TECHNICAL: Use software and other tools appropriate to the task

artifact: (edtec 541) Creative Stuff w/PowerPoint • The Mouse that Bothered the Judge

Context

In Edtec 541, Web-based Multimedia Development Professor Bob Hoffman introduced us to a number of web-design applications and concepts, the front-end of the course was largely devoted to using Adobe Dreamweaver and creating our portfolios. Our final project, however, expanded on these skills to include a product featuring, clearly displayed information about a single topic, using several HTML pages and multimedia where applicable. This was particularly exciting, it was the first opportunity to combine the technology and instructional design skills I'd learned thus far and create something educational. For this final project I decided to challenge myself to master another software I’d never used before, Adobe Captivate.

My project was a website called Creative Stuff w/PowerPoint. I focused on teaching intermediate and advanced skills in PowerPoint, a theme I would revisit in a number of future Edtec projects. Within this website I embedded a tutorial called The Mouse that Bothered the Judge, a series of animated and static PowerPoint slides, imported into Captivate, synchronized with audio (using another new program – Soundbooth).  This is what I have chosen to represent my Technical Competency. 

Challenges & Opportunities

Captivate posed two challenges.  First, time and cost were both issues.  The software is fairly expensive but Adobe does make it available for full use in a one-time 30-day free trial offer.  Professor Hoffman’s suggestion to wait until we absolutely needed to use any program before we begin the trail offer was excellent advice.  Most Adobe products have similar interface and I’d had lot of experience working with PhotoShop so I was able to navigate Captivate fairly well. But while I had some prior experience with similar competitor products like Captiva, Captivate had several elements I’d not used in any program before.  In many ways it is a perfect companion to PowerPoint, designed to convert existing presentations to Flash files and allows designers to add multiple interactive options such as tutorial animation, audio and text instructions, simulated examples and quizzes.  But for someone like me, this posed a complicated second challenge.

I’ve spent most of the last dozen years using PowerPoint at a very high-end and I’m considered something of an expert.  I have created tutorials, games and presentations in PowerPoint that emulate things Captivate is known for doing well.  So creating a tutorial about using advanced PowerPoint skills, in Captivate, felt a bit like hitching my mountain bike on the back of my motorcycle so I could go for a bicycle ride.  I knew I could do most of the things in PowerPoint that Captivate was doing –I’d done them.  I was supposed to be learning this new program, but was having a hard time drawing the line between what should be done in PowerPoint and what should be done in Captivate.  I was importing slides where I’d already done most of the things in PowerPoint that Captivate was designed to make easier.  I had to begrudgingly give over to allowing Captivate to do the job for PowerPoint.

Lessons

I was facing an important lesson here about tools appropriate to the task, similar to a lesson I’d learned years earlier when I began comedy sketch writer.  Sometimes you have to give up a great idea for the sake of a good product.  We can get stuck committing to fit everything around a particular idea, approach, sequence etc., because it may seem like the one stand-alone winner. But if it doesn’t serve the purpose of the overall product, it misses the bigger picture and nothing around it works the way it should.  In such cases, one must learn to put that gem in their pocket for another day. I’d become seasoned at making PowerPoint do things people didn’t realize it could do, and was now resistant to allowing Captivate to do – in an easier and more efficient manner – that which it is designed to do well. I'd become too territorial about my presentation software. 

I can’t say that I “mastered” Captivate in that 30 days, my tutorial didn’t require I use every function it had to offer.  But I was thrilled with what I did learn about transitions, incorporating callouts and instructions, “piggy-backing” on the functions of the slides and packaging a linear, or interactive, product.  In the case of my artifact I was able to incorporate audio over animations in the tutorial without having to synchronize it on the same timeline with each animation, a painstaking task in PowerPoint at times.  I could edit sequences without disrupting timing and placement of other sequences on the same slide.  And I could run it more like a show – there is no need to user-proof it the way I’d become accustomed with interactive slide-show presentations in PowerPoint.

Captivate is an awesome tool and one I will add to my personal library soon.

When I was trying to decide which artifact best represented my technical competency I forced myself to reflect on how many applications I’d learned about and utilized in the Masters Program.  I was surprised by how many I could think of.  I comfortably use programs I’d had little or no experience with prior to the Edtec program and feel highly competent with Dreamweaver, Captivate, Soundbooth and Premier.  I have learned a number of LMS, mind-mapping and project management software programs I’d never heard of before.  I’ve even ventured into the realm of Web 2.0 and Social Networking.  But beyond varying degrees of mastery of these applications, I’ve come to habitually think not only about what I can do with these great new tools, but which will best serve my objective.