Friday, June 17, 2005

Wink - Free software that will capture your imagination!

I have been playing with a piece of free screen capture software available from Wink enables users to capture screen shots which are then rendered to become a flash presentation. We have all produced handouts taking learners through step by step instructions to complete a task. Now you can show them the whole task in a video clip, but at the same time you are able to overlay navigation buttons and text boxes explaining what is happening.

Although this software is fairly intuitive to use, there is quite a bit to learn. I started with a simple capture process and just found it fairly straightforward. However, learning how to capture a process and then add the overlays for navigation and explanation took a bit longer to get to grips with. What is impressive is the quality of the image produced and the size of the compressed files. Two files are created – one is the flash file and the other is an HTML document for launching the flash presentation in a browser.

So, what is my verdict? I will continue to use SnagIT from for simple screen shot capture. But Wink scores for moving images. Download the free software and look at the two tutorials. You will be impressed!


Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Google Groups

I keep an eye on what the guys at Google are getting up to. Now they have introduced a beta Group discussion board. I have tried it and found that setting up the site is much easier than some of the other public discussion boards around. The site is clean and easy to navigate, with the usual Google sponsored links on the right hand side of the screen. The discussion group can be set up as a public board with anybody being able to add posts, or as a semi public board with "read only" status. Additionally you can set up a totally private board that will not be listed and where participants need to be invited to join.

My verdict? This is an excellent way of introducing learners to a discussion forum, particularly for tutors who don't yet have access to an institutional learning platform. They will be familiar with the look and feel of Google and will find that stepping forward to a Google Group will not be an intimidating experience. As with all public systems there will be a vast list of groups that need to be avoided, but these can be bypassed by giving learners the group URL.

Try it out at

You will need to register as an account holder for Google, but this is a very simple process.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

More on PowerPoint

I know that many creators of PowerPoint presentations like to use Action Buttons to navigate slides. These are particularly useful if learners are using the PowerPoint themselves and gives unambiguous navigation commands for going forward, backwards, ore even restarting from slide one.

However, I can usually tell if creators have laboriously placed the navigation buttons on each slide. This takes time and can be very frustrating. If you don't get the button in exactly the same position on each slide your viewers will see the tell tale jumps as they move from one slide to another.

Save yourself a lot of time and effort by creating a Master Slide (View, Master....., Slide Master). Place the action buttons on this slide (and at the same time you can place logos and other design features that are the same for all slides) and you will be delighted to find that every subsequent slide created has perfectly positioned buttons by default.

Once in the Slide Master View you will find the Action Buttons in the Slide Show Menu. PowerPoint provides a selection of buttons for most actions, but when you bring the button on to the slide an editing window opens to allow you to change the action if you wish.

For absolute perfection make sure that any button created is of a standard size. Switch on the grid lines if you have a more recent version of PowerPoint.

If you want a full set of instructions for using the master slide and action buttons then add a comment and include your e-mail address.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Back Again!

The last few weeks have been a little difficult because of a virus. Actually a trojan which is not at all damaging, but spies on the computer. You get a feeling of being watched once you know that it is there. Sadly spyware is all over the place now, and one can never really be sure of getting on top of the problem.

Our usual, well known, antivirus software did not seem to be much help in detecting and getting rid of this particular virus. So we went looking for an alternative.

We have downloaded the free software from Grisoft and been running this in the office for the past few weeks. I have to say that it does seem to have done the trick! The disturbing thing is the number of viruses that it locates during the day. It makes me wonder what was happening before.

We have also noted a major difference in the number of viruses that are picked up depending on how we access a website. Normally we channel everything through AOL and the security level is very high with no viruses getting through to our system. But then there are times when we want to use Internet Explorer on the back of our AOL link. And this is when the problems start, even with the highest security controls imposed we are still under constant attack. So now we only use IE when absolutely necessary and then only for short bursts. And the Anti Virus software is kept busy!

If you are a personal user then you can do no worse than follow this link for the free download. It's well worth running this in tandem with your usual anti virus software.


Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Properties Finder

I have said before that I am not the most organised of people. Recently I introduced you to Google Desktop and judging by the feedback I have had this is a “must have” piece of software.

However, we shouldn’t rely on Google to do all our housekeeping! From time to time Google gives me back so many locations that I still waste time trying to locate the file that I want.

So I have taken to being a little more sophisticated when I create a document. Office provides us with a Properties option on the File Menu. If you select this and then choose the Summary tab you can type in a suitable description in the Comments box.

To be able to see the comments when you use Windows Explorer you will need to set up folder details and options.

Open Windows Explorer
Select a Drive or folder. I chose the “My Documents” folder on my main drive.
Click on View, Choose Details
Scroll down the list of options and tick the box next to Comments
Highlight the Comments option and move it up the list by clicking repeatedly on Move Up. I place it after Type and before Date Modified.
Click on OK

Now you need to set this up for all the sub folders. Stay with the folder that you have changed. Now click on Tools, Folder Options, and select the View tab.
Click on Apply to All folders

When you open up Explorer you will be able to see comments about your files as well as the other details. And if you are really good you will use the rest of the boxes in the Properties Summary tab, and display those as well. Don’t forget that you can sort each displayed column just by clicking on the header.

That’s all. Except that you have 10,000 files already created that you haven’t got any comments for. You won’t go back to each one, but if you open or create a file then always set the Properties. Gradually you will notice the difference.


Monday, February 07, 2005

Don't overdo the PowerPoint!

It's so easy, isn't it? PowerPoint offers a treasure trove of gizmos to wow your audience. From background templates that zing with colour, to a cacophony of sound that announces the latest arrival on the screen. You can flash, drizzle, slide, drop, fade, zoom, dissolve or even spin your events to make your PowerPoint look as if the entire production team of an epic film have been employed to create just this one slideshow.


Well perhaps not so wonderful. It's true that PowerPoint presentations that just contain text can be very dull and boring. But sitting through the 1812 Overture whilst trying to absorb information is not the way to do it.

So here are some tips for a successful presentation.

The templates that come with PowerPoint tend to be a bit over the top. Design your own template that you can use for all your presentations. It could be at an organisational or individual level, but choose colours carefully and dicreetly. It may just consist of your logo and little else.

Don't put too many words on the slide. Bullet points are better than sentences. That way you will make more effort to expand the point as you talk and not just read the slide out to your audience!

Use Clip Art sparingly. Don't just stick a picture on a slide because you can! Do it because it emphasises or extends your the point you are making. If the point you are making is boring, then reconsider how you present it, but don't just add a picture that will simply act as a distraction from an already boring slide!

And animations go the same way! Neat, crisp transitions are better than falling stars and zooming texts.

Using a hyperlink is a good way of developing a topic during a presentation. But if you are always going to follow the hyperlink then consider ditching it in favour of incorporating the material in the slide show. This keeps the story flow going.

Finally, don't get carried away with the length! If everyone has fallen asleep by the time you finish then ........................zzz zzz zzz zzz


Tuesday, January 25, 2005

More from Google

I have a theory that our choice of home page when we log on to the internet says a lot about our character. So how sad is it that my home page is Google! But I am not alone in this. Apparently we can be divided into two groups - those who think in terms of a search engine being the starting place for everything that we do, and those who have to look at their company website first.

That's an interesting question! What do you set your home page to, assuming you have a choice. Answers on the Elnet Forum please, under the Materials and Website section - the best replies will be highlighted here!

But here is something new from the Google Guys - predictive entry when searching. Only works worldwide at the moment, but I can see a real bonus with this. If I search for a subject such as Literacy I can keep an eye on the suggestions that pop up. So after tying "Liter" Google suggests:

literary terms
literary criticism
literary devices
literature review
literary agents
literary guild
literary elements
literature circles

This may well lead me to places that I would not have thought about. Try it out for yourselves at but remember that this is not yet ready for general release.

Good Googling!

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

At the turn of the year

Now the Christmas and New Year break is over perhaps this is a good time for us to take stock of where we are with e-learning in the centres. What follows is a very brief and personal view. I welcome your own comments in response – either directly on this blog site, or as a response to the related topic on the forum.

Colleges of Further Education have been battling to implement ILT strategies for at least 5 years. Owing to the complexity and size of these organisations I am not surprised that there are still substantial barriers to development. College networks seem to be among the most securely guarded environments in the industry, and having had responsibility for a college network in the past I understand the need for this. However, teams have encountered problems downloading and running software from the web or accessing sites which include any form of embedded program. Even downloading from a memory stick or digital camera will sometimes cause a problem. There has to be a middle way which removes the frustration for curriculum staff trying to find their way through the minefield!

That said, colleges have at least vastly improved the access to PCs both for staff and student use. And this perhaps is the major problem for Adult and Community centres. This sector is now coming to terms with the development of ILT strategies, but the provision of kit is always going to be more of a problem for this sector because of the peripatetic nature of the delivery. Team members are excited by the developments, but currently have major difficulties in getting reliable access to kit in permanent centres and there are many horror stories about the use of laptops in the community.

For our teams in non-statutory training centres the difficulties are just the same as outlined above. These centres often deal with the most difficult to motivate groups in large numbers. They need access to good material quickly. But this is the sector that does not have access to the repository of material through NLN. And they desperately need it.

One last thought for all the sectors. Access to suitable kit for learners is improving. But staff need to be able to gain confidence and develop material themselves. Staff access is still a major issue to be addressed.

If your organisation has got over any of these hurdles or has good practice to share then I would like to see this reflected in the discussion board. Certainly I would like to hear more about the difficulties you encounter and the solutions you have employed.