April 24, 2006 Program Summary

Share and Compare Notes & Ideas:
Instructional Design, e-Learning, & Flash Revisited

Sharing and comparing notesAt this event, we continued exploring the subjects that were introduced in December 2005 when speaker Michael LeBien provided our chapter with a high-level tour of e-learning, instructional design, and Flash.

At our April 24th meeting, we used our fun and informal “share and compare notes” forum to continue this theme by showcasing a variety of projects and experiences. Our three presenters, John Houser, Tauria Linala, and Michael LeBien, offered very different insights into their own learning-related programs and projects.

See highlights of the three mini-presentations below!

Speaker John HouserSpeaker: John Houser, Academic Program Administrator for Cal Poly Continuing Education. John started his career as an aerospace engineer, and then completed his MBA and MS in Engineering at Cal Poly. After finishing his graduate work and prior to joining Cal Poly as an employee, he managed a Distance Learning project and coordinated programs for several years for a University in the Seattle area.

John demonstrated a virtual learning environment called Elluminate, which has been adopted by the Cal Poly Continuing Education program. This system offers a variety of interactive online tools for presenters and participants to use. John's principal interest is the use of synchronous tools to supplement the standard asynchronous media used in the typical Distance Learning environment (such as for creating “hybrid” or “blended” course content).

How Cal Poly Is Using Elluminate
by John Houser

Cal Poly is investigating the use of synchronous web conferencing tools such as Elluminate for use with its Distance Learning (DL) courses. The principal usage at this time would be for courses offered through Continuing Education (CE). If the classes are for academic credit, they would be offered through CE and Special Session. It is possible, and even desirable, to offer classes for Continuing Education Unit (CEU) credits only rather than grades.

Anyone with desirable content who wants to teach a virtual Cal Poly course for CEU credit only can do so quite easily. This will open up additional markets for Cal Poly in ways that are, at this time, somewhat unpredictable.

For example, a recent course on Teaching Arts to K-8 Educators created a significant response from overseas students (the farthest away was Kuwait). This was quite unexpected, but very welcomed. If there is a demand that can meet the affiliated costs of the program (instructor compensation and overhead), Cal Poly would happily offer that course, assuming no conflicts of interest or similar problems.

Initially, the desire was to teach any course using Elluminate strictly as a venue for synchronous events, where all of the participants interact simultaneously.

Based on market expectations and corresponding demands, however, Cal Poly is now considering the potential for hybrid or blended courses. These involve a mixture of real-time (synchronous) and non-real-time (asynchronous) content. The market reaction to blended or hybrid courses has been very positive as students have been “trained” to expect DL courses to be offered at their convenience.

In addition to offering desktop sharing (for visual demonstrations such as PowerPoint slide shows), Elluminate has text messaging and voice interaction capabilities that enable participants to communicate silently or aloud with one another or with the instructor. Elluminate sessions also can be recorded for future playback in an asynchronous mode.

To read about a Cal Poly course called "Teaching Standards-based Art in the Elementary Classroom” that was recently taught using Elluminate, click here.

For more information on the Elluminate environment or on developing virtual courses for Cal Poly Continuing Education, please contact me at jhouser@calpoly.edu.

Speaker Tauria LinalaSpeaker: Tauria Linala, Systems Administrator, Information Technology Department, County of San Luis Obispo. Tauria has been employed by the County for over 10 years. Most recently, she has expanded her skills in the areas of instructional design, online training course development, project management, and Web publishing.

Prior to working for the County, she was a marketing specialist for a variety of nonprofit corporations. Tauria has an AS degree in Computer Information Systems and an AS in Liberal Studies.

Tauria's April 24th presentation described a system administrator's role in the rollout of the enterprise financial, human resources, and payroll system (EFS) project that she and her team developed for the County of San Luis Obispo using change management, e-learning, and instructional design. She also discussed the County's Kiosk Map Project.

A System Administrator's Role in Major Projects
by Tauria Linala

Last July, I was asked if I wanted to transfer from the Customer Service team to be a trainer for the County's system-wide SAP Enterprise Financial (and Human Resources) System (EFS) project. At the April SLO STC presentation, I spoke about and showed some examples of several areas of work this assignment entailed.

Change Management: How did such a large project get on the right road to succeed?

Using change management in SLO County's largescale projects

Instructional design: Concepts useful to understand how people learn best, and transfer that understanding into user friendly curriculum and courseware.

Technical writing: Using standardized SAP training methods with an editor/coach to write and edit business processes, work instructions, and courses for the highly customized SLO system.

Online course development: I discussed HTML, JavaScript, Dreamweaver, as well as editing and review cycles.

Project synopsis: The resulting courses were completed by several thousand staff members who then navigated the new online system. The new timecard, time approval, payroll, HR, and financial systems along with other employee self-service features cut-over (with much sweat equity and not without fanfare!) in December 2006.

Technical support and training provided to all County employees


County employess were required to take classes

After completion of duties for the successful system cut-over and rollout, I have been assigned to manage the Kiosk Map and Services Directory Project.

I presented an overview of the Grand Jury’s request for better direction to departments and services, and the County’s response to the request. I showed several slides showing the government center buildings and the corresponding kiosk map screens. This project has been accepted by county management and is now in a wrap-up phase.

Speaker Michael LeBienSpeaker: Michael LeBien has a background in training, technical writing, instructional design, and Web site design. He has a bachelor's degree in Economics from Cal Poly and a master's degree in Educational Technology from San Diego State University. Mike is interested in the design and development of e-learning based on proven instructional methods for computer-based learning.

Mike was the speaker for our December 2005 event. His April 24th presentation then peeked under the hood of a Flash demonstration project that he has completed in the interim.

The Design and Development of a Flash-Based Thai Language Course
by Michael LeBien

A couple of years ago as I was learning Macromedia Flash, I decided to create a few projects that would help me become more proficient with the Flash work environment. One of the projects I created was a Thai language course, which I demonstrated and talked about for the April 24th “Share and Compare Notes & Ideas” meeting.

I had several reasons for wanting to create a Thai language course, the main one being that my girlfriend is from Thailand, and secondly, I had found existing Thai language products to be inadequate.

I'll admit that pride played a role in my decision as well. As an instructional designer and Thai learner all rolled into one, I thought I had insight into the reasons why existing Thai language products were instructionally ineffective and thought that I could do better. Whether I succeeded or not is still to be determined, but so far the feedback is positive.

[Before proceeding, it would probably be a good idea if you had a look at the Thai project here (http://www.lebien.com/thai).]

After giving the attendees a look at the project during my April 24th presentation, I talked about the limitations of some existing Thai language products. For example, in my opinion, books are an inferior way to learn how to speak any language since text can't communicate sound. Tapes and CDs are certainly better, but they have these limitations:

  • The medium is linear. Therefore, you have to fast-foward and rewind in order to find what you are looking for. There is no 'random access' like a CD-ROM. This makes navigation very clumsy.
  • It isn't self-paced. You have to passively listen to and repeat what the tapes/CDs tell you to do. However, since learners are not all the same, some will want to practice some Thai phrases more and other phrases less. Therefore, some learners may get bored with the pace of the course while others will feel that it is going too fast.
  • There is no visual context. If you think about it, there is normally a visual context to learning a language. Unless a child is blind at birth, there will be some visual context to the sounds they are hearing and the words they are learning. Our brains are designed to process visual and audio information at the same time. Therefore, it makes sense that when learning a second language, a learner will benefit from having a visual context to the audio they are learning.

The product that I found to be the most instructionally effective was a CD-ROM product (Rosetta Stone), which used photographs to support the Thai words that were being taught. Unfortunately, 90% of the content was not useful. I found myself excited that I was easily remembering many Thai words and phrases, but frustrated that I would never actually want to say any of them.

And so I decided to design a course that contained content that a typical learner could use on a daily basis when talking to Thai people, and make it instructionally effective by combining photographs with the audio.

Instructional Design Issues

1) What should the content be? I simply wrote down a bunch of sentences that I thought someone could use if working, studying, or traveling in Thailand. This took time and continually changed even while I was starting the development process. My girlfriend translated the sentences for me, and I organized them initially by how many words were needed to say the sentences.

Deciding which content to include and exclude basically got down to what I thought made sense, given the constraints on time and resources. That may not sound very systematic, but since I was a typical learner, I knew I had to trust my instincts and not follow a rigid methodology.

2) How should I sequence the content? I went through many variations on the sequencing, sometimes obsessing over it, sometimes dumbfounded by how complicated teaching a language could be. I could have sequenced the content by presenting a lot of single words first and then gradually build more complex sentences. However I decided that context was important. For example, if I was going to teach the learner how to say, “Where are you going?” in Thai, I thought it made sense to teach responses to that question in the same lesson even if the responses were more complex than the question.

Relevance is an important factor in making instruction effective. It helps with motivating and engaging the learner, so I knew that my common sense was rooted in some cognitive science.

3) Showing tone variations: Thai is a tonal language, which means that the tone and pitch characteristics convey the meaning of a word. I thought that adding some kind of symbols above the phonetic yellow text in the program might help people with their pronunciation. However, I chose not to do this for a couple of reasons.

  • First, the symbols would have had to be graphics, not text. When I converted all the phonetic phrases into graphics so that I could incorporate the tone symbols, it added to the download time significantly.
  • Second, when I left the phrases as text and placed the graphic symbols in the right position above the words, I found that Flash was not displaying them accurately after compiling. It's possible that this could be solved and that I just need to use a special font.

4) Context of images: Sometimes it was difficult to compose a photograph that would communicate the Thai sentence I was trying to teach. Concrete things like objects are easy, but conceptual things like “Where are you?” are challenging. I put a lot of thought into the composition of the images, but often had to accept the limitations of what a photograph can show.

5) Instructional strategies: Passively watching and listening doesn't cause learning. Learning requires the learner to practice and use new information in some way. Learning a language requires a lot of drill and practice in order to more quickly recall words and minimize forgetting. Therefore I chose to incorporate practice exercises after every 3-4 pages of content.

I also felt that once learners went through a lesson once or twice, they would want to go immediately to the final practice exercises and simply build up their recall ability. This is why I used Flash ActionScripts that randomize the content when they are practicing. I created multiple choice questions and simulated conversations to add variety to the recall exercises.

Development Issues

1) Structure/architecture: There are a number of different ways to create something in Flash. One approach is to have all the content that a user will see incorporated into one .swf file.

Another common approach is to have separate Flash files for each content section, and load these external files depending on a what a user wants to see. A third a more useful architecture for large or more sophisticated projects, is to use templates and XML files for a modular structure that is much easier to modify. Since I am not a programmer and have had limited experience with dynamically loading XML files into Flash, I chose to create most of the course in one big SwF file but also use external SwF files for some of the practice content.

2) Randomizing practice exercises: I required some help from a veteran ActionScript programmer to write the script that randomizes the practice content. Once that was done it was easy to duplicate it for each practice section.

3) Audio: I recorded a male and female Thai speaker using digital audio software and hardware. I split up the audio file into separate files for each Thai phrase and saved them as .wav files, which I imported into Flash.

4) Navigation: I admit I probably obsessed over the issue of navigation. I didn't want the user interface to look cluttered, but I wanted the learners to easily go where they wanted...well sort of.

I knew from research on computer-based training that learners overestimate what they think they know, so I wanted to nudge them into practice areas to improve their recall of the material. Trying to find the perfect navigation control seemed illusive. I tried a pull-down menu, individual buttons to each page number across the top of the page, and basic 'back' and 'next' buttons. Each type has its strengths and weaknesses.

5) Modifying Flash learning interactions: Those of you familiar with Flash may know that the Pro version of Flash contains some additional components called learning interactions. These interactions let a developer configure multiple choice, true/false, short-answer and drag and drop test interactions, and link them to a Learning Management System (LMS) if desired.

These interactions are still a bit primitive, but it's possible to modify the ActionScript code inside these components. For example, since I wanted each multiple choice question to only have one right answer, I had to substitute radio buttons instead of the multiple choice boxes that are automatically created with a multiple choice component. I also wanted immediate feedback when the learner clicked on an answer, and I wanted different sounds to play for correct and incorrect answers. These changes are in the next version which will be uploaded soon.

6) Mobile device development: Fortunately there are many mobile devices that can play Flash content. I have been using the mobile device template feature in Flash MX 2004 Professional to create a version of the program for these devices.

Share and Compare Notes & Ideas:
Instructional Design, e-Learning, & Flash Revisited
Date: Monday evening, April 24, 2006

Share and Compare Notes & Ideas: Instructional Design, e-Learning, & Flash Revisited” offered an opportunity to see how our colleagues have been using various instructional systems and tools to develop learning-related projects and programs.

-- Tauria Linala revealed the details on a system administrator's role in the rollout of the enterprise financial, human resources, and payroll system (EFS) project that she and her team developed for the County of San Luis Obispo using change management, instructional design, and e-learning; and the Kiosk Map Project. Contact Tauria at tlinala@co.slo.ca.us.

-- John Houser demonstrated a virtual learning environment called Elluminate, which has been adopted by the Cal Poly Continuing Education program. This system offers a variety of interactive online tools for presenters and participants to use. Contact John at jhouser@calpoly.edu.

-- Michael LeBien (our December 2005 presenter) showed us the inner workings of a Flash-based e-learning course on the Thai language he created as a demonstration project entirely on his own. (For a preview, see http://www.lebien.com/Thai/.) Contact Mike at mike@gingerroot.com.


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