About Stephen Evans

University web manager

360 degree virtual tours

The University of St Andrews has added a number of interactive 360 degree “virtual tours” throughout the website (see http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/visiting/Virtualtours/).  The tours give visitors to the website the opportunity to explore different parts of the University from the comfort of their PC.  There are four types of tours that have been taken:

  • Outside locations e.g. St Salvator’s Quad
  • Internal locations that are used for graduation, conferences and weddings e.g. Younger Hall, St Salvator’s Chapel, Lower College Hall
  • Rooms within halls of residence
  • Locations within Schools e.g. a clean room with the School of Physics and Astronomy

Senate Room - University of St Andrews

The tours give a unique insight into locations that are normally restricted to the general public so this help visitors, such as prospective students, decide whether to book a venue or rent accommodation. Parents have particularly appreciated the ability to see the venues for graduation.

Full Visual

The high quality virtual tours were taken by Full Visual, a company based in Edinburgh. Their very reasonable cost has enabled us to commission tours of bedrooms and kitchens from each of the University halls of residence.  Compared to conventionally commissioned 2D photography, the virtual tours are very cost effective, especially when you consider that each tour is comprised of over 100 photos!

Quicktime vs Flash

The tours on the University website are currently in Quicktime movie format.  The website will be updated in the near future with tours in Flash, which is more universally supported by web browsers and provides a better user experience e.g. controls are overlaid on the screen to allow the user to zoom in and out of the tour.

So, if you want to give visitors to your website a unique view of your university, I would highly recommend the friendly staff at FullVisual!

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Develop custom web applications with PHPMaker

PHPMaker overview

This is not some random advertisement for yet another piece of softare with which to clutter your desktop, but a genuinely useful tool for those involved in developing web database applications.  No, I am not on commission!

I thought that I would share what PHPMaker is and how you might find it worthwhile as I know that until I found it I kept “reinventing the wheel”.  The number one rule in web development is “never reinvent the wheel”; someone else has usually done it before/better/bigger.  So why not use the resources that already exist?  Anyway, enough rambling.

The problem

Postgraduate course information is stored in a database and displayed dynamically on a web page using PHP.  Users can subscribe to courses.  Course organisers can manage the course information and bookings via a web interface.  The interface must allow different user permissions.  Do this by yesterday.

The solution

I could have either started crafting the code by hand using PHP to create the View/Add/Edit/Delete functionality etc.  From experience, I knew that this could take months of coding and bug fixing.  Using the rule “never reinvent the wheel” I trawled Google for software that would automatically generate the code for me.

To cut a long story short, I settled on PHPMaker.  The PHPMaker website gives a full demonstration of how the software works, including an online demo.

In summary, the steps involved are as follows:

Step 1: Setup your MySQL database and table structure.  This can be easily managed using phpMyAdmin.

Step 2: Download and install PHPMaker on your PC.

Step 3: Setup the connection to the database via PHPMaker.

Step 4: Once you are connected database you can then configure the way it will manage the fields in the tables.   Any subsequent changes to the tables structure via phpMyAdmin can be synchronised with PHPMaker.

Step 5: If you have designed your tables to control user permissions you can use PHPMaker to manage user accounts and to create a login page.

Step 6: Decide how you want to final web application interface to appear.

Step 7: Generate the PHP code and upload it to your server.

Step 8: Enjoy!

The software uses an intuitive point-and-click interface so you can experiment with changes to the settings and create the code very quickly.

PHPMaker currently costs US $99.95.  Money well spent considering the amount of time you save.


The University of St Andrews GRADskills website displays courses for Postgraduate students.  The backend is managed using an interface developed by PHPMaker.

Example of the GRADskills management interface