Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Interview with Allen Partridge, Adobe Systems: E-Learning Innovators Series

The iPad is becoming increasingly friendly for any time / any place learning, ranging from K-12 to graduate programs. Welcome to an interview with Dr. Allen Partridge, the eLearning Evangelist for Adobe Systems, who discusses some of the new technologies that make it possible to convert different formats to play on the iPad, including HTML5 and HTML5-enabled Captivate.

1. What is your name and your relation to e-learning?
Dr. Allen Partridge is the eLearning Evangelist for Adobe Systems Inc. In addition to his work for Adobe Systems, he continues to serve on the doctoral faculty in the Communications Media and Instructional Technology program at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Allen has written several books and a host of articles on topics ranging from 3D game development to Instructional Design for new technologies. He is active in explorations of Immersive Learning as well as traditional multimedia enhanced eLearning and rapid eLearning. Allen works closely with the eLearning Suite and Captivate teams at Adobe, providing a channel to customer needs and concerns and helping facilitate communication among team members.

2. What are some of the exciting new directions you've observed in elearning?
Most of the movement lately has been in the expansion / ease of access to creating great content with limited experience working with software. We’ve been focusing a lot of attention over the past couple of cycles on modernizing Adobe Captivate and the Adobe eLearning Suite to modern standards. Most eLearning online uses Adobe Flash to deliver the content in a web browser played back using the Adobe Flash plugin. About five years ago Adobe made dramatic improvements to Flash technology and adopted a new programming language commonly called AS3 (ActionScript 3). All of Adobe’s eLearning software is now fully AS3 compliant so it all runs better, smoother, and much much faster using the full strength of Flash.
In more recent months we’ve been extending Captivate’s reach on mobile devices. Captivate users can already publish content to Apple iOS using the App Packager that comes with eLearning Suite, but we wanted to add the option to produce HTML5 compatible content easily from a Captivate SWF.

3. Where do you see some of the most innovative uses of tablets (iPad, etc.) in elearning?
We’re offering the HTML5 converter free to the public on Adobe Labs while it is still in development. We feel strongly that this open forum will provide users with a relevant voice as we rollout new features and seek to meet the needs of users for this rapidly growing platform. While for a long time, we saw little statistical evidence that eLearning content was being created for mobile platforms, the introduction of mobile tablets had dramatically altered the playing field for educational content developers. This does a number of things. 1. It creates a strong need for touch based interactions that anticipate the differences between clicking a mouse and touching an application with your fingers. We addressed a lot of those issues with the release of Captivate 5.5 – most notably adding special interactions to quizzes that made it much easier to deliver successful quizzes on mobile devices.
The addition of another export format (HTML5) further extends Captivate’s reach as the industry leader in eLearning authoring. This thing is really pretty cool. You just feed it a Captivate SWF – like an application capture demo, and it spits out HTML5. Then post the HTML file.

4. In the past, the fact that some technologies do not run on iPad operating systems has been a problem. What is being done to address that?
We’ve seen a variety of approaches from various companies. Some rely on third party technologies, others have developed proprietary solutions and some of the companies who had traditionally used older technologies like HTML, found that they could easily support HTML5. Adobe was among the first to offer a robust solution, and was the first to create a Flash to App converter which was released with Adobe Flash Professional CS5. There were however some difficulties, because Apple altered the terms of their developer’s license shortly before the CS5 software was released, and that alteration prevented authors from using the Application Packager from Adobe. Shortly afterward, Apple reversed course, and re-enabled the use of the Packager. So people can use it now, and many do. In fact many large games for iOS devices are Flash games, converted with the App Packager.

5. What is HTML5?
Well that depends on who you ask. Some will tell you it’s a clever marketing campaign. HTML is Hyper Text Markup Language. It’s the standard used by web browsers for the past 20 years to display text and graphics (and sometimes other stuff) on web pages. The number 5 is the version number. HTML5 is not yet complete, none of the browser companies display the content in the same way, or use the same technologies to display that content. So think of it as the next version of the web language. The excitement comes because it will be able to do a lot of interactions and animations, video etc. that weren’t possible before. That said, it’s not at all a silver bullet. It has a lot of limitations, and won’t really effectively replace the kinds of things we see in eLearning today, but we feel it goes far enough that we can do a good job of converting most of the features of Captivate and making it much easier to get rich interactive content created for iOS devices.

6. What are some of the Captivate products, and what are they used for?
Adobe Captivate is a super simple to use eLearning authoring platform. It’s used by more eLearning developer than any other eLearning authoring tool and people love it for creating all kinds of eLearning content. It’s famous for interactive screen / application captures. It also does a great job with PowerPoint conversion, allows authors to easily create custom interactions without any programming, and makes branched projects –like scenario based training simple to pull off.

7. Specifically, what does it mean that Captivate products can now be converted to HTML5?
The converter is an Air Application that takes an Adobe Captivate SWF and exports a web page (HTML) that complies with the HTML5 standard. It has been optimized to perform best on Apple iOS devices including Apple iPhone, iPad & iPod. Especially on iPad, this will give eLearning authors the ability to quickly and effortlessly convert their content into a format that will play in the browser of an iOS device and will not require them to duplicate their efforts, building a separate version from scratch just to accommodate users on iOS devices.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

OpenPlan for Film/Literature: Sample Lesson

Incorporating media in an online course is extremely useful, whether it be for a film / literature course, or a course (undergraduate or graduate) that uses movies, television, and other media to illustrate aspects of the content (leadership, business ethics, and history come to mind).

In this post, we look at film and consider it as a part of the OpenPlan series for teaching different topics, subjects, and disciplines online. This OpenPlan is for developing strategies for viewing film.

OpenPlan for Film: Where the Truth Lies (dir. Atom Egoyan, 2005)

Overview / Analysis

If you take the plot alone, or simply analyze the various subplots, you're likely to be very disappointed in Where the Truth Lies (Dir. Atom Egoyan, 2005) about a 1950s comedy duo, Lanny Morris (Kevin Bacon) and Vince Collins (Colin Firth), who broke up at the pinnacle of their success. (Spoiler Alert! This article contains information about the plot.)

However, Egoyan uses the plot to create a complex rendering of perception in the same manner as in his utterly brilliant Exotica (1994).

In Where the Truth Lies, the action begins fifteen years after the duo's breakup when a writer, Karen O'Connor (Alison Lohman), wishes to chronicle their story. We come to find out that the reason for the breakup was the attempt by a young journalism student, Maureen O'Flaherty (Rachel Blanchard), to blackmail them when, during an encounter in a hotel room involving the three of them, the "straight man" of the duo reveals he has been physically attracted to his partner and begins to act on it, only to be rebuffed. Seizing on the information as a way to pay for her future, the budding extortionist stays in their suite that night, just to turn up dead the next morning.

There are many ways to develop the plot, and Egoyan's process is slow and sometimes painful as he unveils each character's defining weaknesses, fears, and desires, which are jarringly discordant with their smooth, polished, often ethereally beautiful surfaces. This is metafictive noir at is finest (and most agonizing for some viewers).

Egoyan is never simply cerebral, and his mise-en-scene suggests perceptions of time present and time past are relentlessly mediated by a body that bridges fantasy and reality. The film moves back and forth from 1957 and 1972, both are gorgeously, impeccably true to the times and the feeling of privilege and glamour. There are noir elements in Egoyan's film, with edgy ambivalence about women and women's physicality: one can be drawn to them, but they will inevitably lead one to one's demise.

It's not too surprising that the tree planted by the mother of the the young femme fatale extortionist who was murdered in the hotel room turns out to be an apple tree, its limbs hanging heavy with bright red apples, ready for Eve's temptations. When the duo attempt to re-enact the "badger game" and pressure the writer to stop writing the memoir by taking photos of her in a compromising situation with a female (supplied by the duo), the effort backfires. Vince commits suicide (in a poetic way) after Karen tells him how she knows he had something to do with the murder.

Egoyan's approach to cinematography is very structural, and all his core shots and scenes are repeated and echoed often in four or five separate scenes in order to build interpretative possibilities that are both complex and undeniable.

The scenes are not perfect echoes of each other, however, and the disconnects and incongruities can frustrate the viewer who craves verisimilitude, while they delight those who welcome a hallucinatory bending of reality in order to tease out the underlying fears and psychological archeoliths -- the "truth" embedded in the lies one tells oneself.

Even texts do not truly represent: while Karen seeks to write the definitive story of the duo, they themselves are writing a "tell all" memoir. Instead of staying together as a full, cohesive text, Karen receives chapters. It is not clear who wrote the chapters, who sent them to her, or even if they are complete. But, even the "truth" in the text they are writing cannot be trusted, and it is never quite clear who is responsible for the writing of it, and then the sending / delivery of it. In a similar way, beingness itself breaks apart, along with attempts at a linear unfolding and narrative denouement. In the fragmented reality, the only remaining touchpoints are emotions and ambition.

In this case, the lies involve the nature of Lanny and Vince's friendship, and their vexed relationship with females, which is masked by their aggressive womanizing. It does not seem too coincidental that all three seducing women (Karen, Maureen, and "Alice") in the film are femmes fatales who physically resemble each other. It is also not too surprising that Karen, who claimed to have overcome polio through force of mind demonstrates a no-holds-barred will to power in her dealings with Lanny and Vince.

Perhaps the most poignant potential message in the film is embodied in Kevin Bacon's performance: all the strength, passion, anger, loyalty, and good fortune in the world do not knit reality into a seamless, understandable fabric.

To use another image to represent Egoyan's approach to narrative, reality, and perception: think of a big, rotating, mirrored ball, where all is fragmented, infinitely repeating and reflecting, but not ever quite knowable, slowly, slowly revolving.

Personal Viewpoint: While this film is not the brilliant Exotica, it contains the elements that made me love Egoyan's directorial vision, and it is well worth watching.

WORKSHEET QUESTIONS (for discussion board and reflective journal)

How to practice "active viewing" while watching films for courses:

1. Camera Work: What types of establishing shots are used? When are they used? What are they followed by?

2. Are there any tight-angle shots? How are they used? Any strange angles?

3. What is the narrative structure? What does it do to the film?

4. When do you see two-shots and tight close-ups? How do they make suggestions about the relationships of the people in the film?

5. How are different times, worlds, or emotional landscapes differentiated from each other? Are there differentiating sets? lighting? colors? How, when, and where? List at least two scenes.

6. What is the basic narrative flow? Jump cuts? Different narrators? Unreliable narrators telling their stories?

7. What do the spaces look like where the protagonists spend their time? Are they open? claustrophobic? elegant? down at the heels?

8. How does the cinematography emphasize certain behaviors that the protagonists engage in. How does the approach suggest a moral value judgement?

9. How do the costumes, soundtrack, and sets contribute to the idea that reality is often nothing more than a hallucination; that the truth is not in the appearance of things or unfolding of events, but in the fears, desires, and taboo attachments that one might have.?

10. Discuss the nature of the memoir that is being written. Who is writing it? Who is sending the chapters? Where? When? To whom? If anything, by fragmenting the text, it suggest fragmentation in the narrative, the lives, and also the explanations...

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Moodle 2.0 Multimedia Cookbook: A Review

Packt Publishing's Moodle 2.0 Multimedia Cookbook solves a number of problems that Moodle users often encounter, especially online programs (graduate and undergraduate) that foreground collaborative, interactive learning environments.

The multimedia cookbook addresses two core challenges. The first challenge is that of creating relevent, effective, nicely-sized and ready-to-use multimedia. The other has to do with the integratability of the learning objects.

To step back a moment, let's take a look at Moodle's core contributions to the learning management arena. Moodle's discussion-based approach to learning fosters a dynamic, interactive elearning space, which is one of Moodle's huge drawing points. Another is the fact that it is a friendly environment for incorporating other Open Source embeds and elements. This means that you can plug in, for example, elements you've built with Wordle or smooth slide presentations from Xerte. There are also opportunities to incorporate multimedia elements -- providing, of course, you're able to build the multimedia elements.

One of the frustrating things about using Open Source software is that it often feels that you're constrained to a single template or approach, and it's all too easy to break the template when you try to make alterations. To overcome the limitations, it's tempting to become a template collector, but that is often like hammering pieces from five different jigsaw puzzles together to make a single puzzle.

What is needed is an object-oriented approach that allows you to build and customize objects that fit together seemlessly.

The nice thing about the cookbook approach is that it's completely seamless and it allows you to develop reusable components and building blocks that are unique, customizable, and imminently functional.

Here are my responses to a few of the chapters and their contents.

Chapter 1: Creating Interactive User eXperiences
I like the fact that there are opportunities to learn how to create True and False quizzes and integrate them in Moodle. I'm not a big fan of T-F quizzes, but I suppose they do have their place. There are also mazes and ways to match activities with scenes and opportunities to link external 2D and 3D interactive activities. These are, in essence, mashups (integrated apps). Like all mashups, if one app dies, the whole thing dies, so you might need to proceed with caution.

Chapter 2: Working with 2D and 3D Maps
This chapter gives you a way to use resources like Google maps in a very interactive and meaningful way (far beyond simply linking to a location or embedding a screenshot). Using Google maps to locate European bridges is one example that makes one think of military applications and/or emergency preparedness courses. At any rate, what I like about this chapter is that it encourages the designer to think of ways learners can situate their learning / knowledge.

Chapter 4: Integrating Interactive Documents
The heavy reliance of this chapter on Open Office documents creates a very big caveat in my mind, since Open Office is not always the easiest, most compatible solution for all users. The other caveat I have is that using Google Docs is great for collaboration (and is often used in conjunction with LMS's like the University of Delaware is using Google Docs with Sakai). That said, there are inherent security risks, so be sure to talk to your IT team before jumping into this solution.

Chapter 5: Working with Audio, Sound, Music, and Podcasts
This chapter has great tips for building mp3 files using open source software and also incorporating existing audio. It's a great tool and very useful for people who want to have material they can play on multiple devices and to have a truly mobile solution.

Chapter 6: Creating and Integrating Screencasts and Videos
In the last two years, YouTube has become an incredibly robust solution for creating educational videos which are also compliant with regulations that ask for subtitles and annotations. I'm not sure I'm as convinced about using Dailymotion videos -- I'm not sure how permanent the files are. Like any solution, the more you rely on outside websites, the more likely it is that you'll have to update content and links on a regular basis. That said, these "recipes" are easy to use.

Chapter 9: Designing and Integrating E-portfolios
This chapter brings together many of the learning objects and integrates them under the umbrella of the e-portfolio. I have just one quibble here. While I really like the idea of using Googld Docs for the portfolio, I'm not sure about using a portfolio. is not open source, and while there is a free version, it's very light and I'm not sure it's good for the purposes intended. How is it different than, say, and other cloud storage options? Rackspace is one that's not free, but trusted.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Interview with Bryce Bertola, Park City Independent; Innovative Education Providers Series

Welcome to an interview with Bryce Bertola, of Park City Independent, an accredited online high school which provides online courses to students who wish to take courses not offered by their local high school. It also offers middle school courses and courses for adults who would like to complete their high school diploma rather than obtaining a GED. One of the benefits of having a bona fide high school diploma is that it enables individuals to go on for a bachelors and then graduate programs.

1. What is your name and your relation to e-learning?
My name is Bryce Bertola and I'm the webmaster for Park City Independent, an accredited online high school. I'm completing my bachelors degree in Information Systems at the University of Utah with a mix of online and traditional classes. I've used a variety of high school and college level e-learning solutions, and have done very well within the virtual classroom setting.

2. What are the new directions in elearning that interest you most?
What interests me most is the increasing access to specialized topics through e-learning, as well as the convenience of a self-paced course schedule. You don't have to have a topic expert within your school district in order to learn about something, instead you can turn to an online provider and it can then be reflected on your transcripts.

Bryce Bertola, Park City Independent

During high school, I desperately wanted to learn about web publishing and design, but there wasn't a teacher on staff that was qualified to teach such a program. Instead I had to learn things the hard way, by myself, through a variety of web based instructional sites. I'm excited at the prospect of a wide array of specialized courses that high school students could earn credit for taking.

3. What are some of the problems in today's world that e-learning can address?
One of the major problems today is the rising cost of higher education. As tuition rates continue to rise, students are getting priced out of the market: Many of them opting to discontinue their education entirely. In addition to an increasingly expensive education, limited access to advanced courses also creates significant barriers. e-Learning is a much more cost-effective method of delivering course content, and there is no limit to the course material an instructor might choose to provide.

4. How has e-learning changed in the last 5 years? How has it improved and where?
People are waking up to the idea that e-learning is a legitimate source of knowledge. 5 years ago, what I saw as the perception of e-learning really downplayed its effectiveness in favor of a hands-on instruction. Since then the vehicles for delivering quality content have improved, and as people gain more exposure to online learning, and more web based educational services come about, that perception has faded away.

5. How are e-learners changing? What are their emerging needs?
It's a tough economy, and many people have a lot on their plate. Todays e-learners are seeking flexibility above and beyond what the traditional classroom can offer, otherwise they wouldn't be able to fit everything into a normal week. With a years-long recovery ahead of us, I think that funding for public education will remain low, and schools are going to be forced to explore more affordable options.

6. What do you think e-learning will look like in 5 years?
I think that in 5 years, e-learning will be a necessary part of a standard high school curriculum, and that colleges will rely on e-learning tools for much of their standardized courses. Not only that, but individual topic experts will start providing their own specialized courses, either through public or private outlets.

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