Bob and Joy Schwabach
 

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September 2007, Week 1  

CAPTIVATEDwagging dog

We've been big fans of TechSmith's screen capture program Camtasia for creating training and educational videos, but we were bowled over by a new one: Captivate 3 from Adobe.

This is screen capture on steroids. The program can capture any movement on the computer screen, including what you do with the mouse, and any text you speak or write to accompany that movement. The training video can be interactive, with the user taking control of the mouse and following the instructions on his own. Taking someone through a program in this way is obviously an educational tool that can range from product demos to classroom instruction. There's enough power and flexibility here to create your own simple games, if you wish.

Captivate 3 can create instructional videos that require tests, either at the end of the instruction or at any stage along the way. A student or employee can take Captivate 3these tests by responding to questions that have multiple-choice answers. The program will track those responses and be able to pinpoint areas that require more attention. Since the demo or teaching video is interactive, the program can respond to correct or incorrect moves in real time, telling the user when he or she made a mistake and how to correct it.

You can choose the type of training or demo program you want to create from a selection of templates that make the whole thing pretty easy. A feature called "multimode" lets you create three projects at once during the same video capture session. One will be a demo, another an interactive training session and the third a video that includes a quiz. Each of those can be opened and edited on its own.

The editing capabilities of Captivate 3 open more possibilities: After creating a teaching or demonstration video you can storyboard it, as they say in the movie business. The video is laid out as a sequence of shots, which can then be manipulated individually. You can change the sequence and insert other scenes or photos, sound and text to emphasize a point or story.

Each of the shots in any sequence can be made expandable. The expansions are called "roll-over-slidelets" in Captivate 3, and the expression is fairly self-explanatory. Rolling the mouse pointer over any part of these screens lets the viewer know if there is more information within. Clicking brings it up. You see this sort of action frequently in computer games, where moving your mouse around reveals hidden objects as the pointer goes over them.

Captivate 3 lists for $700 from Adobe.com, or $300 as an upgrade to earlier versions. AcademicSuperstore.com sells it for $160 if you can show that you are a student or teacher.

SCHOOL WORK

Just in time for the start of the new school year, Microsoft has an updated version of its Encarta encyclopedia program, selling as a package with Student. (Must be a coincidence.)

We can make a little fun of it, but this is a well-done program. You can also have a little fun with it. We played "Know Your U.S. History" and "Time Traveler," learningStudent with Encarta odd facts about the origins of things: Did you know the present Great Wall of China is only about 500 years old? The original, much older wall, is visible only in small parts.

Searching a topic brings up articles, photos, maps and even corresponding quotes. We wondered where the word "bum" came from. We didn't find the answer, but we did get Marlon Brando's lines from the movie "On the Waterfront," complaining to his brother: "I coulda been a contender. Instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it."

The section on physics includes a discussion of British physicist Paul Dirac's string theory of just about everything. Without that article we would still be ignorant of the existence of "selectrons" and "photinos," which sounds vaguely like an Italian fast-service picture kiosk. The full program includes dictionaries matching English with Italian, Spanish, French and German.

Microsoft Student with Encarta Premium, 2008, lists for $50. If you want it without Microsoft Student, it's $30; you can buy the math section on its own for $20. Find your way at Microsoft.com/student/default.mspx.

INTERNUTS
  • Yoomba.com is a free service that lets you send instant messages to your e-mail contacts even if they do not use the same service. Ordinarily you can do this only if you are all on AOL, Gmail, Hotmail or whatever. You can also use Yoomba to make free Internet phone calls. Yoomba works only with Windows XP or 2000, not Vista or Mac.

  • Thumbplay.com has over 20,000 games, ringtones and wallpaper selections for your cell phone. We were skeptical, but in fact enjoyed downloading the Wheel of Fortunelocal college football fight song as a ringtone. Unfortunately, the "Wheel of Fortune" games we downloaded did not work with either of our two Internet-ready cell phones.  Thumbplay charges $3 for one download or a $10 a month for 10 credits.

  • Circleup.com helps you create online forms that you can e-mail to a list of contacts and then get a detailed report of their replies with summaries. You can try it out by sending yourself a form. There's no charge either way.


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