.g. mydemo.swf File).  Let’s see how we can write an APEX component to manage talking screen demonstration help files for an APEX system.  This logo is a visual cue that they can get an animated demo for the screen of region area by clicking the logo, which, in turn, invokes the corresponding swf file.

To upload the Demo Help Files

We built a small APEX screen to manage our help video's.  Here is how it works.   We have a menu just for developers:

Click on the Online Demo Maintenance.    This will display the Online Demo Management page with a report of all the help files which have been uploaded already. 

Here you can check any of the demo and click on the ‘Delete Selected’ button to delete a demo.    To Add a demo, click on the ‘Add Online Demo’ button.

 

To add a demo, simply fill in the page number and then the name of the region where you would like the demo to be.   If the demo will be for the entire page, enter PAGE into the region name. 

 

Adding Icons to the Page or Region

If the demo is for the page, nothing has to be done.   It is already automatically coded to include the demo icon and linked in correctly. 

If the demo is for a region, this is the recommended way to display the icon.    

1)   Start by creating a button.

 

 

 2)  Choose the region you want to display the icon – Click Next

 3)  Choose to ‘Create a button in a region position’

 4)  Give the button a name and label

5)  Then choose to ‘Image’ for button type

 6)  For Action: choose  ‘Redirect to URL without submitting page’ – click Next

7)  For the Image Name, click on the up arrow.  This will display a list to choose an image from.   These are images loaded up in the WORKSPACE_IMAGES area through the Shared Components.  In this case, the demo_logo_small.jpg  file is chosen from the  list, click Next

 8)  For position, choose ‘Region Template Position #HELP#’  - click Next

 9)  Change the ‘Target is a’  to URL

10) For the URL target, enter the next line changing the <region name> to the region name that was entered when the demo file was uploaded.

javascript:popupURL('#OWNER#.download_help_flash?page_number=&APP_PAGE_ID.&item_name=<region name>')

11)   Click Create Button. 

The Icon and Demo file are now linked on the page or to the region.   When the page is executed, the Icon will appear.   When clicked on, a new window will appear with the demo.


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Includes online APEX code depot

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