Discussion at Ning – Work Literacy: Web 2.0 for Learning Professionals

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There is a really great, and free, opportunity on Ning for learning about Web 2.0 and it’s place in eLearning. On one forum I posted about why we use Second Life as a film studio.  Here is what I wrote:

 We had the issue of wanting to use video in our elearning. Our training reaches 70,000 people in 110 countries so this type of decision is not taken lightly. There are many issues with real video such as cost, actors, sets, and so on. The choice of actors is a difficult one, let alone being able to find the same actors a year down the road for updates. And cost is very high for the initial footage plus the software needed to edit it (like Avid).

So what could we do that was inexpensive (free) and used our current software (Flash)? We had been toying with Blender 3D and isometric sets in Flash.

Blender 3D yields beautiful results but takes a lot of time to create and render (we did a 1956 chess match as the background for a Vegas conference piece and it took 22 computers two weeks to render out about a minute of animation).

The isometric Flash work was very fast to do but had a very strong and distinct look (think Habbo Hotel).

So along come some of our clients who are in Second Life. Presto! A 3D world complete with physics and avatars (if you think SL avatars look crude, you should have seen my attempts with MakeHuman, a tool for use with Blender).

Second Life though has some serious obstacles that made it impossible for us to use for our training. Even though we deal with training on how to use function space and meetings software (something SL is used for regularly) Second Life has firewall issues for our clients (and us in house), a reputation for crashing, and a learning curve that can be daunting (the new Orientation islands are much easier and faster to complete).

So we started using it as an inexpensive virtual studio. Keeping the avatars somewhat simple in appearance helps address some issues plus they don’t age and we can build as many sets as we like. And we were also able to use inexpensive software and bring it into Flash for scenarios, how to videos, and quiz questions.

It is certainly a very “specific” look but is well received and, based on metrics, more engaging to users and increases retention.

Since the purpose of this Ning group is to help people learn about Web 2.0 and how to use it in elearning, you will be able to download user guides and work files after the DevLearn08 conference on how I create video footage that can be used several times over and be done in a relatively short order.

The technique I use is not revolutionary by any means; just planned, cost effective, and somewhat efficient. If you are at DevLearn08, look me up even if just for an informal chat.

Case Study Site for DevLearn08

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We are in the process of developing the website that will be used as the example site for DevLearn08 session 708: Add Second Life to your Training without Having Users Log into Second Life.

Why?  I like presenting information in a holistic manner and since I can not use examples of eLearning from Newmarket International because it shows specifics to our software function, I decided to create a real example that will actually be sold.  This forces a different approach than talking in terms of generic examples.

I become frustrated if I attend training and am unable to walk away with real examples and did not want any attendees to feel this way from my session.

The first challenge was to pick a topic that would actually teach something and be able to teach it in less than an hour.  Plus, it had to apply to the real world so that it would have meaning on it’s own.  First I considered making this lesson about something in Second Life.  So that you could learn a real skill in Second Life while learning how to do Second Life video to enhance your real training.

But that seemed confusing and could set the focus on the elearning example rather than the technique to enrich your elearning. So what would be a topic that everyone deals with?  Meetings!

And it just so happens that I have a suitable subject matter expert!  Her bio is on the site and you will soon see my bias.  However, it was important that the content not be written by me so that it would more closely follow what you may be faced with in real life.

And it is going even a step further.  As mentioned above, the case study will result in a lesson that we actually place for sale. So the end customer/learner is very real for this.

This case study lesson will be the first of a seven part series and that also helps in making sure that the flow I teach is a flow that works as being truly reusable.  For example, knowing that there will be several lessons built allows me to create a flow that would be like your work.  Where you develop a style guide for a particular set of your eLearning so that you use the same image styles, treatments, arrows, call out boxes, et cetera.

It is paramount that what I teach is as applicable to your training as it can be.  I want you to be able to walk away from this session with concrete principles with solid examples.

So that is a little background for you to help you decide if this is a good session for you to attend.

Oh, and the site being developed is very small: virtualtqm.com.  There is an efficiency in the layout. After all, it is designed to sell courses and should be light in content (think Amazon, as soon as you hit the site you can shop, you don’t need to read about Amazon, just get books).

It is in its early stages of development and the Moodle component may get swapped for a simple PayPal purchase option (with the go daddy hosting, it was incredibly easy to set up Moodle with its PayPal component, but seems to be far more than what we need to sell the course).

eLearning Guild eBook on Flash Tips

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239 Tips for Producing and Managing Flash-based e-Learning Content (pdf)

A nice collection of tips to make your Flash work a little bit easier. I was very pleased to have tips published here and am humbled to be a very small part of the Guild. Some of my tips are listed below:

1) Add Second Life video (machinima) to your Flash work. It’s easy with a few inexpensive tools and tips. Using products such as Fraps and Sizer, capture video (at a specific frame rate and sized to your needs) and import it into Flash. It’s an easy way to add 3-D content to scenarios and questions.

2) When getting video out from Second Life, size the Second Life viewer to meet your requirements. If the final video needs to be 640 x 480 pixels, then set your viewer to that size, and test by taking a few seconds of video and viewing the video’s properties. This maintains the maximum quality by not resampling the video, and cuts down on production time.

3) To get clean and professional results for video from Second Life, hide your interface when filming by using Ctrl Alt 1. You can also turn off the chat bubbles under Preferences if desired. Check for attachments in a little test footage before doing your final filming.

4) Make your Second Life video in Flash shine by selecting the highest quality graphics settings you can. Reducing the size of the viewer GUI will reduce the resources needed by Second Life, and allow for higher quality video. If you will be using separate audio files imported into Flash, then consider turning off the audio and streaming audio (music) under preferences in Second Life too.

Often parcels have streaming music playing that take up valuable computer resources. Make sure to close any other programs, and consider using a third-party tool to capture video rather than the one built into Second Life. (note: the Second Life viewer no longer contains a video capturing option due to poor performance)

5) Using screencasting software allows you to add high-quality video to your Flash e-Learning. Whether capturing metaverse video or desktop applications, using a video-based tool may work very well. Several tools, that are very reasonably priced, are used for capturing MMORPG. While we are used to other recording software, one that outputs a video-specific format, such as Fraps (http://www.fraps.com) typically works well with Flash’s video compression.

6) The default frame rate in Flash has been 12 since at least Flash 4 (was that 1999?). Today computers normally run video content at 30 frames per second, so why not try a higher rate with Flash. While the Flash Player is not the same as a video player, using appropriately sized Flash pieces will play very well at 30 frames per second. And this allows you to bring in video at it’s native frame rate (in the US, 24 for PAL) and yield better results.

7) Use the document properties in Flash to set your most often used frame rate, stage size, and background color as your default. Now every time you create a new Flash piece you can save a few clicks.

Also using snap to pixels will reduce anti-aliasing of your text and images and yield crisper and more professional results.

8) Do you sometimes tween images and notice how pixelated the edges look as they move? For smoother results, check Allow smoothing under Bitmap Properties for the images in question. You will notice the jagged edges are gone and your animation will look much smoother.

9) Keep your product skills razor sharp by actively participating in online forums for those products. Most tools have many forums to choose from and each forum will have it’s focus as well as community feel. Try a few and find the one that challenges you.

Actively seek posts that push your problem solving and you will see your skills increase as well as other people’s approaches to the same problems.

10) Try it out on paper first. It’s all too easy to jump into Flash and start creating your interactions. Although they are often based of of storyboards, it sometimes helps to sketch it out on paper first. If you can’t make it work on paper, you won’t be able to make it work in Flash.

11) If you get really stuck on some ActionScript and have searched the forums, take a break! Five minutes away from the computer, and your challenge, might be worth an hour of frustration.

12) Almost any flash interactions can benefit from a loading indicator for the user. A 300 KB piece can take five seconds to load at DSL speeds. To be effective for small files, the loader itself has to be small.

Here is ActionScript for a loader that is about 300 bytes. Simply create a horizontal fill, for example 5 pixels by 100 pixels, and convert it to a movieclip. Add this code to the movieclip itself to make it self-contained and reusable.

This will be your loading indicator that is placed in the first frame of the root timeline. This code includes a function to fade out the movieclip if it spans more that one frame.

onClipEvent (enterFrame) {
this._parent.stop();// stop the root timeline
percent = Math.abs(_parent.getBytesLoaded()*100/_parent.getBytesTotal());
this._width = percent;// the movieclip that will scale horizontally
if (percent>=100) { // you can set this to any number (0-100), 100 represents the entire swf
this._parent.play();// any action you want after loading reaches the amount you specify
this._alpha = this._alpha – 5; // this fades the loader movieclip by 5% per frame
} else {
// if needed, you can add action to do here, such as play a loading message movieclip
}
}

13) Edit your photographs for Flash in your image editing software to the final size needed in the Flash piece. Avoid scaling images in Flash, unless for a tween, to maintain optimal file sizes and best quality of your image assets.

If you are not certain of the final size needed, import your image and, once the size is determined, use the built in editing feature to resize your image in Fireworks or Photoshop.

Turn off Allow smoothing if the image is not going to be tweened and always place your images on whole pixels for best results.

14) Adding audio to Flash pieces is a powerful learning tool. However, audio adds a lot to the final file size and benefits from external editing before importing into Flash. You can also use the Property Inspector’s audio edit feature to trim dead air off the start and end of audio files. Even silent audio space takes up kilobytes.

Consider adding a text display to any files with audio. This can be a simple text feature that can be shown or hidden by the user and helps make your content richer and more accessible.

15) Consider swapping between two types of mice on a weekly or monthly basis. It will help prevent repetitive injuries like tennis elbow or carpal tunnel.

Finding our sims

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After a few posts and comments mentioning that educators are welcome to use our sims, it seemed prudent to make a formal post here.

Inworld, search for Enercity Park under Places.  We have a stage there that may be used for small meetings (20-25 people).  On the iliveisl estate (iliveisl.com, slurls are on that site as well) there are many places that are open to the public and free to use.  The park above allows you to rez objects for an hour to practice building and filming.

Inworld, you can also search for Subquark Hax and look at Picks in his profile for a landmark.  Similarly, you may search for Ener Hax, the estate manager, and also find landmarks.

In a browser, you can also use a slurl.  Even though the map does not show any land, it does work.  Here is the link to Enercity Park.

How do I create Second Life video files for elearning?

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I certainly can get carried away!  As an answer to a forum post on the eLearning Guild’s website, I posted a response asking how I do video isl.  Here is my answer and as you can see, it just touches on the subject.  It does get a bit involved and short of seeing me at DevLearn08, you will have to wait until afterward to access the course materials and video files.  Here’s the answer:

Well it is fairly easy to do once you learn the few tools needed.  And the tools are quite inexpensive ($37 being the most costly).  A few other tools listed here on my blog.

It is straightforward to actually film.  A script helps you stay efficient time wise and after that it’s just the mechanics of what you do.  If you are doing dolly shots (camera moving) then an inworld tool called Filming Path makes it pretty smooth.  There are some tips and tricks you want to keep in mind, such as setting the time of day in Second Life and your personal preferences to maximize your footage.

Once you are set with your camera position, use a program like Sizer to ensure you are filming at the exact size you want (to prevent pixel distortion) and start Fraps (a screen capture tool that has very little overhead) and yell “action”!  :)

Then you take your video footage into something like Windows MovieMaker to edit it and match it up to your audio.  I tend to do audio separate as I can edit both audio and video individually and maintain higher quality audio then if I was doing it inworld.  It also allows me to work on my own for the video taping and control the acting better.  If there are multiple avatars logged in for the filming, then I don’t need to worry about someone flubbing a line and can edit down one or two takes.

It allows me to concentrate on getting the visuals right and in far faster time than if both video and audio were going on simultaneously.  As to actors not being lip synched, I find that the added value in having the lip synching of Second Life (which is not very precise) is not worth the extra time in taking many takes of a scene.

And then I am able to speed up, edit out, or slow down particular video segments without regard for the audio.  In other words, it allows the audio (or accompanying audio text for Deaf or HOH access) to really focus on the task being taught.

The resulting audio and video file may then be divided up and used in the elearning once, or several times.  A process may be shown in it’s entirety and/or broken down into smaller steps and/or used as scenarios for questions and so on.

I hope I answered your question.  To see it all come together and receive user guides as well as real files, come see me at DevLearn08, session 708.

And if you are ready to start and need a place to practice inworld, just look up Enercity Park.  You can use the sime as a sand box and rez camera tools for an hour.  Since the posting above, I have added two more sims and all of them have public spots.

Have fun and hope to see you at DevLearn!

We get serious blogosphere time!

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elgStage_020, Originally uploaded by iliveiSL

I was pleasantly surprised to see this build posted as sidebar content on one of the top elearning blogs!

Brent Schenkler from the eLearning Guild asked me to create a venue for a panel discussion being held for the Guild’s Summer Series for use by eBay and Sun Microsystems.

Often, due to a hundred reasons, follow up gets lost and it’s uncertain of the value of things like this.  I have experience creating similar venues for up to 200 users (even on the four corner intersection, it gets pretty laggy!  Although if everyone sits, it makes a noticeable difference).  I have seen those in action and received the type of feedback everyone can understand – money.

But volunteer builds like this often are used and then taken back into inventory and soon forgotten (I have done about a dozen free builds of stages, club houses, and offices for special inworld groups).  The iliveisl estate was gracious enough to allow this build some permanence and it was scaled down for groups of 16-20 and moved to the adjacent park in Enercity for public use by anyone in Second Life.

So it was indeed a thrill to see how well it was liked when I stumbled upon it on Brent’s blog.  According to Alexa rankings he gets an average of 250 visits a day.  He is certainly a serious player in the elearning world.  Thanks Brent!

related links:
Brent’s Blog
Newmarket’s elearning
iliveisl estate

Note: Anyone may feel free to use this stage for any of your inworld needs.  Just search “Enercity park” in Second life.  And (shameless plug) come see me at DevLearn08 session 708 on how you can bring Second Life into your eLearning.

Lip Synch Test in Second Life

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Having never used voice or lip synching in Second Life, it was important to test it out.  Here are the results and they hopefully will lead to being the first video podcast on the elearning Guild’s site (called Guildcasts).

Some lessons learned, converting the resulting AVI files from Fraps needs additional codecs. You must have QuickTime Pro in order for iTunes to do the conversion to m4v.  Blip.tv allows you to convert your movies into many formats. Finally, the results look very good on the Nano iPod.

Update: The interview has been completed and this test video removed.

iliveisl Estate

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I am always one to share, have been like that for a long time.  And that includes the estate.  I am behind the scenes in day to day operations but want to emphasize that there are several meeting places that are open to anyone for free use.  Second Life is all about collaboration and providing space is a little part I can add back to the community.

I took 214 pictures of the estate as homage to the work done by Ener Hax.  A true artist with terraforming and landscaping.  Even a half dozen waterfalls and details like the converted Fallout shelter (now the Eville Atomic Lounge) and the catacombs beneath the city streets of Enercity.

There are wonderful details like the hot dog cart at the ferry landing and the 1905 Vittoria Arduino espresso maker at the docked zeppelin on the 300 meter rooftop in Enercity Park.

Look it up inworld by searching for Enercity Park or grab a slurl from iliveisl.com.

And if you get hooked and want to see how it can be used in your eLearning, then come see me at DevLearn08 session 708 and see how you can bring Second Life into your toolkit as an easy and low cost medium.

Well Timed Humor

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My selfless friend, mentor, adviser, business partner, and so much more sent me an IM that could not have been better timed.  With rl work, sl drama from a few residents, sim growth, prep for DevLearn08, and normal real world things; Ener Hax has perfect timing (and grace too, don’t let perceived naiveté fool you).

Being quite passionate about Second Life, there are times when it just does the soul a world of good to laugh at yourself.  Well for anyone that is into Second Life, this link will provide for a few head nods and perhaps a real LOL.

Enjoy!

Brandon Hall Research blog

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Tom Werner has a blog over at Brandon Hall that discusses various aspects of Second Life.  It’s a refreshing read on a general topics.

I liked his view on whether platforms like Second Life are a game or not (my comments are there) and on how people represent themselves in Second Life (a topic I will touch on here as well).

He also discussed the MystiTool, which is a very handy HUD loaded with useful features like a rezzable table that keeps adding chairs as needed, sky platforms, “elevators”, non-physical vehicles (for push protection), and many other features (the proximity aspect is what I use the most whle I am building so that I don’t get surprised by someone showing up next to me).

Here is an absolutely great write up discussing the Mysti in great detail.

Hope to see you at DevLearn08!  =D