By Thomas Ouimet
(Written for the Synergist - American Industrial Hygiene Association. 16(9):25-9, 2005 Sept.)
If a picture is worth a thousand words, just imagine how powerful a multimedia presentation can be. Many tools are now available to help subject matter experts produce media such as sound, images, video and animation and use them to make communication and training materials more easily understood and assimilated.
Why would you invest the time and energy to build a program when you could purchase one commercially? A number of years ago, I became dissatisfied with commercial training products because they were too generic, did not send the message that I was interested in delivering and, in some cases, were not accurate. I also wanted more innovative content delivery methods, such as creating a virtual tour of a facility that would have been risky for training participants to enter, and techniques, such as creating an interactive Web-based program or streaming video. I decided it was worth the investment to learn and keep up-to-date with this rapidly changing field.
The steps involved in building media depend on what we are trying to create, but generally the work flow is the same. Raw material such as photographs, sounds or video footage is captured somehow. It is transferred onto a computer, altered or edited to include just the parts we want for our project and then formatted according to how it will be distributed.
Photographs, sounds and video may be produced as stand-alone communication and training material and distributed in their native form or used as part of multimedia products that engage multiple human senses. Since adults tend to learn better when different senses or learning styles are invoked, the more senses and learning styles we can integrate into our communication and training materials, the more effective they will be.
Most people are already familiar with working with text and manipulating pictures in PowerPoint, Word or similar programs, so let’s move right into programs used for creating graphics, audio, video—and even virtual worlds.
Although there are a number of wonderful programs that can be used to create complex illustrations, including Macromedia Freehand and Adobe Illustrator, I have found that most of my graphic needs can be met by Microsoft Visio. This easy-to-learn program can be used to create and color drawings of objects and even process flow diagrams by grabbing and dropping pre-formed shapes and placing them on a workspace (see Figure 1). These drawings can be copied and pasted directly into PowerPoint, where it is possible to animate them. They can also be incorporated into Word documents and other authoring programs discussed later in this article.
Figure 1. Visio graphics in production for a presentation.
Many people are auditory learners, and therefore it is important to include sound in your training and communications—usually narration. While most computers’ audio cards allow simple microphones to be connected and sound or narration recorded directly to the computer’s hard drive, sounds recorded in this way are generally of poor quality and incorporate many distracting background noises.
Recently, however, professional portable audio recording devices (such as my Marantz PMD-670, costing approximately $650), have been developed that can record sounds, narration and music in multiple formats (including MP3 and Windows PCM) at a variety of data rates. Sounds and dialogue can be collected in the field, and narration can be recorded in a space with minimal background sounds. These devices record directly to a compact flash card, which can be pulled from the recorder and plugged into a computer using a $20 USB connector or a flash card reader if one is already installed in your computer.
Once in the computer, audio files can be edited using a variety of software tools, such as Sound Forge (Sony) or Audition (Adobe). Portions of audio files can be cut, pasted or moved just like working with text in a word processor (see Figure 2). The audio can also be enhanced, removing noise, increasing the bass or fading in and out. Finally, the audio file is exported in the format and data rate appropriate for the final delivery method, whether that is Web-based, CD-ROM or DVD.
Figure 2. Audio file being edited in Sony Sound Forge.
Extremely high-quality sound recordings can be made using this technology with software programs in the $200 to $400 range. I now use my portable sound recorder for capturing all of my audio instead of relying on sound collected by video camera microphones.
Visual learners love images, and nothing beats high-quality video. Digital video is also relatively easy to capture and edit today. As described in an earlier Synergist article (September 2003, pp. 27–29), a wide variety of material can be captured on small, portable digital camcorders and transferred to a computer using an IEEE 1394 port, also called a firewire or I-link.
Once loaded on the computer hard drive, the video can be readily edited using a variety of software tools such as Apple’s Final Cut, Sony’s Vegas Video and Adobe’s Premiere. Video images and associated audio can be cut, pasted or moved along a timeline to create the sequence of images and sounds desired (see Figure 3). Multiple tracks of audio can be added to overlay the images with a narrative track. Images such as pictures within pictures and titles and other graphics can be overlaid on the video to generate complex visual effects. When complete, the video can be exported in the desired final format, which again is determined by the delivery method.
Figure 3. Video file being edited in Adobe Premiere.
Creating a DVD requires the use of an additional piece of software. DVD authoring tools allow you to create the menus found on commercial DVDs and associate movies or short clips with menu buttons. These movies or clips must be created in your video editor and then outputted in MPEG-2 format.
Subtitles can be created in different languages and associated with different menu buttons, or the narration can be recorded in multiple languages and made selectable on a menu. Whole presentations can be developed around a DVD by turning PowerPoint slides into menus and then creating an “advance” button on each menu. A video clip or image becomes just another menu button to select and view before returning to the slide or menu. This is a very effective way to create a media-rich presentation that can be set up to require learner input to advance or to just move through the presentation on its own. DVD authoring programs such as Adobe Encore, Apple DVD Studio Pro or Sonic DVDit cost $200 to $400.
The “virtual world” is an interesting medium that has not been widely used in the EHS profession to date. This technology is primarily used in games where players immerse themselves in imaginary environments, but I believe it holds unrealized promise for health and safety training. Participants could be allowed to explore and learn in a risk-free virtual space.
Simple virtual worlds can be created with modestly priced tools costing $100 to $300. They are created by digitally stitching together a series of photographs taken in a circle to create a panorama. An observer can view different areas of the panorama by spinning the picture; “hot spots” or links allow the viewer to move to other areas, open audio files or video files or view text windows. Participants can freely explore the virtual environment and learn about objects that interest them.
This technology is widely used by museums to allow individuals to browse and learn about their collections. Programs such as 3DVista Studio (3DVista) and QuickTime VR (Apple) can be used to create virtual environments (see Figure 4).
Figure 4. Virtual facility tour of a hazardous waste facility being edited in 3DVista Studio.
All of these media can stand alone or be integrated to form more complex multimedia programs. I am going to mention just a few possibilities.
At the most basic level, we are all familiar with creating presentations with PowerPoint and most of us have mastered placing text and images on slides, thus incorporating two media types. Yet PowerPoint also has the ability to incorporate audio and video. It can even animate objects in a presentation. This is a very powerful technology, and few of us have taken advantage of its multimedia capabilities.
Interesting authoring tools have recently come onto the market that can integrate streaming video with PowerPoint slides, images and Web pages. This technology is very useful for capturing live events, such as presentations, and making them available in real time or on demand. (See Figure 5).
Figure 5. Presentation featuring streaming video, PowerPoint slides and Web pages.
The streaming video generally shows a presenter, but other video clips illustrating key concepts can briefly replace the presenter while he/she continues to narrate. A second window alongside the presenter shows PowerPoint slides, images or animated graphics keyed to change as the presentation progresses.
Another window can be filled with a Web page that is also keyed to change during the presentation. The Web page may contain an e-mail link for questions, point to reference material or just contain additional information on the topic. I have also used the Web page window to create links to short quizzes that participants complete to obtain credit for viewing the content.
This is a powerful technology for capturing presentations and making them available to your target audience over long distances. The authoring software to create these streaming presentations varies dramatically in price, from free to $1,500; examples include Microsoft’s Producer, a free PowerPoint add-on, and Accordant Technologies’ PresenterOne.
Web site authoring tools are available for $200 to $400 that can integrate media with interactive Web pages. Examples include Macromedia Dreamweaver, Microsoft FrontPage and Adobe GoLive. All of these products allow authors to integrate text with images, insert video and create links. Even better, a free add-on called Coursebuilder can be installed that allows a subject matter expert—without knowing a scripting language—to insert a series of interactions into the Web pages, such as drops and drags, image rollovers and hot spots and multiple choice questions. This allows Web page authors with a very modest understanding of HTML to create very interactive sites. With a bit more knowledge and luck, these programs can be integrated with learning management systems so that a record of the user’s interaction with the program can be captured to a database. I have also used simple Web forms to create quizzes that are e-mailed to me when users hit “send.”
Another class of authoring program is specifically designed for creating e-learning courses. Subject matter experts can master the basic aspects of these programs relatively quickly. Templates allow users to fill in their content and set up standard interactions as well as navigational, testing and recordkeeping features. The author has complete freedom to place text, images, graphics, animation, video and audio on the screen, move it about and change it. This is very powerful stuff.
The drawback is that this class of tool was originally developed to deliver content on a CD-ROM. If that’s what you are planning to do, there is no problem. But attempts to modify these programs to deliver content over the Internet have met with mixed success. Some require viewer’s browsers to have special plug-ins to play the content. Their video playback across the Internet can also be iffy at best. These tools are also not cheap, ranging from $1,600 to $2,700. Examples include Authorware (Macromedia), ToolBook (Click2learn) and Quest (Mentergy).
Although learning to create media such as images, graphics, animation, video and audio may seem overwhelming at first, new tools continue to evolve to make such development well within the grasp of subject matter experts. These media can then be integrated to create multimedia experiences that, if properly designed, will significantly enhance your communication and training materials.
For More Information
The following references are great resources to learn how to create video training materials. The process used to create documentaries is the same as that used for creating training materials.
Process and Tools for Creating Video
Creating Panoramas and Virtual Tours
Learn more about creating virtual tours and panoramas at the links found on the following three sites:
E-Learning and the Technologies Involved
E-Learning Instructional Design and Evaluation