Month: July 2014

Tell Me a Story… Explain Yourself!

hinksonToday is the first of our guest author posts!  Jake Hinkson is a film noir connoisseur and scholar who happens to also be great at writing crime fiction stories.  Jake blogs about film, writes essays for various publications, and teaches online workshops on storytelling. He’s a fellow southern transplant who loves cats, gently handles my ignorance of film, and loves to eat as much as I do.


First a story: in England, nearly a hundred years ago, there was a small boy living in London. One day his mother gave him a folded note and told him to walk down the street to the police station and deliver it to the man at the front desk. The boy did as he was told and went down to the station and gave the note to the burly, red-faced officer behind the front desk. The officer read the note grimly and said, “Follow me.” He led the boy to a small, gray cell in the back of the station, and said, “Get in.” Already shaking, the boy got in and the officer locked the door and left. For two hours the boy was left alone and crying. Finally, at the end of the two hours, the officer reappeared and let him out with the warning, “This is what happens to bad little boys.” The boy was ten years old. His name was Alfr540px-Hitchcock,_Alfred_02ed Hitchcock, and he would go on to direct such landmark films as Psycho, Vertigo, Rear Window and The Birds, each, in their way, dealing with themes of unexplained terror, guilt and loneliness.

Hitchcock’s famous story about his two hours in jail—a story which he told many times in his life—is a simple illustration of the importance of certain events in our lives, but it also points to the important of stories themselves. After all, did this event really happen? Hmm…maybe. Maybe not. I’ll be honest and say that I don’t particularly care whether the story is true or not because it does the thing that story is supposed to do: it illustrates an idea.

This why we have stories, after all. We turn everything into narrative—we pick events and isolate details, all in an attempt to explain and illuminate. When you get home from work and your special someone asks you how your day went, you probably end up telling a story. If you’re trying to explain why you’re in a good mood, or a bad mood, or why you’re worried, or why you’re feeling whatever it is that you’re feeling, you probably end up turning all of that into a narrative that involves what you did and who you saw and what it all adds up to.

There was far more to Hitchcock’s long life than his visit to the police station, yet that was the story he choose to tell to explain his fear of wrongful persecution and to explain his complicated relationship with his mother. If the story was simply made up, or greatly exaggerated for effect, then that tells us even more. (I recall a creative writing professor telling me once that we learn more from the lies someone tells than the truths they tell. The lies, after all, reveal what they want to be true.) Hitchcock’s story was shorthand for the trauma of his childhood, a simple way to illustrate how one of our greatest storytellers developed his own particular obsessions.

We tell ourselves stories, it seems to me, to explain ourselves. We are, all of us, mysteries. The stories we tell are a way to organize it, to make it all make some kind of sense.

Meet the Storytellers – Free Template

The Articulate challenge this week was to create an interactive org chart. Since I am writing a series on storytelling with several guest bloggers, I created a “Meet the Storytellers” interaction.


It’s a fairly simple interaction with one little frill – when you click on a person to view more, the information slides in, and then slides out when you are done.  Also, the person’s image stays in front of the sliding information the entire time.  Click the image below to try it out.


This effect can be accomplished pretty easily using slide layers.  Below is a quick explanation, then a download of a template you can use to create a similar interaction.

  1. Create the layers that will appear for each option – these are your entrance layers.
  2. Give the objects in this layer the appropriate entrance animations.
  3. Duplicate these layers – the duplicates become your exit layers.
  4. Give the objects in the exit layers the appropriate exit animations and delete the entrance animations.
  5. Create an exit button on each entrance layer that navigates to the corresponding exit layer when clicked.
  6. Shorten the timeline for the exit layers to .75 seconds.
  7. Trigger the exit layers to hide when the timeline ends.

That’s it!

If you want an image, like the faces in this example, to stay in front of the information that slides in and out, just copy the image to each applicable slide layer and make sure it has no associated entrance or exit animations on those layers.

You can download the template by clicking on the image below.

2014-07-24_12-35-57Use the comment box to let me know if this template is helpful or if you have any questions on how to personalize it.

Tell Me a Story – Part 1

As a kid, I hated history class. I loved to read, I loved to solve problems, I hated to memorize. And, while I know I had some great history teachers, I always felt like I had to memorize too much.

Except in the 7th grade when Ms. Gautier (Go-chay) was my history teacher.

28045daca56e4caca3451f5bf642e2e8Ms. Gautier recently passed away, still teaching history to lucky kids in my home town. When I heard the news, I spent some time reflecting on why I enjoyed her so much as a teacher and why I was so sad that she was gone.  I realized that it was because she made history come alive.  We weren’t focused on memorizing dates and figures, but on learning and telling stories.

File:Ivy Mike H Bomb.jpgAlmost every student who had her class remembers one assignment in particular – we were each assigned a “year” from We Didn’t Start the Fire and had to learn about and tell the stories of the headlines for that year.  I was given 1951 – Rosenbergs, H-bomb, Sugar Ray, Panmunjom, Brando, “The King and I” and “The Catcher in the Rye”. I still remember the H-bomb pinata I made for the class. Most of us who had her class still know all of those lyrics.  But most importantly, we all know the stories behind the lyrics.

I know now, as an adult, that history is full of really great and amazing stories. But I think my experience is not uncommon. Often we, as learning professionals, focus on what facts are needed to pass tests and move to the next level. We forget that storytelling can be an extremely powerful way to help learners remember facts within context, or to infuse emotion into a classroom, or to help the audience understand another person’s point of view.

Over the next few weeks, I ‘ll be writing a series on storytelling, with a little help from some friends. I’ll write another short post this week on the types of stories we can use for learning. Then, you get to read some really great writing from two good friends of mine who are amazing storytellers, Melissa F. Miller and Jake Hinkson. I’ll write a final post with some tips on storytelling for learning.

A little about my future guest bloggers:

Melissa is in another profession where storytelling is important – she and her husband practice law at their firm in PA. She, naturally, writes a series of nail-biting legal thrillers that center around some kick @$$ women… I can’t wait for her next novel set to be released at the end of the month. Melissa’s debut novel won the 2012 National Fiction Writing Competition for Physicians and Lawyers and she is a USA Today bestselling author.

Jake is a storyteller of the southern variety. He hails from Arkansas and I could listen to Jake tell stories all day long. Jake knows more about film noir than anyone I have ever met – he’s literally a scholar on the stuff – and writes in that style of noir/pulp fiction. He has published a book and 2 novellas and is a prolific blogger/essayist/short story writer. Jake also holds private writing workshops online if you are interested in honing your storytelling skills.

I may also have some additional surprise guest bloggers so stay tuned!

Creating Training On the Go

This week’s Articulate challenge was to create a training video using a mobile device.

I decided to make things a little harder for myself than they needed to be and did two very silly, but fun things:

  1. Make a video on origami
  2. Film, edit, post (and write this blog post! Don’t worry I’ll fix weird formatting tomorrow.) all from my tiny little iPhone

Set up

I used my floor, an ottoman, some Harry Potter books, and a cool little gadget meant to hold your phone upright. Oh and a pen.

A couple of different iterations of these items made for various camera angles. Since this was all done with my phone, I couldn’t take a picture of my phone in the set up. But, it was placed on the blue and white stand each time. (Edit: the 4th picture below I took with my iPad and added now that I am back at my desk.  The phone just sticks to the blue mat!)

20140717-222651-80811791.jpg   20140717-222652-80812145.jpg


20140717-222652-80812503.jpg    camera set up


I filmed this in my office which has a great window with natural light. That was it! It did create a few weird shadows but I hate fooling with lighting so didn’t care enough to fix that.

My helper

My cat, Roux, decided she wanted to help. Rather than shutting her out of the room or doing a bunch of takes, I just incorporated her into the video. Besides, cats are necessary for any video on the internet, right?

Speaking of takes, I only had a little video I wasn’t able to use on the first try due to me making folds in the wrong place.

Here are some cute pictures of Roux:

20140717-225626-82586501.jpg   20140717-225626-82586838.jpg

Editing & posting

I used iMovie to edit my clips and add titles since it’s what I had already installed on my phone. It wasn’t too tough to pick up since I had used the desktop version before. In fact, I managed to do most of the editing while sitting on the metro on my way to meet some friends for happy hour. iMovie even includes some free background music, which is much more pleasant to listen to than paper being folded.

Once everything was ready, I just uploaded it to YouTube straight from the iMovie app. Easier than folding an origami box!

So, check it out! My totally mobile-made how-to video.



A few editorial notes on this post, now that I am back at my desktop computer and tweaking the formatting.

I think this challenge really shows how easily and inexpensively smartphones and tablets can be used to create video for training.  In fact, several years ago when I was at the Girl Scouts, we created a short training video using a smartphone and posted it to YouTube.  It was quick, easy, and effective.  This won’t be the most high quality video, but sometimes that just doesn’t matter as long as there is ample lighting and a good script.

If I weren’t doing the editing on the go, I would have used voice over instead of captions for the directions.  I think that watching the folds is important and having to read the captions takes away from this.  It would also allow for slightly more detailed directions.

Low-Tech Learning

A little known fact about me is that my initial major in college was architecture.  I didn’t last very long in the program but to this day I love a good excuse to pull out my sketchbook.

David Anderson gave me a great reason this week with his weekly challenge: create an emergency response “course” using pen and paper.

The disaster

The only disasters I really know anything about are flooding and hurricanes.  I’m from southern Louisiana, went to college in Miami, and now live in in the Mid-Atlantic, not far from the coast.

So I decided to go that route, using the Red Cross hurricane app for some inspiration. (I encourage you to download the free Red Cross apps – they are pretty great and full of all kinds of useful information that I couldn’t fit onto my course.)

photo 1

The course context

I wanted my “course” audience to be folks at an evacuation shelter.

The “course” is meant to be presented soon after the hurricane/flooding is past so there is no imminent danger but evacuation orders may still be in effect for much of the area.

photo 2

What I included and why

I thought about what I would want to know if I were hunkered down at an evacuation shelter.  I decided I would want to know:

  • Where and when can I get food and water?
  • When can I go home?

In addition, I figured shelter staff would have other information they would want to convey to keep things running.  And the government and non-profits such as the Red Cross would probably want to give me some key information for staying safe once I was home.

So, those were the things I included!

photo 3

The production

I used sharpie (once I realized my ink pen was bleeding) and watercolor pencils.  If you have never used watercolor pencils, they are a lot of fun and basically the only way I ever “paint”. They are also a great way to add some color when all of your markers have run dry… (time for a run to the art supply store!)

I tried to add as many visuals as possible to catch attention and help those who may not be very literate (or perhaps those that can’t read my handwriting?). Also, my cat was jealous she wasn’t getting to paint, so there are a few smudges and half paw prints from her.

photo 4

If I were to do these over, I would stay away from block letters and break up the “Stay Safe” page into 2 pages as it feels a bit crowded.

What would you want to know if you were at an evacuation shelter?  What would you include in your emergency disaster course?

Celebrating Independence from Cognitive Overload

Happy Independence Day to my fellow Americans!  I am looking forward to a long weekend of food and fireworks (and trying to soothe frightened dogs).

In an early celebration, I participated in David Anderson’s eLearning Heroes Challenge this week with a quiz on avoiding cognitive overload in multimedia learning. (and, now that I am writing this I am wishing I had given it a fireworks theme… hindsight…)

Anyway, I had fun making it and think it is kind of a cool quiz.


The setup

The quiz asks the person taking it to create a Storyline slide with minimal cognitive load.  Yes, the learner is “creating” a Storyline slide within a Storyline project.

It focuses on the use of Mayer’s 10 Principles of Multimedia Learning. You can use the “hint” link on the player to access more information about those principles.

I initially wanted to do this with drag and drop, but in the interest of time decided it would be best to just use some buttons.


Why keys?

keysWell, when I was creating the buttons for the Image category, there were two key pictures – one with a single key and one with a bunch of keys.  To me they very simply illustrated the difference between the necessary information and extraneous context.  I decided that this would be a great simple image and topic to run with.

The choices

Again, in the interest of time, I decided to limit the number of elements the learner had control over.  3 elements were key (pun intended) – the audio, the image, and the text.

For audio, I started with just a simple On or Off choice.  However, since timing is an important element of Mayer’s 10 principles, I switched it up.  There ended up being 3 choices – Audio on with image/word syncing, audio on with no syncing, and audio off.

I used the image to touch on the idea of only including essential information.  This could have been done in other ways as well, but I figured this would be the simplest.  So, there were 3 images choices – basic (one key), with context (a whole keychain), and no image.  In a drag and drop scenario, you could have more control over placement, but for simplicity the image placement is set.

The text got a little more complicated. There are so many ways to include text on a slide! I broke it into 2 categories that covered most text options: amount of words (key words vs. longer descriptions) and word placement (with the picture or standing off on the side). You also have the option of including no image. This gives the learner 5 different text options.


The logic

There were lots of triggers with lots of conditions in this project. With 45 different possible set ups, I had to be mindful about how I set up the slide logic.

One way I minimized items on the screen was to make good use of states. The audio had 2 visual states (on and off), the image had 3 (bare bones, with context, and hidden), and the text had 7 (hidden, a paragraph, bullets, key words for both image states, and short descriptions for both image states).


I also needed to make sure that all the buttons changed the states of any elements they affected.  So, for instance, if you have set up a complex image with key words, then changed to the simple image, the placement of the key words needed to change.

The logic for allowing the learner to preview the slide they created and for giving feedback got a little tricky, but I won’t go into detail on that here. However, if you would like to see the project file, just drop me a line or comment below.

preview       feedback

Give it a try! 

Click the graphic below to test our your knowledge of Mayer’s 10 Principles of Multimedia Learning.