Category: Resources

These days, you can hardly be an instructional designer without being prepared to show that you can use either Captivate or Storyline.  So, I decided to dive into learning the basics of both of these programs to see what all of the fuss is about.

Captivate, by Adobe, is an e-Learning authoring program that is very similar in function and appearance to the old lecture standard – PowerPoint – although it offers many features and improvements that take away the frustration of turning lectures slides into online instructional materials.  With improved support for narration, multi-media embedding, and flow control, Captivate takes creating materials for online or hybrid courses to a new level.


  • If you have been using PowerPoint in the classroom (or in online education) for years, you can import your old slides into Captivate to get a head start.  Tech support at Adobe says that support for converting PowerPoint animations during the import has improved, but you might download a demo version and check if your slideshows will convert smoothly.  On the other hand, if you’ve been using those animations to “create interest” – you probably should think about revising them substantially anyways.
  • With some attention to settings early on, you can create a slide show that will work on multiple devices: desktops, iPad/tablets, and smart phones, automatically adapting to fit the size of display.  As students increasingly shift their studying to the most convenient device in reach, the ease of creating a lecture once for multiple devices is very attractive.
  • Unlike PowerPoint, Captivate was designed to create e-Learning lessons and has far superior support for recording voice overs for slides and embedding multi-media – even allowing a video to play over multiple slides and adding closed captioning.
  • The ability to create a lecture that responds to student answers opens up the possibility for formative quizzes, student self-check of understanding, and branching within a presentation to allow students to view material that applies to them while skipping the rest … or get a review of material that they did not grasp on the first pass.
  • With the branching and assessment features, you can create very responsive interactive lessons, but you will need to spend time flowcharting your presentation or lesson and may want to work with someone who understands computer programming.


  • As a big proponent of active online learning, I have to caution instructional designers considering the adoption of Captivate.  While this program offers some handy features, such as quizzing and branching, it is essentially cut from the same cloth as the father and granddaddy of lecture aids: PowerPoint and the overhead project, respectively.  Of necessity, it boils down ideas to the few words that will fit on a screen, possibly with images, animation, and short video to augment the point, presented to the learner as part of direct instruction.  The theory of learning as consumption presented in a (mostly) linear fashion is not challenged by the newish tool.  And as students have been telling us for nearly twenty years, this is not an engaging way to learn – either in the classroom or online.  Adding pretty, moving pictures doesn’t really help.  Certainly, use this as a way to present content, but also consider using other techniques to engage students in activities that address higher order thinking skills as part of their learning.


  • With Captivate, you can publish your lesson or presentation in HTML5, for those viewers (most people) who do not have Captivate on their computers.  In general, most people should have modern browsers that can handle the new web standard, but I’m often surprised at the number of students (and faculty members) who are milking along old, out of date software.
  • Responsive design is a great feature, but you still need to pay attention to details of positioning as you build your lesson, slide by slide.  You may need to prioritize what will appear on a mobile device screen since no magic allow you to show a great deal of text and images on a small display.  Also, you cannot import a PowerPoint presentation into a responsive (i.e. adjustable size) presentation.  To take advantage of this feature, you’ll need to start from scratch.


For most uses, I suspect faculty members will not use the advanced features of Captivate and should stick to the old standard, PowerPoint.  Nearly every computer on any college campus has PowerPoint … or the free viewer …. installed.
But for direct instruction materials that can scale to a selection of display sizes AND do some quick quizzing, Captivate may be the solution you are seeking, especially for content-heavy courses aimed at adult, professional development or end-user education.



You haven't lived until you've died in MUD. --...

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been collecting dissertations (and theses) about virtual worlds and massively multiplayer online games.  This is my list thus far …. if anyone knows of others, please share.  This would especially be helpful for all of us who are breaking new ground at institutions that don’t currently have professors well-versed with this type of location for research.

Bruckman, A. S. (1997). MOOSE Crossing: Construction, Community, and Learning in a Networked Virtual World for Kids. Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


Long, B. T. (2008). Online Communities on the MUVE: Using Second Life to build an Online Peer-support Community for Pre-service Teachers. University of Dublin.

Smith-Robbins, S. (2011). Incommensurate Wor(l)ds: Epistemic Rhetoric and Faceted Classification of Communication Mechanics in Virtual Worlds. Ball State University, Muncie, IN.

Steinkuehler, C. A. (2005). Cognition and learning in massively multiplayer online games:  A critical approach. Unpublished Dissertation, University of WIsconsin, Madison, WI.

I’ll admit it – I have iPad envy.  Less expensive than a computer, more mobile, longer battery life, and easier on the back as well.  If you are not yet convinced that they are the wave of the future in higher ed, take a look at my post on the pros and cons.  I think you’ll agree that they are worth a pilot project at your institution.

Unfortunately, I haven’t sprung for one yet … such is the budget of a grad student.

BUT, in the meantime, I keep looking at ways the iPad would fit into education, especially at the post-secondary level.  And while the hardware certainly is cool, it is pretty much a stylish brick unless it runs apps that you can use.  I haven’t checked if my favorite wine selection app is available yet (probably is ….), but this list from NITLE is probably more appropriate anyway.  Check it out and vote for your favorite (educationally related) apps as well!

Tower Hall at the College of St Scholastica at...

Image via Wikipedia

Check out the College of St. Scholastica‘s new conference on 21st Century teaching and learning to held this coming summer!

The keynote speaker will be Marc Prensky, which alone is enough to get me up there.  While the strong version of the digital native vs. digital immigrant argument gives me hives, Mr. Prensky’s work started an important conversation about how digital media creation and consumption has strongly impacted how schooling and learning take place in America — and how we might make use of new ways of communication and creation to significantly change how we conduct learning.

I haven’t seen many details about the conference, other than it is in the fabulously beautiful city of Duluth, Minnesota (where I live) during one of the few snow-free months, so I suggest you book mark the page and start looking over your summer travel plans.  If you decide to attend, let me know!  I’m always up for a good discussion on how we can leverage technology to improve education now and in the future.

If you use both Word and a learning management system (such as Moodle or Blackboard), you know the frustration of seeing all those nasty span tags that appear when you just want the text!

While I can’t make the process seamless, I do have a recommended fix or two.

  1. Thanks to many people who have suggested first pasting the text into a simple RTF program (such as TextEdit on the Mac OS).  For many situations, that works quite well.  But not always.
  2. So, I’ve kept my eyes open and found a product via LifeHackerCleanHaven.  CleanHaven is a free, cross platform program able to perform a wide variety of smart clean up and manipulations operations on both text and columnar data (such as found in spreadsheet programs like Excel).  It is far more powerful than the first trick and can be applied to many different situations (like removing the numbers from a mixed column of numbers and words in Excel before you import the file to SPSS!)

If you cut and paste between applications, or download data from databases, sooner or later you will need to do some fairly sophisticated data clean up on large amounts of text.  When you do, try these two tips … and let me know how your mileage is!