Category: Uses for the tools

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.



I really enjoyed teaching this semester. I think I learned a lot and was able to field-test many of the tools and educational technologies I recommend to educators in higher education and in K-12 settings.  I had some successes.  I had some flops.  But I know, from the debriefing with students at the end of the term, that we all learned a great deal from each other.  Me included.  What a great testimony to the concept of pre-service and in-service learning communities of educators.  To all of my co-learners, I say a hearty and heartfelt thank you!!

This reflection …. and some subsequent posts …. will attempt to debrief current and near-current practice (along with some mention of theory) in educational technology for pre-service teachers.  The good.  The problematic.  And the adjustments I would  make for future courses.

The Good

The course met in one of the University’s teaching labs, naturally.  This was a boon to just-in-time instruction since I would show the students a technique or tool which they could immediately implement on their own.  Great experiential learning.  Good way to bridge the well-known digital divide that does impact some of our students (some of whom had non-functional or inadequate personal computers) with state-of-the-art hardware and software.  And I did ask them to run some substantial programs such as Photoshop and Second Life.  So having reliable computers for experience and completion of assignments made the course a success.

The Problematic

And yet, those huge monitors on top of rows of tables definitely posed numerous challenges.

They did made it difficult to establish rapport between teacher and student by blocking the faces of the back half of the class.  I was not able to read their expressions to see if they were engaged, confused, bored, tired, or thinking hard.  While I could “read” the students in the front rows, we all know that students tend to self-select into regions of differing engagement with the material and the teacher.  I knew I was missing the feedback of half of my students …. and often the harder-to-engage half at that.

The computers hampered the ability of the students to see me and the visual portions of my instruction.  I still tend to use the whiteboard while talking, especially to draw charts, give the correct spelling of terms, and reinforce major ideas.  Even when I used the SmartBoard and computer combination (typing up notes or showing how to use a piece of software), I had to remember that the back half of the class literally could not read the bottom half of the projected screen.  This was a frequent problem whenever I was demonstrating a technique to the class.

The computers, and rows of tables upon which they rest, hindered interaction among students.  I tend to use constructivist methods in teaching, but getting students moved into groups for discussion was a chore.  The tables could not be moved, and so groups larger than three usually could not move around enough to actually talk to each other.  As the semester wore on, and coats joined backpacks in choking the aisles, I reduced the sizes of groups and the amount of time we spent in group break-out sessions.

The Solutions

  1. The flipped classroom.  I intentionally lectured less and made classroom time centered on student experimentation, small group discussion and production of learning artifacts.  I used our course management system, Moodle as an organized repository of class readings, course assignments and resources, online tutorials and resources, and copies of all of my notes.  That way, if someone could not read what was at the bottom of the board or screen, they could go back and get the details after class.  This was especially important because I had students with visual impairments …. they could participate in class knowing that they would be able to listen to anything I wrote when they accessed the material in the course website.
  2. Twitter backchannel.  While students did not make much use of it, I did create a twitter backchannel for the course.  That way, they could send me a quick note during class if they desired to give me feedback.
  3. Google docs.  Once they grasped the concept that every member of a group could edit a single document, students became enthused about using Google as a collaborative workspace.  I turned group discussions into sessions where small groups collaboratively created opinion papers or summarized readings together.  Once done, they could share results with me and …. depending upon the assignment …. with the whole class.  This made group collaboration feasible in a room built for individual work centered around a computer screen.
  4. Online discussion.  I used this sparingly since many students already are burned out by the frequent use of online discussions used to augment face-to-face classes.  I do enough reading of these discussions in my research and hobbies anyway (e.g. the Jedi Temple forums as a – now defunct – example).


If I had it to do all over again, and could not change rooms, I would be more explicit with the students about the changes required by both parties (teacher and student) in the flipped classroom.  While most students made good use of the freedom, some struggled and simply considered any time that I was not lecturing as “free time” with which to do what they wanted.  And Facebook generally trumped self-directed learning of educational technology.  (Not that Facebook wasn’t one of our technologies …. but that is for a later post.)  Some students needed more framing and guidance to be successful in this new teaching environment.  Given that some states (such as Texas) are encouraging teachers to lecture less and encourage group work more, it would behoove pre-service teachers to become more conversant with the theory and practice of this change in pedagogy.

Osmos, running under Wine

This weekend, as I was coming home from the MacArthur Foundations’s Emerging Scholars Conference on Assessment, I experimented with the demo of a new (to me) indie game, Osmos.  The game has been out for a couple of years, since 2009, and was recommended to me by fellow attendees who have purchased the Indie Humble Bundle, which not only gets players great games but also helps support a variety of charities.

Developed by Hemisphere Games, this lovely game worked for me on many levels.  My first impression is that it is just a beautiful game visually.  The graphics are very high quality and the motion of the little cells (one of which is yours to control) is very smooth.  Add the very lovely soundtrack, and you have a wonderful, meditative game suitable for relaxation while you do a little learning.  I played it on the plane in order to unwind – using an average set of headphones to block out some of the background noise.  I have to tell you, I would have played for the entire trip home if my battery had not run out … I’ll be looking to see if this is going to become available for the iPad!

Once I became comfortable with the controls, I was able to see how an understanding of physics was helpful.  This game reinforces an understanding of thrust mechanics as well as inertia.  Plus, the player must balance resources since the little cells move by expelling part of their matter but must grow larger than competing cells in order to survive.  Hence, players learn to move efficiently, take advantage of Newton’s Laws, and be patient.

The game does allow the player to speed up time if you want to see results quickly, but I decided to be more patient and let cells glide around as part of the unwinding process.  But just be aware that, in a classroom setting, you might want to control the speed of each level to reinforce the learning objectives and fit the game into your classroom schedule.

On the whole, I love this game and recommend it highly.  While it gives a nod to the biological reality that organisms ingest smaller organisms, it is not a violent game, which makes it appealing for school use.

  • Osmos (
  • Osmos (

Today, I got organized in order to meet the goal of building a medieval style stone tower and moving most of my stuff to that location.

The first step was to establish a workable pattern for mining stone while looking for the relatively rare ores … in my case, all ore seems to be rare.  But I was not daunted by the low return rate.  I just decided that it was time to adopt a set technique.

I experimented briefly with shaft mining and building ladders to allow climbing and descent.  Ladders work great for climbing up, but my climbing down technique remains poor.  After a few attempts, I decided that staircase mining would suit me better, so I dove in and started down to bedrock.  It seemed like it would take forever (my cat enjoyed my lap for a while), but I finally hit bottom and started working a branching scheme.  Found some iron ore and a ton of rock (well, digitally speaking).

With this load in tow, I located a high hill roughly equidistant to water, sand (to make glass), caves (for exploring later), rock faces, and flocks of chickens and sheep.  Then, the fun started.  I managed to get a good start on the tower, with an interior staircase, only to find out that it attracted all the monsters in the vicinity.  And they had bows and arrows!!  I was beginning to feel like this experiment was going to teach me all sort of things … one in particular was the potential for an extended siege .

They did force me out of the tower more than once before I was done.  This taught me the importance of having food on hand and my own set of ranged weapons!  In the end, I’m enjoying laughing at the local baddies.  From my tower, I can open up shooting windows and fire from above – retreating to cover as needed.

The garden is still outside my secure perimeter, and that may have to be addressed before long (can anyone say medieval walled city?), and I’m not sure how a spider got in one night.  Oh, and the tower is still pretty squat and ugly, but I’m working on making enough glass windows to break up the solid walls of stone as I expand the walls and staircase (and little “rooms” on the landings) upwards.  Overall, it was a successful experiment that reinforced my appreciation for the game – and my continued sense that this could be really useful in educating middle school children.

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!