Dec 8, 2006

Looking for Trainers and Teachers to Test Drive ACTDEN OnDemand

Our new site design is also moving along nicely, along with our plans for our new e-learning service. We are calling it ACTDEN OnDemand, and the service is designed for trainers, teachers, and consultants who want a simple, easy to use system to create and manage online courses.

The service is designed for you to get your online classroom up and running as quickly as possible with a minimum of fuss:

  1. Copy Powerpoint content into ACTDEN CMS
  2. Add optional audio sound track for each slide
  3. Insert online quizzes and fixed tests
  4. Create online class and enroll learners
  5. Monitor usage and view performance reports online
The first version isn't going to be that fancy, but we would like to invite a small group of trainers and consultants to test drive ACTDEN OnDemand. There is no charge to participate.

Click here to tell us more about you, and let us know:

- Your name
- Your school or business name
- Subjects that you teach
- City and country you are located

Unfortunately, we won't be able to accommodate everyone but we will do our best!

Sue and Jim Get an Update (Finally!)

After sitting on the backburner for months as we finished up other projects, the Powerpoint tutorial is finally getting updated. Our editors are revising the content for Powerpoint 2003 and we will upload to the site in early January 2007.

Thanks to all of our loyal teachers and trainers who have continued to support our site. As soon as we get our hands on a copy, Powerpoint 2007 will be coming as well.

Jul 15, 2006

Where to get Powerpoint for free?

We get a lot of e-mail inquiries from students and teachers asking us where they can get Powerpoint for free. Well, it isn't possible because it is a Microsoft product but they do give education discounts and most school districts can buy in bulk.

Presumably, if you are sending us your request, then it implies that you don't have access to a district license or that you don't want to spend the money just yet on the full MS Office 2003 suite. Of course, all of you are law-abiding citizens and have no desire to use pirate software.

What to do? Kieran Mullen has two suggestions, which I repeat here:

Use Microsoft's Powerpoint viewer to share your presentation with others who don't have Powerpoint. The viewer is free and you can get it here. However, if the point is to learn how to create presentations in Powerpoint, this viewer will not help you.

Use the Impress presentation program in Open Office. This is an open-source competitor to MS Office 2003 and it is free to download and use. I haven't tried it myself, but a quick glance at the interface shows that it has all the basic features of Powerpoint. I will test it out over the next few weeks with my own work and see how it goes. Download it here.

Here is a screen shot of the Impress interface:

Hmmm, maybe Jim and Sue should take a closer look at Impress?

Jul 7, 2006

TOEFL IBT and Online Voice Recording

It's been a hectic six months with the successful launched our TOEFL IBT interactive suite. (Question: are there any corporate bloggers that will admit to unsuccessful launches?) IBT stands for Internet-based testing, and the new TOEFL IBT exam is one tricky application to program. There are lots of unusual question types that don't translate easily into a standardized format.

For example, in the new Speaking section, students must listen to a lecture or talk, read a passage, and then speak for 45 seconds into a microphone. Their voice is captured online and then uploaded to a server for grading. No special software is required, students just use a standard headset and microphone while interacting through their web browser.

A second type of question requires the student to listen to a talk, read a passage, and then write a short essay.

It took us a while to get the technology right, but it's been working flawlessly. Over 4,000 students have used the ACT360 IBT system to date.

We think there are applications for the IBT system beyond the niche market of TOEFL test prep. For example, it could be used for broader language training and evaluation applications or as part of a corporate training module to test for understanding.

It's a very rich way to evaluate student comprehension beyond the usual multiple choice/static response type interactions. I am sure that ETS (the makers of the TOEFL) has plenty of research on the testing methodology behind it.

For instructional designers and teachers out there, let us know what you think. We will prepare a short demo on the ACTDEN site before the end of August to let you try it. Based on your feedback, we will then incorporate the technology as part of ACTDEN 2.0 release in the fall.

Jun 29, 2006

Delays Delays Delays - ACTDEN 2.0 Update

As you already can see, we completely missed our ACTDEN 2.0 launch date. Not by a little, but by a country mile. Reasons?

Too many to name, but mainly because ACT360 won contracts to design some very complex e-learning applications and all of our internal resources in the last seven months have been dedicated to these projects. Specs are confidential, but I can say that we now have some very powerful personalization techniques that are right at the forefront of e-learning. Our original TestDEN TOEFL Trainer had similar concepts built into the Pre-Test.

Based on the results of the diagnostic Pre-Test, TOEFL Trainer prioritized the lesson plan according to the weaknesses of the student. This was back in 1998 and though the methods we used were relatively crude, it was a nice little product that served us well.

Anyway, we have had a complete internal re-think of ACTDEN 2.0. It came as we were digging up the old MathDEN code to get it working again. Remember, most of the ACTDEN tutorials were programmed in the days of CGI scripts, and it was going to take a complete re-write to make it work again.

That's when we decided to completely gut the old code and write a brand new engine for ACTDEN 2.0. Then we thought, how about we give teachers and instructional designers a way to create their own tutorials to add to our own, and publish on the site? Why not add some more communication features like chat and blog-style comments? How about improving the registration system so that a single password gets users to the various lessons? And so and so forth.

In other words, this has been a lot like the renovations on my 96-year old house in Vancouver's east side. Once you start picking at a problem, the solution gets bigger and bigger.

We are still working away at the custom projects schedule for launch at the end of summer. ACTDEN 2.0 will kick into high gear right after that, and a limited beta is scheduled for November 2006. Ouch, that's a year after we first announced it.