I would love to tell you that this is an amazing rapid content authoring tool that can do it all, achieve it all and frankly is absolutely fantastic. But sadly, this is not to be. While I had some exciting expectations when I jumped into the product, by the end of it all, I felt drained. Don’t get me wrong, SoftChalk 6 has some very nice and robust features and lots of tiny extras, but it lacks other functionality to take it, to the next level.
- Easy to insert and delete learning objects
- Quiz Popper
- Widgets, Bookmark, Media – inc. your a/v, image
- Special Characters
- Media Library
- Lesson Reporting
- Preview – can preview in your browser
- Output Language – 12 choices including Arabic, Finnish, Russian, Chinese
- Accessibility features, inc. ADA 508 – one of the best ones I have seen
- Quiz Group
- SCORM Properties – enables you to select from one attempt, multiple attempts, unlimited attempts
- Format, Table
- Check HTML
- Enable Auto-Recovery
- StyleBuilder and its Style Properties
- Spelling – dictionary is limited, although it appears you can insert a dictionary
- Lesson concept – one of its biggest flaws
- Math Characters Special Creation – Pure academia
- SoftChalk 6 Connect – I didn’t use it, wasn’t connected – so it may be cool or not
The ability to select, view and insert/remove these features is very nice. Without overly going into detail with some of the features, I’ll hit on a few.
Quiz Popper: You can select up to 7 choices and then edit them within a somewhat wizard window. Selections include t/f, m/c, matching and ordering. Other options include essay (academia, but for them – why?) and short answer.
When you select the type of quiz you want, a new window will popup with the options of “Q/A, Feedback, Hint, Options and Important”
- Q/A – this is where you enter in each question, type in your answers and select the correct answer. Easy to do
- Feedback – Can change the defaults to whatever you want. So instead of saying “correct”, you can change it to “great job”
- Hint – can offer hints
- Options – includes “quiz me”, “self check”, “test yourself”, “text only”; next you select display options “hide question or show question”, number of points, retry; feedback can be a popup or inline (i.e. embedded within the course) or as a popup window. You can also select “extra wide” for all quiz poppers
When you use the quiz popper, you wouldn’t use quiz group, because within the quiz group you can import quizzes or create a new batch of quizzes following the popper format. Within the quiz group, you pick your quiz type, then the popup window appears and you click the tabs to select the options you want and enter in the information. Then you click add. You follow this same process for each question. Eventually you have a quiz group. You can move the questions within the group, up or down or delete. Additional options include:
- Show questions – all at once, one at a time, random order
- Show group – hide or show
- Feedback – detail or summary
- Options – allow retry or show border (which is checked as a default)
Why this whole concept is cool, what is baffling is why you need to have the separate quiz group and quiz popper choices. It would seem easier to just to have quiz group and if you want to create just one type of quiz and just insert without the group concept you can do it within that window. Why have something that are the same features within the group as the quiz popper? Over redundant in my opinion and worse, taxing. I found myself getting irritated.
15 choices to choose from, ranging from drag n drop, flash card to crossword puzzle (honestly, I just can’t seem someone at the corporate level using this) to jigsaw puzzle to seek a word. You can input the information you want and offered a series of options. Then select “ok” and it places it into the lesson. While this is a nice feature in terms of the activities, whatever the size the activity window is, it remains. You can not reduce it in size, but you can move it via the “paragraph” options to the left, center or right of your window. Now, here comes an added issue.
If you put text next to it or another activity, image, media, whatever – it is now grouped. So, even if the second learning object or text has nothing to do with the activity it is connected. Thus when you move L-C-R they follow together.
In my test, I cut the text and placed it on the next line. Once in a while, it stayed grouped, other times you could move it separately. I have seen other RCATs follow the same premise and honestly, it should be blasted into outer space. If I want it grouped, then let me choose.
After you place your activity into the lesson, you right click and can modify it or delete it. Unless you know that to modify you need to right click, you would have no idea and perhaps would add a level of frustration to you.
Image formats are .bmp. .jpg, .gif, .png and .jpeg. You click image and then go and select your image from your desktop or wherever you put it. One of the irritants with RCATs and frankly many e-learning vendors in assessment and other groups, is that you have no idea what image format is acceptable, until you go into the select image function.
The first time you see the formats is in the popup window. May not seem to be a big deal, but really how hard is it, to show it prior to opening the window. Plus perhaps explain what .bmp means and its benefits. Why .bmp is higher quality its downside is kbs, which can impact speed to view the page. That is why you see more images in the .jpg or .png format and not .bmp on the net.
Image alignment is either L-R with the default being the right. You can move the image in the L-C-R paragraph option. Increase and decrease can be done within the lesson window OR you can input the width and height if you know it or just keep it as is.
For your media options, which can be inserted in the screen/lesson or hyperlinked are
- Audio – .mp3
- Web movie
With the flash or shockwave options you can describe the media for use of a screen reader/assistive technology. Nice.
This is a search with a unique twist. You select options on the left side such as YouTube, Flick, Wikipedia, MERLOT, etc (the list is quite extensive).
Type in your keyword and click enter. On the right side of the media library it will pull up the videos (in this case, I selected YouTube) and show those that have the “tag” of the keyword. You can choose from 25 to 100 maximum results. Pick the one or ones you want and then they are auto saved into the Library – which is your learning objects repository. Again, a wonderful feature.
I found the media search and then subsequent library (which is separate), easy to use and clever. But, I am not sure what Wikipedia has to do with media, but it is available as part of the search.
While the media search is nice, it would be great if they could identify what some of these sites contain. For example, I have no idea what “Orange Grove” is, which is a repository you can select.
Find the code on the net and enter it into the window. A simple cut and paste. Easy to do, if you understand the widget concept and where to find them.
The Three Worst Features on SoftChalk 6
The goal as aforementioned is that with SC6 you can build a course quickly and launch. The problem with is, in that trying to be clever SoftChalk 6 dropped the ball or eraser (yuck, yuck). The reason?
- Lesson concept
Let’s start with the lesson premise.
The programs opens up to where you can create a lesson, not a course. The options you have under file, besides the common ones: open, save as, save, etc. are:
- Publish a Lesson
- Package a Lesson
- Open a Lesson
The screen you begin with, is not the first page of the course, it is a lesson. All the options that are available to you in the program, are tied to that lesson. Can you create additional lessons? Yes. But again, you create one lesson, then save it, then create a new lesson and save it and so on.
Each lesson has to have a different file name. Confused yet?
A WBT course typically follows this premise: Course-Chapter-Page OR Course-Topic-Page. I prefer the former, but I have seen the latter. So, why the Lesson-Course angle? I surmise it has to do with the initial academia focus.
Because you can publish a single lesson, the option exists. Thus, you may not want a course. The whole benefit of an asynchronous WBT is the self-containment and that an end user can go wherever they want, whenever they want. Lots of pages, chapters, etc. Not a single lesson.
This is going to be confusing, but here it goes. Please tell me if you can follow the logic behind this.
The SB is an option under tools and shows the templates that are available for you to select from, how they look with the headers, banner, content (font, etc.), sidebar and format. You can use the templates and there are a lot of change the colors, font, etc. and create your own “template”, then save it. Simple, right? Yes, but once you select it, you may say to yourself, okay this is the template that is active and I am now using. WRONG!
Don’t worry, I thought the same thing. In order to select the template you use, whether it is the standard offerings or yours, you have to go to “Properties” and then select “Style Properties”. There is where you select what you want. Makes perfect sense, right? Again, wouldn’t it be easier to look at the templates you want, modify or whatever you want to do and then after saving it, select it to be used immediately rather than go into an extra step?
I am sure SC6 is going to say that in the style properties you are now able to change the text, header, decide if you want to include page numbers, etc., and this is true. But again, you could create these capabilities in that initial StyleBuilder window.
Oh, you can purchase a custom style. This is achieved in the style properties window.
Okay, now you ready to put together that course, because you have spent all the time creating your lesson and after building one lesson, you finally realize, “uh, where are my chapters, pages” and then figure out it is a lesson and not a course. Lucky you!
Thus you select the eCourseBuilder and begin locating your lessons that you saved and place them into the builder, which once you understand the concept is easy to do. Of course, you need to remember where you put your lessons, because the system does not create a default folder within say where their program is located. Not a big deal, but for some people it is a nice option.
You can add or delete lessons, save the eCourseBuilder and preview the course within the window.
Through the browser window, a requirement in my opinion. Sadly, there is not preview within the program or at least a dual pane preview window, which I believe is a necessity because of how the stylebuilder function works. You cannot actually see the style/template view within the lesson window, but only in the preview window. A dual pane would enable you to see within the program, one side of you building the course and other side the output with the template active. If you wanted the one window you would have that option. To me, this just seems logical.
Don’t get me wrong, having the browser preview is crucial, because your course may look different in one browser than another.
- Zip (default)
- SCORM 1.2
- SCORM 2004
- Common Cartridge Format – interoperability standard targeted only for academia
- .EXE for Windows
- .EXE for OS X
Publish Lesson Option
Can publish to a server, via a FTP as .zip file or SCORM 2004
If you wish to incorporate MD, you have a lot of tabs with information to pick from. At least for two of the tabs it is heavily geared towards academia.
I created a course with the following media files
- .JPG of my dog Diego
- 3D flash file with photos inserted and full zoom capability
- MP3 file with high quality sound, crisp and clear, no distortion
- .WMV with perfect saturation, strong clarity, sound, high quality
Selected one of their own templates, made changes. Incorporated some lesson properties including the ability to e-mail the results. Added several quizzes and “search a word” activity. Inserted a widget. Changed the course language to Finnish, then re-did the course in English.
Everything looked crisp and tight. The mp3 played as well as it should, using speakers off of my laptop and then with the high end speakers and subwoofer off my desktop. Screens looked sharp via my laptop 17″ LCD screen and desktop 24″ LCD screen. The video was exceptional and sound clear. Quizzes appeared nicely and movement around the course fine. However:
- If you choose the “pages” option, the page numbers appear on the top of the course. No text, just a page number. Yuck
- TOC appears on the left side of the course and says “TOC” – okay
- Unless you change the text titles for each lesson and decide to remove page numbers (you can choose this option and I did), you will see under the TOC, just page numbers. In my test, I saw my titles for each lesson and ditched the page numbers
- You choose “Sidebars” under the properties window, and includes options such as “handouts”, “other resources”. I went with handouts.
- Upon viewing the course, an activity or quiz is shown with a cursor arrow and as I recall it said activity. The end user then clicks the activity and the activity appears
- Finnish language showed up anything I inputted via their options, say the activity language or quizzes. It did not convert my typed in language to the other language.
- Spanish language – the option never said whether it was Spanish in general or Latin American Spanish. It appeared to be Spanish in general, which is different than LAS. Again, I hope a change is made.
The Grade (A+ – Superior, A- Very Good, B-Good, C-Average, D- Poor, F- Don’t Buy It)
Academia - B
Corporate – C
SoftChalk 6 tries to be too many things to too many audiences and while many of its features are very clever and smartly developed, others are confusing and frustrating. The approach and logic behind the lesson, stylebuilder and ecoursebuilder fail and while the lesson – approach may be useful to academia, its downside is that you do not start as a course (common), but as a lesson (in their product). Perhaps not a big deal, if this is the first tool you have ever seen or used. It is a big deal, if it is not, since the terminology and structure is different.
SoftChalk 6 is still heavily geared to academia (and nothing wrong with that), but it is having difficulty in the corporate landscape.
Can SoftChalk 6 turn the corner?
Personally, I think SC can do it. The question posed to them, is will you?