June 25, 2009

Static vs. dynamic tutorials

Recently, I created a tutorial for work to teach high school students completing undergraduate-level internships how to use the communicative features of the University of Arizona's course management software, D2L. It was quickly decided it would be necessary to show them these features earlier in the week, so my task was to have the tutorial published a day or so later, with me only working 5 hrs per day. I was definitely up for the challenge and excited to learn some new software, but first, I had to choose what to use. There seems to be a lot of talk about Camtasia and Captivate, and although I did want to base my choice on positive reviews of colleagues, I also did not want the tutorial to be a video. I could be wrong in assuming from skimming that both of those programs work in that way (remember, I had limited time), but nonetheless, I went on a search for something different that allowed for creating a static tutorial. Instead of just taking screen shots and then painting on, I opted to download and give Wink a try.

Before I explain why I both liked and did not like Wink, I do want to mention why I wanted a static tutorial instead of a dynamic one. I realize a video or changing features can be more interactive and maybe more exciting, but for people to learn something with a defined set of steps that don't have room for interpretation or creativity (how to send a classmate a page or how to get to your student profile), versus a lot of options for experimentation (searching databases or using Dreamweaver, for example), I think a static presentation is the best. People of course learn in different styles, but following a step by step set of instructions accompanied by non-changing visuals seems to be the easiest to follow, especially if the students would be copying the activities exactly as they go. Rather than pausing and rewinding a video to see where was clicked a few times, it would be more cognitively efficient to look at a screen with things pointed at or circled and the steps taken listed.

So, my opinion of Wink. First it's only for Windows and Linux, just to mention, and it took a couple tries to get the hang of it. The instructions aren't the greatest, and I had to watch the video tutorial more than once before I had a flow going. As mentioned, I opted to create a static tutorial, so how it worked was really just me navigating and then pressing the designated screen capture button. What made Wink stand out from the default screen capture/mark up program on the computer I was using, however, was how clean the add-ons looked and how simple they were to tack onto the shots once learning how all the features worked. It was then easy to export it to HTML or PDF.
But, where it got tricky was figuring out how to make the file accessible. The PDF was nowhere near as good of quality as the HTML (it looked great printed, though), so I wanted to make sure to only post the HTML. From reading the instructions that come with Wink, I was under the impression that once you export to HTML, it is a standalone file that does not need to be uploaded to a web site to work, that it could just be opened directly into a browser. How wrong I was. After searching the Wink discussion boards, I realized I did in fact need to upload the file to the server, as well as the flash file and accompanying PNG images. Then, I had to go through the HTML and make sure each page of the tutorial was appropriately linked with the designated image. This took a bit of time since some were not connected and I had to double check the order.

Other problems were that the forward/backward buttons somehow moved away from the overlaying hyperlinks, so they stopped advancing to the next page when clicked. I had to go back to Dreamweaver and slide those back over. Also, even after being positive (triple checking) everything was linked and working, one of the pages just stopped working.

I don't know if I'd use Wink again -- now that I understand it better, it might be easier, but it was not the most efficient because I think I spent more time dealing with the software and it's problems than making the actual tutorial. I'm mostly pleased with the final product and would like to post it but don't feel comfortable since student names are captured in screen shots, but if I am able to make a version with fixes for privacy, I hope to share that in the near future.

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