About Dan Sweigert

I am an independent e-learning and ILT developer.

Spring Cleaning in Winter

This last week, I’ve taken some time away from my project work to do a little spring cleaning of my WordPress site. Most of you reading this are elearning designers and developers, so you may have noticed that after you publish a file, if there’s a browser update, it can render your course/interaction inoperable. The sound or images might have gone out, or as often is the case, the whole thing won’t load.

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Here are a few things to keep in mind when republishing your elearning courses:

  1. Make sure the fonts look right. Many of the courses I had up on the site were created on a different computer and some of those fonts did not make their way onto the new one. In Articulate Storyline, when you click on the text, it will tell you which font name to look for. Even if the font doesn’t reside on your computer, it will tell you what font it used to be. This is true even though Storyline has actually replaced the named font with a substitute. I either had to find and copy the old fonts onto my new computer or replace the fonts with something else altogether.
  2. Look out for outdated information. One of my old courses made reference to an old email address and website of mine which no longer existed.
  3. Keep the published folder names the same. That way, all the links on the other websites and pages which are pointing to them will still work after you upload the new version. Fortunately for me, I kept my published folders all in the same place, so I’d highlight and copy the name of the old folder, delete that folder, then paste the old name into the new folder before uploading it to the site. I also like to delete the old version on the remote site before I upload the new version. I don’t like to leave it up to the FTP what should or shouldn’t get replaced completely.
  4. When reviewing your new published files, make sure you’re not looking at the old cached version. In Google Chrome, I’ve noticed that I actually have to delete my ENTIRE browsing history to prevent it from opening up an old version. There may be a better way, but I’ve tried to search for and delete all the files with the old name from my browser history and those older versions still would pop up. The only thing that seemed to work was to delete all the browsing history from the beginning of time! One way to know you’re looking at an older version is the browser will ask you if you want to continue from where you left off.
  5. Make sure any links in the lesson/interaction are current and functional. Being that you’re having to update and republish your elearning files, the fact that some old links may no longer be working shouldn’t be any surprise, but when you’re republishing 20 or more courses/interactions, to check for them at all may not have entered your mind.

I would be VERY interested to hear if you have any items to add to this list of things to look out for. If you do, please leave them in the comments section below.

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Video Interaction with Closed Captions

This week’s Articulate E-learning Challenge was to create an interaction in Storyline using only shades of grey or in other words, black and white. As it turned out, I already had created a video for my band’s song “629” and it was about 90% in black and white. Being that the tune was based on a very interesting person from US history, I thought it would be fun to create a guessing game called Name that Scoundrel to determine who this person was, what he did for a living, and what organization he’s associated with.

Closed Captions
Recently, one of my clients needed CCs (or closed captions) for a piece of software training I was creating for them. And since the interaction for the e-learning challenge was going to be based on song lyrics, I thought it would be a great idea to use CCs so people could more easily make out the words.

There are a couple things you typically need to do to add CCs to a Storyline interaction.
1. You’ll probably want a button to turn them on and off. I didn’t need or want this in my
e-learning challenge, but it WAS a requirement for the software training piece I created for my client.
2. The words in the CCs need to appear as they are spoken. Because of this, you can’t just use the Notes tab in the Storyline Player.

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Turning CCs On and Off Using Layers
Tom Kuhlmann from Articulate shows how to add CCs you can turn on and off by putting them on a layer. Tom’s video also explains how to make the words appear in the CCs as they are spoken on the audio. After watching this video I realized that when you get to the next slide, they disappear. Fortunately, Brian Batt (also from Articulate) shows how to get CCs to continue from one slide to the next.

Turning CCs On and Off Without Using Layers
But what if you can’t or don’t want to use layers? Thankfully, Articulate Super Hero Steve Flowers thought of a way to add CCs without using layers.

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Conclusion
I know this blog has just focused on the CC aspect of this game. So please use the comments section below if you have any questions about how I created any of the other elements in Name that Scoundrel. And definitely, let me know what you think!

How to Get Better Video & Image Quality in Storyline

Have you ever previewed a course in Articulate Storyline and everything was looking great, then after you published it, suddenly the video and image quality has gotten fuzzier? I’m going to share with you some settings that will improve the quality of your videos and images.

It’s Not Your de-Fault!
Storyline has default settings in both the Player and the Publisher which if left alone, will reduce both image and video quality. Here’s what you can do about it.

Adjusting the Player
Open the Player and click on Settings.

02_ClickOther

Under Browser Settings, use the dropdowns to select “Resize browser to optimal size” and “Lock player at optimal size”.

03_BrowserSettings

Click OK to save your Player settings. When you’re ready to publish, click Publish.

01_OpenPlayer

Select the tab on the left to publish to the Web, LMS, Articulate Online. or CD (the settings I’m about to show you don’t apply when you’re publishing to Word). Then under Properties/Quality, click Custom optimization.

04_PublishToLMS

Using the sliders, adjust the Video quality and Image quality settings to the maximum (all the way to the right). You an also do the same with the Audio bitrate if you wish.

05_VideoQualitySettings

Click OK and make any other adjustments you want, then click Publish.

That’s all there is to it. Making these adjustments to the Storyline Player and the Publish settings will give you the best video, audio, and image quality you can get. Of course, none of these settings will actually improve an existing video or audio file from the original, that would need to happen before you import those elements into Storyline.

Stretching Your Video Content

You’re working on an e-learning course and on one of your slides you have 36 seconds of voiceover talking about conducting safety meetings, but you only have 12 seconds of video showing a safety meeting in progress. What are some simple ways you can stretch that video content to match up with your voiceover narration?

Click to View Original Video

Click to View Original Video

Pan and Zoom
I use Pinnacle Studio video editing software, but most other reasonably-priced products out there have pan and zoom effects. I was able to take that 12 seconds of video and copy it two times on the video timeline. I kept the original copy as is, to use it as an establishing shot showing the speaker and participants all together.

For the first copy, I started zoomed in on the right on one of the participants, then panned over to the left to two more participants. And for the second copy, I started zoomed in on the speaker, and then slowly zoomed out to include some of the participants in the shot.

Click to View Enhanced Video

Click to View Enhanced Video

Most people will never notice that they are essentially looking at the same footage three times in a row, and because of the way I approached the panning and zooming effects, it gave the whole thing a sense of composition and symmetry.

Take a Still Shot
Another very simple approach is to take a still shot of part of the video and then stretch that still shot to whatever length you need it to be. I have also added pan and zoom effects to those still shots to give them a little movement as one of my clients doesn’t like pictures to linger too long without anything more happening on the screen.

Click to View Still Shot With Zoom

Click to View Still Shot With Zoom

Pinnacle Studio has a snapshot feature which allows you to get a still shot from video, or you can play and pause the video at the desired spot and use SnagIt to capture your still shot.

I hope these very simple methods help you to stretch your video content and keep things moving at an engaging pace for your learners. What are some methods you’ve come up with to stretch your video content? Feel free to share any ideas you have in the comments.

Am I in Sync?: Using Video in E-learning

One of my clients provides fuel and services to the exciting aeronautics industry. They LOVE video and use it extensively in their training courses. In designing a number of courses for them, I had the opportunity to do a lot of video editing. As much as I enjoy working with video, I always want it to support and not detract from the message being conveyed in each scene.

This week’s Articulate e-learning challenge is all about how to sync video up to your content. So in this article, I will share three different ways to do just that!

Back and Forth

In this first example, I had a picture and text layout that I really liked. So, I brought out each bullet with the picture and then faded in the video to support the more detailed explanation of each bullet, going back and forth between the still shot and the video.

No Bullets, Just Video

For this one, I didn’t use any bullets, but just edited the video so it would be in sync to the audio content. So when she’s talking about smiling or shaking hands, that’s what you see on the screen. I also edited the video so that the actual sound from the video comes in for just a couple seconds so you can hear the CSR saying “Hello, Mr. Smith…”

I used Pinnacle Studio video editing software which allows you to have video on separate tracks, just like in a music recording studio soundboard. I clipped out that little bit of video with the CSR greeting the customer and put it on a separate track from the rest of the video which was on a muted track. Then, for the voiceover audio track, I added a couple seconds of silence, so the narrator would pause while the CSR was talking. It’s a neat effect, and it also gets the learner’s attention!

You can add silence to any track either in your video editing software or after importing it into Articulate Storyline (which is my favorite e-learning design and development tool).

Bullets on Top of Video

In this final example, I added a semi-transparent rectangle on top of the video and animated in the bullets in sync to the voiceover. This is my most common approach.

Whatever media you are using, always strive to make it support the content. Yes, using advanced animations and creative visual effects CAN effectively keep the learner engaged in the course, but don’t get too carried away and end up distracting the learner. Let me know what you think. Do you have any other ideas or approaches to using video you’d like to share?

Creating a Video Quiz

This week’s Articulate e-learning challenge was to create an interactive quiz using video. Fortunately for me, I had already created one for a client in the aeronautics industry about how to tow an aircraft. Video interactions and quizzes are excellent for teaching learners how to perform step-by-step processes.

The Inspiration
Using Montse Anderson’s similar interaction about airport security for inspiration, I created my video quiz.

How It Works
At each step in the process of towing an aircraft, a question mark appears asking the learner what they should do at that point. As you’ll see in the video quiz, question marks appear when the tow vehicle approaches the aircraft, stops in front of it, and again when the tow bar is attached to both the tow vehicle and the plane, and finally when the actual towing of the aircraft begins.

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Clickable question mark appears prompting learner to answer question

The learner is instructed at the beginning of the quiz to click on the question-mark prompt to open up the quiz question for that step in the process. To make things look seamless, I took a still shot of the video, layered it to the back of the quiz slide and darkened it with a semi-transparent background.

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Quiz question

The learner makes a selection and the video resumes. As in most quizzes, this one also asks a few standard quiz questions and then gives the learner their final score upon completion.

How I Built It
I edited all the videos in Pinnacle Studio, then imported them into regular blank slides in Articulate Storyline.

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Pinnacle Studio video editing software

I added question-mark prompts to each of the video slides, adjusting their entrance points to come in at the proper time and place. Then I created quiz question slides; multiple choice, true/false, etc.

Then going back to the video slides, I added a trigger to the question marks telling Storyline to jump to each corresponding quiz slide when the learner clicks them.

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Adding a trigger

If you create your regular video slides and quiz slides in order, you don’t need to tell the quiz slides to go back to the next video slide. However, if you need to rearrange the order of the quiz questions and their corresponding video slides, you can re-position them in “Story View”.

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Story View in Storyline

Finally, the Results slide and layers work the same way they normally do in any Storyline quiz. You can check out the video quiz here and let me know what you think!

Europa’s Global Ocean

Many people don’t realize that Jupiter’s moon Europa is actually covered in a global-wide ocean of liquid water. It’s an exciting prospect for humans who wish to answer the profoundly significant question “has life ever originated in other parts of the universe?”

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Follow the Water
NASA’s mantra for finding life on other worlds has been “follow the water.” That’s because life as we know it depends on water to survive. Finding water on the surface of other planets and moons in our solar system has been nearly impossible because most of the time, the low atmospheric pressures on other worlds combined with extremely low temperatures prohibit it.

For H2O to exist in liquid form, there has to be enough atmospheric pressure to hold it together, and Earth is the only place we know of where that happens on the surface. On Mars or Europa for example, there just isn’t enough atmospheric pressure to hold water molecules together, so even if the temperatures get high enough for it not to freeze, it basically boils away the minute it reaches the surface.

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Living on Thin Ice
The good news is that on Europa, the ice layer which covers its global ocean is so thin, it allows the ice to occasionally crack, briefly exposing its liquid ocean to the surface. This means that future missions searching for life wouldn’t even have to bring substantial drilling equipment to drill through the ice to find it. A rover could travel to a promising location where cracking is likely to open up the ocean to the surface, and samples could be taken right then and there. By not having to develop and send a heavy payload of drilling equipment, an effective mission to search for life on Europa could be done relatively cheaply by NASA standards. We could literally be only a few million dollars away from solving one of the most significant and profound questions in human history, “are we alone in the universe?”

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Extremophiles
So what could possibly be living down there? Isn’t Europa just too far from the sun to support life? Actually, we already have found a variety of living organisms deep in Earth’s oceans completely removed from any sunlight, that live off of thermal vents at the bottom of the ocean floor. These vents release food and heat which these creatures we call extremophiles live off of. Due to the incredibly powerful gravitational pull from Jupiter, in additional to Europa’s sister moons, Europa experiences significant thermal heat from the constant stretching of its core. How does stretching create heat? For an example of this, just bend a paperclip back and forth and notice how it heats up, and eventually cracks. That’s what’s happening on Europa.

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Check It Out
In response to David Anderson’s Articulate Elearning Challenge, I created this little graphic to talk about Europa’s global ocean and what it means to the search for extraterrestrial life. I also wrote, performed, and recorded a David Lynchian “Song for Europa” on my crusty old Mirage keyboard sampler (don’t ya just love that 8-bit sampling rate!). Let me know what you think.