K-12 Distance Ed. in NL-12: CDLI; The MLOs (2002-2007)

Sometime during 2002 Leon discovered Camtasia. He showed it to me, along with a short software demo he had done. At the time he was working as some Tech. Ed. content and needed to prepare a tutorial on how to use some software. Camtasia, at the time (many features have been added since) recorded your screen while you did…whatever. In this case he spoke into his microphone while demonstrating the software. When he was done and stopped the recording, Camtasia chugged away for several minutes and produced a video clip of what he had done, along with his audio voice-over. It was brilliant!  What’s more the software was able to produce several different types of video files. After some experimentation we found that a Flash™ movie was the best bet as it gave a relatively small file size without making too many compromises on audio and video quality. For the next little while we used it from time to time in that manner.

I recall one of my first projects using Camtasia was to do up a series of tutorials in how to use Flash™. I think, overall, I had about 10-15 tutorials, each running about 5-10 minutes, and each showing a different topic. Now, this was a while ago—2002 was 3 years before YouTube was even out! Today you would not need to do that—just go to YouTube and enter any software tool you want in its search. You will find an abundance of these tutorials, a large fraction of which have been developed with Camtasia.

There's nothing like the view of a long, lonely stretch of the Labrador Highway to give you a feel for the distances that exist within our province.
There’s nothing like the view of a long, lonely stretch of the Labrador Highway to give you a feel for the distances that exist within our province. Sometimes it feels just like that when you start new projects or use new tools. There was quite a long road ahead after we discovered tools like Camtasia…

Recall also that we were using vClass as our synchronous tool. I haven’t mentioned it but the synchronous classes can be recorded. The recording includes all the audio and whiteboards; all the interactions, in fact. If you a play a recorded class it’s just like being there. Except, of course, you can’t expect to get your questions answered and you certainly can’t interact with your classmates. It’s quite a great thing, though, if you have to miss class–medical appointments, sick days, weather days; these all happen. In F2F you rely on notes from your classmates. With CDLI you can just access the whole class; quite a step up from borrowed notes!

Hermitage…a long way from the Trans Canada Highway, but well worth the trip. In the end, learning to use tools like Camtasia proved equally worth it.

At around that time I had been getting a lot of requests to share the class recordings with teachers and students not enrolled in our program. Frankly I was reluctant to do so. I had valid reasons:

  • At the time we could not anonymize the recordings, (we can now) so they included the students’ names on the participants’ list and, besides, the instructors frequently referred to students on the audio stream by name. That was a serious breach of our students’ privacy.
  • Synchronous classes are not intended to be played back. To work as intended the students really need to be there at the time. The recordings are really only there if students need to refer back or review or to serve as a replacement for missed classes. They were never designed to be stand-alone teaching resources.
  • Even if the synchronous classes were structured as lectures (which they are not) we know as a profession that one-hour non-interactive lectures are not useful as teaching tools for high school students. Students tune out after only a few minutes if there is no interaction and, besides, lectures are just one (admittedly useful) tool among many that we are supposed to use if we are to meet the needs of all of our learners.
  • I had major reservations on how these recordings would be used.

Thinking back on my legacy model days I therefore began experimenting with using Camtasia to record short lessons on a whiteboard. At first I used a Wacom tablet and just recorded on the MS Paint screen, capturing only the parts I wrote in, not the tools. This gave the impression of writing on an actual, physical, whiteboard. When I showed the results to Wade Sheppard, the director he was not exactly impressed, wondering why I had not chosen to record PowerPoint instead. My handwriting is not the best. 😥  My reply was that in my distance education instructor days I’d found that the students preferred that the teachers build up the slides bit by bit rather than having a completed object; it’s less overwhelming that way.  In the end we decided to go with a hybrid model. We used PowerPoint as the basis but used transitions to bring in extra material, images and extra slides and wrote over it all with the pen.

The first development project of this type we undertook was a series of reviews prepared for some of the provincial examinations given in June of 2003. Because this was the first time and because time was rather tight for the project we did not give the developers a formal template. They were instead instructed to use black text on a white background. The results, overall, were not too bad. In only several weeks we had a workable set of review recordings, each running about 5 to 10 minutes, and about 80 for each of the 8 courses, for a grand total of around 650 tutorials. These we dubbed ‘Multimedia Learning Objects’ and the long name was soon shortened to MLOs. The name has stuck. Those recordings were quite popular among students, who said they served as useful year-end review.

My Canadian province, Newfoundland and Labrador, collaborates with the three nearby provinces (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island) on various educational projects. The umbrella organization is called CAMET (Consortium of Atlantic Ministers of Education and Training). When Wade showed the MLOs to that group there was considerable interest in developing more of them for the recently-implemented high school math curriculum. I was originally given the go ahead to develop 13 as a demo but, in the end, was able to get 372 of these produced. These covered the entire high school academic mathematics program.

This time around, with the experience of the previous project and with somewhat better timelines I was able to put in place a better workflow. It ran like this:

  • A PowerPoint template was produced, along with recording and production guidelines.
  • A competitive process was enacted to recruit prospective content developers.
  • The work was divided among the successful applicants. They were each assigned a unit or several units.
  • The developers were first expected to provide a list of MLOs that they would produce. This list would include for each MLO listed, titles, list of outcomes addressed and a brief description of the instructional plan for that MLO.
  • Each list was reviewed and modified.
  • Developers created first draft MLOs and submitted them for review.
  • Each MLO was reviewed by two sets of reviewers. One set of reviewers examined the content for mathematical accuracy and pedagogical appropriateness and the second set of reviewers looked for grammar and such.
  • Developers made the required changes and re submitted the content. This was checked.
  • A database driven website was created to host the finalized content. This content is still available online.

These MLOs received considerable use, especially in NL and NS.

Oh, and I take some pride in the fact that we had well over a thousand of these learning objects online and in use 2 years before Kahn Academy was formed.  …but I still love the idea of Kahn Academy!

A quiet cove near Beaumont. Is it any wonder the people would much rather stay? Peace of mind is worth the price. During that CAMET project I didn’t get much peace of mind. Thinking back, maybe I was a bit over-zealous. 372 of these things was a lot in the time allocated. It was worth it in the end, though.

Here are a couple of sample MLOs:

  • Chemistry:: Done using Captivate instead of Camtasia
  • Math: From that 2003 CAMET project
  • Physics: One of the originals done in 2002
  • Physics: We have provincial Exams and have done a whole series of these that review entire previous exams. This is just one item.

One problem we found in the production workflow was that, because Camtasia actually records the screen and produces video output, correcting errors and making other required changes is quite time consuming and difficult. For the most part, the developers have to go back to the original PowerPoints, make the required fixes and then re-record the whole MLO. This, it turns out, is very difficult as, in the end you need to get things perfectly right. You cannot flub the writing and you certainly cannot make any mistakes when speaking. Besides, the phone can ring, an ambulance can drive by or a little not-to-be-ignored voice can come along, tug on your hand and ask, “Daddy, will you play with me?” right when you are in the middle of a recording.

In most cases, when they made an error in production, developers simply stopped and started over. Many ‘takes’ were usually required before an acceptable recording would be made. Only developers really know how time-consuming and frustrating this can be!

Rick Snow, one of our eTeachers who also happened to be one of the MLO developers came across an excellent solution to this whole problem while the project was underway. Rick is a curious, innovative person who is constantly searching for new methods and tools. One of the things he discovered was the recently-released software known as Captivate. It had been previously known as RoboDemo but with the new release it had added numerous enhancements. Two in particular were of great interest.

First, while Captivate allowed for the direct import of PowerPoints which, on the surface was a good thing, we found out that it only imported the slide as an image. As such it could not be edited from within Captivate if needed. Upon further investigation, though, Rick found that Captivate itself had text and basic drawing tools; enough so that the slides could be constructed from within the software. This meant that if errors were found they could be fixed directly; no tedious re-recording required!.

The second discovery was that, instead of one big ‘all or nothing’ audio track, Captivate has separate tracks. These could be done per slide or even per object on the slide. This made quite a difference! Just fix the bits that are wrong, not the whole thing.

Rick asked for permission to use Captivate instead of Camtasia and he was given it. What a difference it made!  If, after recording a project we found an error on the slides, all he had to do was open the Captivate file, fix the error and hit the ‘publish’ button to re-do the whole MLO without any further actions. If we found an error in his audio, the worst that would happen was that he would just re-record the voiceover for just that slide and then publish the MLO again.

In Rick’s case, making changes was relatively straightforward so he endured much less pain than did his fellow developers. While it was more difficult to create the slides within Captivate as its content creation tools are nowhere as sophisticated as those in PowerPoint, in the end the ability to go with more ease through the edit cycles made the real difference. From that point we shifted away from Camtasia and toward Captivate as the MLO creation tool of choice.

Note–this is not to recommend Captivate over Camtasia in general. The fact is that both are excellent, useful products each with slightly different uses. If you are considering producing learning content similar to the ones in the examples above you should evaluate both products to see which best suits your situation. While you are at it you might also take Articulate Storyline, another awesome product, for a spin.

Subsequent MLO development projects followed a similar workflow and, as Captivate has evolved, so too have the MLOs. Captivate now allows the following enhancements to be made over the originals:

  • Interactive self-tests can be added to each MLO.
  • Various interactions can be added to the slide including radio buttons, check boxes, text input boxes and such.
  • Slide navigation need no longer be linear; the software supports branching.
A bank of low-lying fog hides the beautiful community of Conne river. Sometimes you have to just boldly move into the unknown armed with only the confidence in your team mates. Together a way will be found!
A bank of low-lying fog hides the beautiful community of Conne River. Sometimes you have to just boldly move into the unknown armed with only the confidence in your team mates. Together a way will be found!

Next: Successful eLearning requires support from people at the student site. We started the pilot with the concept of an mTeacher (mediating teacher). As it turned out this was flawed and had to evolve. We dropped the idea of an mTeacher in favour of an mTeam.


6 thoughts on “K-12 Distance Ed. in NL-12: CDLI; The MLOs (2002-2007)

  1. Wilbert Boone

    Hi Maurice,
    I am continuing to read your articles on the History of Distance Learning in the Newfoundland and Labrador Senior High School Systyem with considerable interest, in particular, Parts 8 to 12 related to the development and implementation of the Centre for Distance Learning and Innocation (CDLI). Meanwhile, I really think that your articles could be published as a Book with each Part being a Chapter (i.e., Part 1 – Chapter 1). I think if you had someone else to assist you with some editing that it would be a very worthwhile endeavour with the wonderful coloured photos. As I indicated earlier, the first SEVEN Parts could be enhanced with some additional information from the Foundation Paper (The Evolution of E-learning in Small Rural Schools in Newfoundland and Labrador) which I prepared in 2008. Maybe, there might be someone in the Faculty of Education that would be interested in such a project!!!!
    All the best!

  2. A couple of gorgeous photos there. I clicked on one of the MLOs and was glad I had left my studious days behind!

    Interesting that people wanted your recordings though. Suggests that you were well ahead of the game and actually had a lot to share, I also think your reasons for not sharing were totally valid and I would have had the same point of view.

    1. Right on all counts. Besides, the recordings rarely do capture the magic that does happen. The long MLOs are DRY and I hope to goodness nobody uses them for anything but review and then, I just as surely hope they only do the bits they need! Sadly, I do recall back to my own undergrad days and far too much time spent in lectures. I learn through action and emotion and that presentation stuff leaves me so very sleepy…but then again I know many NOT like me too :>)

      1. Don’t start me on presentations! And university lectures. We had one tutor who would walk into a huge lecture theatre lean against the wall and talk for 50 minutes, and was excessively boring. In fact all the lecture theatre ones were boring.

        But small seminars, a group of half a dozen of us around a desk, watching slides, being able to interrupt and ask questions was far better.

        Small is always better in this case. A bit like classic group team work figures (5-7 as I remember, although for seminars you could probably up it a bit).

        When I worked in the health service however, presentation was all. We moved on from slideshows to acetates and then wooo! powerpoint. Talk about more gloss than substance. One of the best presentations I attended was someone who stood up self-deprecatingly saying ‘I don’t do fancy slides or whatever,’ what you see/hear is what you get,’ more or less. But what he said, totally without prompts or aids was good. I mean the guy is a shithead, but he was good.

  3. Pingback: History Of K-12 Distance Education In Newfoundland And Labrador | Virtual School Meanderings

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