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Publishing training (lc)

This learning contract combined my studies in e-learning design with learning new skills in educational technology. A mindmap of the underlying design model is available at http://www.mindmeister.com/maps/show/18499412

The original learning contract assumed the project would have progressed further than it has, as far as possible evaluations are concerned.

Aim

My aim on the technology side was to research the characteristics of successful web-based video training, and develop adequate competence in creating a small set of training materials for staff colleagues using the content management system to publish web pages and other files.

I wanted to consider, while doing this, whether different strategies are required for different kinds of content.

My training materials needed to cover both task-based software procedures and the concepts underlying quality publication production (such as accessibility, purpose, integration, currency). Was a different style of web video more effective for these latter concepts, which may require attitude or task management changes?

Outcome

I created seven small videos with associated webpage documentation to cover the most common tasks for general web publishers. These have been used by some new publishers to successfully create pages in their practice areas and their respective areas on the live websites, for example:

There are two major areas still to be resolved from my original contract:

  1. I have come to realise that what I need most are annotations and graphic inclusions, and therefore I feel I should have created a contract to learn something about Flash. I familiarised myself with the most basic operations of Adobe Flash, see item below.
  2. We want continue to develop the aids within the publishing system itself so that progressively less training is required for staff publishing with the CMS. For this feature to be achieved, we need to develop a feedback process so that users can tell us what they are having trouble with and where the built-in help screens are unclear.  I have thought about a couple of options to encourage feedback – from dedicating an area of each page to comments, to a staged script for support staff asking for comments as they open up more of the site to a publisher, to a full-blown publishers’ network hosted in an Elgg.

Derived from design

I see these strategies as related to the three functions which the training materials will have in developing our web publishers:

  • field-based (what to publish on websites; how to structure content; how to develop your message)
  • code-based (how HTML and our content management system works; technical details of file types and metadata)
  • interpersonal (who to go to for help; how to comment on the publishing system; where to get inspiration)

(These 3 functions are similar to the metafunctions which the Sydney School of linguistics identifies in language, and which help structure my e-learning design model.)

Resources

I needed a number of resources to learn about video making and documentation and to learn about our publishing system and standards.

Video creation:

Animation (2D), Flash and screencasting:

Accessibility:

Help systems and documentation

Products

Video format

In researching standards for video-based training for adult workplace learners, I used as a starting point the ‘Content formats‘ recommended by the Australian Flexible Learning Framework’s E-standards Expert Group.

For video formats, this means:

  • MPEG-4, playable in Quicktime 6
  • SWF, playable in Flash Player 9

Another ALFL publication VET e-learning content development guidelines also contains some straightforward and useful advice.

File size

File size was our major barrier, since a number of departmental offices are still on relatively low-grade networks. The AFLF does not give specifications, simply advising

Minimise the frame rate and dimensions where possible to ensure the FLV file is not unnecessarily large.

Length: I tried to choose brief discrete tasks to document with video so that file size was minimised, resulting in a two-minute maximum run length.

Frame rate: I used the automatic setting for frame rate in Camtasia Studio, which is by default 15 frames per second (although frames will be dropped if the computer gets overloaded).  Key frame rate was 5.

Dimensions: The design of the intranet pages allows for a maximum width of 510 pixels within the main column. I prepared the videos at this size, 510 x 362 pixels.

Relevant papers:

Verhagen, PL & Breman, J 1995, ‘Instructional format and segment length in interactive video programs‘, paper presented at ‘Information technology: expanding frontiers’, AECT conference, Anaheim, 8-12 February.Video segments of around 3 minutes, covering enough material to answer 8-9 questions, seem to be optimal.

Interpersonal aspects

We discussed including an establishment shot of the presenter, but because all the audience are internal staff, this option was rejected.

When I reviewed the interpersonal features of other instructional videos I found several generic structures:

^ Title screen ^ Steps ^ Alternatives/features ^ Recap, next step
This is the format of the Camtasia Studio learning centre videos.

^ Problem/task ^ Presenter ^ Series branding ^ Instructions ^ Recap
This is the format adopted by TechRepublic ‘ITDojo’ series

^ Title screen ^ Presenter ^ Content overview ^ Content in detail
This is the format adopted by TechRepublic ‘At the whiteboard’ series, for example ‘Web 2.0 @ work

Graphic elements: One of the key tools in giving assistance to web publishers is the highlight or attention graphic. The use of a highlight spot or other screen capture markup acts like a digital finger to draw the user’s attention to the salient area of a complex screen, for example a solid colour rectangle around variable settings:

Border around salient items

Software

The free audio recording application Audacity and a trial download of TechSmith’s Camtasia were used to create voice-annotated screen captures.
Other capture software was also trialled:

  • CamStudio (very basic, doesn’t allow editing of audio and visual separately)
  • SnagIt and Jing, also made by TechSmith
  • Adobe Premiere – I found the opening set-up screens for this program too difficult to complete.

I also trialled ScreenToaster, which my colleague found technically astonishing (‘no download? it sees the screen?’)

A recent post on Top screen recording tools also lists Macintosh applications for screen captures.

For video footage from the camera, a trial version of Sony Vegas Pro came with the videocamera.

Mini-videos

The seven mini-videos were listed under the appropriate user level on a new page within the intranet information about web publishing.

menu

These videos were created to provide training in basic publishing for our inhouse installation of the Matrix content management system.

Here is some sample mini-videos, demonstrating key principles of creating small and focussed instructions for a single procedure:

I did try Flash instead but did not progress very far: Introduction to the functions on the new Simple Editor (swf , only 370 k with no sound)

Software resources:

The short video-capture tool in SnagIt creates .avi files. These were too large to use straight out of SnagIt, but I experimented with bringing the .avi fil into Windows Movie Maker and then saving out of Movie Maker as a .wmv. Movie Maker allows you to set a maximum file size in your save, or else use a preset such as ‘save for email’.
Other possible .avi converters suggested by help searches were VidCrop, WinAvi and Super.

Evaluation

Feedback from 5 users so far is appreciative but not enthusiastic. Several reported using the videos once, on their first access to the page, and then printing off the text instructions to actually perform the task.

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