ABC Learning Design at Aston

July 20, 2018 at 1:43 pm | Posted in educational, hands-on | Leave a comment

ABC storyboard showing activity cards on a design grid

Back in March, I attended a JISC workshop run by Clive Young and Nataša Perović from UCL, which introduced me to their ABC Learning Design activity. This is a development of Ulster’s Viewpoints activity that I was planning to use at Southampton before ILIaD hit the rocks of organisational change. I came away from the workshop determined to try it out in my new role and discussed using it with my academic colleagues in Languages and Social Sciences.

However, later that month I was invited to teach part of our PGCert for new academics, specifically module 3, Becoming a Research-Led Innovator in Higher Education. I was given free rein to redesign it within the limits of the learning outcomes, and quickly decided that Diana Laurillard’s Conversational Framework and the related ABC Learning Design activity would form both the theoretical and practical heart of day 2 of the module.

One challenge I faced was scale; I had three cohorts of around 30 students each and so had to repeat the full-day session on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I wanted them to use ABC to create a storyboard for one of their own modules, discuss that with two other students and then talk about how they could modify their storyboard to introduce some form of educational innovation. There simply wasn’t going to be room for 30 sheets of flip-chart paper on the tables, so I created a scaled-down version of the resources based on an A3 design grid and business-card-sized activities.

After several hours wrestling with temperamental printers and a rotary guillotine I had around 1200 activity cards – I thought that each participant’s module might need 10 or more activities. Next time, I’ll have them professionally printed as business cards!

The ABC activity was well-timed; it took place after the students had returned from lunch and it was really hot weather, so if I’d given a presentation I think they would all have gently snoozed. As it was, my own observations and feedback from the students confirmed that ABC is a truly excellent ‘thinking tool’ that structured some very lively and productive conversations about the learning design of their modules. In addition to working in their own groups, some of them found real value in visiting other groups and simply observing their conversations.

The ABC resources from UCL are open-source and provided under a Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA licence, so here are my modified versions for you to download, use and adapt using the same licence. They are all PowerPoint files, so are easy to edit and print as required:

ABC_read_me_first – ABC_module_gridABC_activity_shapeABC_activity_descriptors  – ABC_card_set


Storyline video with embedded quiz questions

May 11, 2017 at 10:07 am | Posted in hands-on | Leave a comment

The Articulate Community was, as usual, immensely useful when I wanted to learn how to embed quiz questions in a video, and this post builds on advice and examples from David Anderson and Montse Anderson. In particular, I liked Montse’s use of Storyline’s Lightbox feature to show normal question slides on top of the paused video… but the template she provides does not include this feature, so I needed to figure it out for myself and ended up with an elegant hybrid of their two approaches. Try this for yourself by clicking the screengrab – and/or download the Storyline 2 .story file.

video quiz screenshot

Step-by-step process

  • Start by creating a slide for your video and a set of question slides.
  • Add a hotspot over the video, right-click on it and deselect Show Hand Cursor on Hover. This prevents learners from clicking on the video to pause it.
  • Press spacebar to play the video and tap the c key to add cue points when you want your questions to appear. The cue points show on the timeline and be dragged to fine-tune their timing.
  • Add a new layer to your video slide for the first question. I called this layer Q1marker.
  • Add a graphic marker to this layer – I used a circle with a ? You can set the size, colour, font, transparency and location as required. You should change its duration from the default 5s to whatever is required – so mine are on screen from 0s to 4s on the layer’s timeline. I also used animation to fade the object in and out (0.2s each); this looks much smoother than a sudden appearance and disappearance. Finally, I added a Hover state to the marker – I just changed the fill colour and font colour.
  • On the video’s base layer, add a Slide Trigger that shows layer Q1marker when the timeline reaches Cue point #1. Add similar triggers for the other question layers.

Now when the video plays, the marker will appear on top of the video for its set duration when the timeline reaches its cue point. The video does not pause, and learners do not have to click it – so short durations could test observation and speed of reaction. Markers could even be (nearly) transparent so avoid giving a visual clue to a critical event in the video e.g. a mistake in a medical procedure.

  • Add another layer which will pause the video and display the question. I called mine Q1lightbox. This layer has no objects; just a Layer Trigger to Lightbox slide ‘question 1’ when the timeline starts.
  • Click the Properties gear icon next to the layer’s name and select Pause timeline of base layer and Hide slide layer when the timeline finishes. The first pauses the video while the second un-pauses the video after the lightbox slide closes.
  • I adjusted the duration of this layer’s timeline to 1.5s. This means that the video will resume playing 1.5s after the learner completes the question, giving them just enough time to re-focus on the video.
  • Now add a trigger to the marker on layer Q1marker to show layer Q1lightbox when the user clicks.

So now if the learner clicks on the marker, this layer is shown, the video pauses and the first question slide is lightboxed (i.e. displayed on top of the current slide). The final step is to adjust the question slides to work using this lightbox approach.

  • Add a trigger Close lightbox when the user clicks to the Continue button on both the Correct and Incorrect layers.
  • Delete any Next and Previous buttons – these questions are ‘stand alone’ and are only seen if the learner clicks the marker while it is visible.

Now when the learner reads their feedback from question 1 and clicks the Continue button, the lightbox closes, the layer Q1lighbox plays out its 1.5s timeline before automatically closing, and the video resumes playing.

The good news is that after testing that this all works as expected you can now copy-and-paste the elements to quickly create further questions:

  • Video base layer: copy the Slide trigger and edit the layer shown and cue point used.
  • Q1marker layer: copy and edit the layer’s name, the location of the marker and the layer shown when the marker is clicked.
  • Q1lightbox layer: copy and edit the layer’s name and which question slide is lightboxed.
  • Question slide: copy and edit the question. responses and feedback.

This example will no work on iPhone or iPad at the moment, but after some investigation I eventually found this was a problem caused by the Edshare repository I used to store the output files.

Click video to start it playing?

In the course of this frustrating series of tests I tried an extra step required if you want the video to click when played:

  • Set the video option to Play video when clicked
  • Create a graphic saying ‘Click video to start’
  • Add a Slide Trigger to Pause timeline on this slide when the timeline starts
  • Add a trigger to the video:
    Resume timeline on this slide when the user clicks
    (optional: Change state of “Click video to start” to Hidden when the user clicks)
  • Move the hotspot so it starts at about 0.25s on the timeline

You need to pause the slide timeline and restart it with the video, or they get out of step, and start the hotspot after 0.25s so you can click on the video to start it!

Articulation 3: the virtual salon

December 7, 2016 at 6:06 pm | Posted in hands-on, projects, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The central idea of this resource was the virtual salon, based on a panoramic photo I took of the Shine salon:


Using sliders to pan the photo

As previously mentioned, I found an article by Glenn Simsek on the Articulate user forums that showed how to create a scrollable panorama based on two Storyline sliders.

  • Slider 1 has the panoramic photo as the slider button ‘fill texture’
  • Slider 2 is visible to the learner and is used to pan the photo

I scaled the photo so it was the correct height to fit my design for the 960px x 720px (px = pixel) slide; so the height is 342px and width is 2048px. In fact I resized all images to minimise the bandwidth required by the resource.

Storyline objects are layered, and I added a copy of the background image with a transparent window (600 x 342 px). This acts as a frame that overlays the photo so that only a 600px width slice of the photo is visible at any one time.


The blue bar behind the photo in this image is the Storyline slider 1. I needed to calculate the width of the slider so that it matched the width of the photo. If the photo is panned hard left, then the hidden part is (2048-600)=1448px wide. Ditto if panned hard right. The total width of slider must allow for 1448px on each side of the 600px width central window; so width = 1448 + 600 + 1448 = 3496px.

This was set on the Slider Design tab, along with parameters to centre the photo when the learners arrive in the virtual salon. I also set the slider to move in 100 discrete steps; this looks visually smooth and enabled me to easily use the value of variable Slider 1 for triggers that control the visibility of other layers on this slide.

Variable=Slider1, Start=0, End=100, Initial=50, Step=1

Slider 2 is a regular slider whose Variable is also set to Slider1 – so moving this slider also moves the other one with the photo. Of course moving this slider left also moves the photo left, which looks like you are panning right, so I fixed this by reversing the Start and End values for Slider 2:

Variable=Slider1, Start=100, End=0, Initial=50, Step=1

Areas of Interest markers on  the panorama

I wanted the learners to search the virtual salon for areas of interest, but didn’t want to use mouse-over as that technique does not work on mobile devices. Instead, I chose to have markers appear when the photo was panned to a specific value. I added triggers to Slider1 which showed a layer with the marker if the value of Slider1 was between two values, and hid it if it wasn’t. For example:

Show layer loc1 
   when the slider moves
   if Slider1 is Greater than or equal to 94
   AND Slider 1 is Less than or equal to 96
Hide layer loc1 
   when the slider moves
   if Slider1 is Less than 94 
   OR Slider 1 is Greater than 96

Using a range of valid values (94, 95 and 96 in the example above) made it easier for learners to pan the slider and spot the markers; a single value (e.g. 95) was too difficult.

Returning to the virtual salon

The value of variable Slider1 is stored, so the virtual salon photo is automatically panned to the same point as it was when the learner last saw it when they return to the slide.

I wanted areas which learners had already visited to be visually indicated, so I created versions of the marker for each of these states:


The variable loc1 is set to TRUE when learners view the area of interest and is used by a Slide trigger to change the appearance (state) of the Button_loc1 on layer loc1:

Change state of Button_loc1 to
   when the timeline starts
   IF loc1 is equal to TRUE

I also added triggers to the frame image to make sure the correct layer was visible when learners return to this slide  (i.e. when the timeline starts as the slide is redisplayed):

Show layer loc1 
   when the timeline starts 
   IF Slider1 is Greater than or equal to 94 
   AND Less than or equal to 96
   AND loc1 is equal to TRUE

You can see that with 10 locations to find, this slide already had 40 triggers – and there were another 10 or more to add… but I’ll talk about some of those in the next article.

Next: Articulation 4: trigger happy


Articulation 1: from idea to storyboard

November 14, 2016 at 4:21 pm | Posted in hands-on, projects | Leave a comment

This is the first in a short series of articles that describe the journey from client request to finished product for an interactive online educational resource created using Articulate Storyline. This was my first real project using Storyline, and my aim is to document and reflect on that process in the hope that other novice designers will find it useful.

In November last year I was contacted by Dr Denise Baden from our Business School and asked if ILIaD could develop some online training for hairdressers. The aim was to inform them about environmental issues and encourage them to adopt sustainable business practices that used less energy and water and created less waste. This would be part of a wider ESRC-funded project, so gathering data about their use of the training was a requirement.

My first step was to scope the project so I could develop a proposal and give a first estimate of the likely cost. I looked at the PowerPoint slides they used for their half-day face-to-face training sessions and structured the content as a mind map using MindMeister:

Section of Sustainable Hairdressing mind map

My initial proposal was to have a photo of a real salon with activity areas, such as a client having their hair washed, that would highlight when the learner pointed at them. Clicking would show a close-up of the activity and some questions/options. Selecting these would increase or decrease the learner’s ‘Eco Score’ and show feedback about their choices.

Denise liked this idea, but wanted to a) stress the importance of the sustainable advice hairdressers provided to their clients and b) ensure that all of the feedback related to the impact of their choices on the key topics: energy, water and pollution. There were also five ‘big ideas’ to communicate – for example ‘One Planet Living’.

I refined my proposal in the following email, which I’ve included in full as it encapsulates some key design ideas:

You’re quite right – I thought that the impacts would be linked to from multiple points – so for example with the low-flow aerator tap the info could have a ‘Why should I care?’ button that would lead to a page about water scarcity – and that page could also be reached from (e.g.) the washing machine info etc. Alternatively we might need a set of icons for savings (money/water/energy-carbon/pollution/waste) so that it is easy to apply several to one item (e.g. low-flow aerator saves money, energy and water)

It may be that these big themes could be introduced at the start – a photo of the outside of the salon with image buttons that lead to brief info about the five impact themes. These probably should be videos – for the target audience I suspect that TL;DR is an important factor (if you’ve not come across that acronym before, please google it! ) – and the user has to view these (and maybe even take a fun quiz) before they can enter the salon.

In my view the overall key design objective is to create a resource that will educate, inform and entertain so as to persuade these hairdressers that going green is the best, sensible and professional thing to do that will deliver benefits for them, their salon, their customers and the planet. We should use positive words like ‘savings’ and avoid bombarding them with stats/figures/graphs where possible – I suspect that most of them find ‘maths’ both scary and incomprehensible. At the end of the course what three things do we want/expect them to remember? My ideal would be:

1. know that salon activities have an impact on the environment

2. know that their choices can reduce that impact, save money and benefit customers

3. think that they can and should make the right choices

But I wouldn’t expect them to remember anything about gigatonnes of carbon, temperature rise curves and so on – except to know that the climate is changing, the human and environmental impacts are very serious and that their actions really do count – especially if they also persuade their customers to do the right thing as well.

This set some important project parameters; the objective was to educate and motivate the learners, to provide a positive message about savings, and to minimise the amount of text.

I then created a rough mock-up in PowerPoint that showed how the interactivity might work; this helped my thinking as well as enabling me to more easily discuss it with Denise. Together with the mind-map, it formed my storyboard for the project – as shown in this video:

The final part of this phase was the project documentation, which provided a high-level description of what ILIaD would create, the milestones and their dates, and my best guess at the time required and the total cost. Given this was my first Storyline project, would that guess be sufficiently accurate? Only time would tell…

Denise approved the storyline, project documentation and budget and so I moved into the production phase.

Next: Articulation 2: PPPPPP

Using mobile devices to record one-to-one meetings

January 23, 2015 at 1:05 pm | Posted in hands-on | Leave a comment

I was asked recently to provide some advice to some students who need to video dyslexia assessment and tutorial sessions in order to provide evidence for their professional practice qualifications. However the following advice also applies to any one-to-one sessions. The objective is for them to use the devices they own (laptops, tablets or smartphones) to create digital video files which can be securely shared with their tutor.

Basics: make sure that the room is well illuminated and that the camera is positioned to get a good view of the participant’s face, hands and any materials that you are using for the assessment.  Try to make sure that the participant is not back-lit against a window as this will typically make them difficult to see clearly. You (the assessor) will also need to be in shot.

Audio: recording good quality audio is essential, and although the microphone built into the device used may be adequate, you may need to use an external microphone. This is one of the key reasons that you need to practice making a recording well in advance of the real thing.

Laptops: many laptops have webcams built-in, but positioning the laptop in the room may be difficult. You may need to buy a low-cost USB webcam that can be fixed to a tripod so that it is at the right height and angle.

Tablets/smartphones: remember to make sure they are on their sides (landscape mode) as video shot in portrait will appear sideways on your tutor’s PC screen.

Tripods: you can use a camera tripod or bodge something using elastic bands, masking tape and a music stand. For example very few USB webcams have a tripod screw-mount, so you’ll have to tape it to a tripod/stand. You can buy special cases or grips that make it easy to attach a tablet or smartphone to a tripod/stand – it is worth investing in one of these if you need to make more than one or two videos.

File format: ideally MP4, a highly compressed format that can be readily viewed using free software. You should also record at a medium resolution (such as 720p) as the extra visual detail provided by high resolution files (1080p) is not necessary and just leads to much larger files to upload/download.

Finally, it is essential that you make at least a couple of short (5 minute+) practice recordings well in advance of the session you wish to record so that you are confident with the equipment and its setup, the recording options (audio and video quality/filetype) and any post-production needed. For example, how do you export the video from your phone/tablet in the correct format to a PC so you can upload it securely to the person assessing the session? You may need to search the web for advice on how to do that for your particular device/software. Or just ask a teenager 😉

Note that although it is probably easy to upload video directly from a phone/tablet to an unlisted YouTube video (so you could simply send your tutor the link) you must not do this as it is insufficiently secure to meet professional requirements for confidentiality. At Southampton we have our internal Dropoff service which does meet those requirements.

Tracking individual student scores using zappers

April 4, 2011 at 3:30 pm | Posted in hands-on | Leave a comment
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In this university, tutors using zappers distribute the handsets randomly at the start of the lecture. This means that students vote anonymously, which can be a real advantage since it enables more honest answers and ensures that feedback from the tutor is personal and formative – only they know whether they got the question right or wrong.

However, sometimes it might be useful to use zappers to run summative assessments in-class, and my latest screencast show how to achieve this. The tutor needs to create a list of the students’ names which Turning Point can use. During the session, the names on the list are displayed on-screen ten at a time, and students press the matching button when they see their name. This links each handset ID to a specific student and enables their scores to be tracked and recorded.

The tutor also needs to ensure that the questions have scores; each answer choice can have a different score depending on ‘how right’ it is, and negative scoring for incorrect answers is also possible.

Subtitles for videos

February 11, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Posted in hands-on | Leave a comment
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I’ve just used the new subtitling feature in Camtasia v7 and it really makes it easy to synchronise the script with the video – you just click on a word in the script when you hear it to divide the script into two or three line chunks. So ideally the process takes only a little longer than the video itself.

The test video in question is A guide to making your thesis available online. This 10-minute presentation introduces e-theses, outlines their benefits and the issues they raise and describes the process requird to create and submit them. It is also available as an Adobe Presenter slideshow.

I uploaded the resultant MP4 to EdShare and was disappointed to find that the captions are not supported (I think). A quick dig around Google indicated that FlowPlayer (used by EdShare) can support captions, so I’ll ask if its possible to get that extension installed.

I then uploaded the same file to YouTube, plus the captions in SubRip format (essentially text plus timecodes). Camtasia can export your captions as a SubRip file, so it only took a couple of minutes to create a fully accesible video. Just click CC in the control bar to view the captions.

Adobe Connect – what equipment do you need?

July 27, 2010 at 9:00 am | Posted in hands-on | Leave a comment
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Adobe Connect is intended to be an online meeting room for *individuals* scattered around the globe, so normally you are siting in front of your PC wearing a headset (earphones + mic) like a Logitech ClearChat (£28)

I highly recommend paying a bit more for a USB headset – the cheaper older sort with 3.5mm jack plugs have worse audio quality, although that is often down to the mediochre quality of the audio input/output circuitry built into office PCs

If you wish, you an also add a webcam so the other participants can see you. A cheap one (£15) will do, but more expensive ones give a better image quality, especially in the lower light levels encountered in offices. I remember my colleague, who does a lot of video conferencing, used to have to point a desk lamp at his face while he was online so that the camera gave a good image!

If you do want to have more than one person around a PC taking part in the meeting then I recommend using a special combined speaker/microphone like the Plantronics MCD100M that eliminates echo:

Needless to say, these are only items that I have used – equivalents are available from other manufacturers.

The equipment you don’t need are speakers and a separate microphone, as these often cause distracting echo. Some laptop PCs do an OK job, however, as they use built-in echo-cancellation software. I also recommend a wired internet connection since wireless connections seem to introduce additional lag that defeats echo-cancellation.

The Perils of PDF

June 25, 2010 at 2:10 pm | Posted in hands-on | Leave a comment
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Normally I think of PDF files as a simple solution to cross-platform access, but I’ve had some problems with it this week. The first of these was to do with the narrated slide shows created using Adobe Presenter. As I’ve mentioned before, this is an add-on to PowerPoint that makes it simple to record narrations for each slide and then output it in a compact size with great navigation – it also enables some extras such as file attachments and embedded test questions with audio feedback. There are two output options 1) a ZIP file containing all the SWF graphics, MP3 audio, HTML web page and the bits and bobs that make up the interface or 2) a PDF file containing the same. I thought that the PDF option was easier to use, as it is a single file that is simple to add to Blackboard or EdShare – so just click the link to view. The ZIP file is a little more complex to add in both cases – its not difficult, but it isn’t as easy as adding a PDF.

However, this week I found that older versions of the free Adobe Reader don’t play nicely with this type of PDF – and we can’t expect all our users to have the latest. More seriously, it doesn’t work for Apple Mac users who typically use the built-in Preview application to view PDFs and have never gotten round to installing Adobe Reader. As a result, I ‘ve pulled all the PDF presentations from EdShare and replaced them with the ZIP version.

The other fly in the PDF ointment is its inability to convert URLs that are split over two lines in a document – it just uses whatever is on the first line. I tried cheating it in Word by splitting the URL into two text segments and then linking each of them to the whole URL, but Acrobat’s automated conversion ignored this ruse. Eventually, I created TinyURLs for the dysfunctional links so they did just fit on one line.

How to embed a YouTube video in PowerPoint

March 4, 2010 at 2:20 pm | Posted in hands-on | Leave a comment
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This is nothing new but I keep getting asked this so thought I would provide this brief summary:

The following technique embeds the video – i.e. it streams it direct from YouTube to the rectangular area you define on a slide, so an internet connection is needed during the presentation.

Just watch this YouTube video to find out how – its a bit fiddly and technical, but not difficult.

It is of course also possible to download and save videos from YouTube and then add those to a slide – but although this may seem simpler it raises all kinds of awkward copyright issues for tutors (i.e. it is illegal). If you want to do this, you’ll have to Google the answer yourself!

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