Wow, I feel really torn about posting about this at all. When I stumbled across this today I was quite excited; while the promise of content interoperability has been there for quite a while now, the availability of easy to use tools for producing such content outside of the CMS delivery environments has been scarce. So any time I see a tool like this I am anxious to check it out. more…
I downloaded and installed the software, which worked a charm (always a good sign.) But upon opening it up, it was not immediate obvious what to do next (never a great sign, but I’ll allow for some leeway here as I’ve been immersing myself in some programs that, once over an initial hump, offer tremendous potential). So turning back to the website I checked out the FAQ which offered:
How do I get started?
The tools are capable of producing complex content, and it will take a while to get to know the full potential. Don’t panic and read the help file. Subscribe to the mailing list and post your questions there.
Fair enough. Not quite RTFM, but off to the help docs I went. Read them through. Managed to get a ‘learning object’ built comprised of a few pages, some text with an image embedded, a freehand drawing and one multiple choice question. All of which were wrapped in a nice looking Flash template and could be exported as a SCORM object.
This is (self-declaredly) beta software. There are definitely some bugs, but that’s not its primary issue. It is also, as they say in the FAQ, capable of producing complex content. It’s true – I loaded some of the examples from their example page into the editor and previewed them, and using these one could see how it might be possible to produce really quite polished Flash-based learning objects that would otherwise take some major development time. And maybe this is one avenue the developers could look into, easing the use in which fully developed templates can serve as the basis for new objects (as in ‘File…New Object…Choose from Template’).
But as it stands now I truly do not think this is what I call an instructor-focused tool. There is no way you could convince me to unleash this on the general instructional population. And I’m not meaning to denigrate the technical skills of instructors at all. It’s just that there is very little about this tool that screams “user friendly.” So maybe I can see professional elearning developers adopting this and really improving their efficiency in producing standards-based learning content. That’s great, wonderful. But I know in my scenario here in BC, and my experience is that this is largely true elsewhere, I’m dealing with 80-90% non-professional developers, that is, instructors and subject matter experts who are creating their own learning content in a largely ‘craft-‘ based model.
Seriously, what kind of time should we expect faculty to invest in these types of tools? I am not someone who could be accused of being permissive about this issue – I’m actually kind of a hardass myself when it comes to holding people responsible for developing fluency with media creation tools. But we’ve got to realize what the yardstick is becoming – to me, one of the oft under-reported aspects of the ‘web 2.0’ tools is that they make it INCREDIBLY EASY to create new, polished looking content. Take tools like Gliffy or eyespot. Seriously, if you haven’t checked this out, go there now. Try them. How long did it take you to assess their usefulness and what they could do. 30 seconds? 2 minutes? How much longer until you actually created something usefull with them? 30 minutes? An hour? Did you read the help docs, ever?
I think the developers of XERTE, the IS Learning Team from the University of Nottingham, have tried to create something really challenging, and should actually be commended for the effort. While they haven’t open sourced it, their FAQ page invites people interested in further developing it to contact them, and I hope they get some takers. If the usability and interface don’t improve, it definitely will not be the first time that a tool coming out of higher education aimed at producing standards-compliant elearning content wasn’t user friendly (do I even need to link to the example here?) And probably not the last one either. It seems to be one of the chasms (there are many) between Web 2.0 supporters and those that think it’s a fad, the latter claiming it’s all about glitz, the former knowing that what’s called glitz by some is usability and design by others, and that if you don’t want to have to force people to use your software, you have to invest in these. – SWL