story telling

Bond, Coupon Bond

A few weeks ago, the ELH Challenge of the week was to create a math game. I was very excited about this one but life got in the way. I also knew I’d be working on this little gem.


The Task

For those that don’t know, I recently started a position working at the Robert H. Smith School of Business. All day long I get to work with faculty on how to design their courses with the learners in mind. And occasionally I get to make something fun with Storyline!

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One of the classes I am working on is an introductory finance course. The instructor has a coupon bond that she usually uses in class to show students what bonds look like and explain how to value a bond. She wanted to create an online piece that students could complete at home that accomplished this same goal.

The Design

2015-04-22_11-32-20I think it’s pretty obvious that a module on bonds needed to have a James Bond theme. There are lots of great easter eggs and design elements for the Bond fans out there. This is still being worked on but is now at a solid beta version. It’s not a game per se, but I think it’s fun!


Note that this is geared towards students
minoring in business and this module occurs a few weeks into the class. It assumes some pre-existing knowledge on the part of the student like how to use a financial calculator. If you need help with the answers, you can find them at the bottom of this post.

Click the image below to check it out. Leave a comment to let me know what you think!

(Remember, you can find a cheat sheet below.)


Please contact me if you need answers for progressing through the demo.

Cartoons Compete: PowToon vs. GoAnimate


Sometimes in eLearning you need to create a quick animated short, either to insert into a longer course or to stand on its own. Storyline 2 actually makes this pretty simple, but there are some platforms that exist that make it even easier by providing built-in graphics; we all know that creating or finding images can take forever!

Two of the leaders in this area are PowToon and GoAnimate. As I mentioned last week, our team recently switched from PowToon to GoAnimate. In the process of switching, I was looking for a comparison of the two but not much was out there. So, if you are thinking about purchasing or switching to one of these platforms, you’re in luck!



PowToon is simple to use.  Creating and timing objects is easy. I like the way that PowToon uses a timeline even though you can only view and adjust one object a time on it. It has the basics and the free plan has some good features and options.


AUDIO. You can only import 1 audio file into the entire project so both creating the audio and timing it to your slides can be really tricky.

You also don’t have much control over the props and characters. They are set in stone. So, if the prop you need doesn’t really fit into your color scheme, too bad.


The free plan offers a decent selection of styles and can be a good way to get started with PowToon. It will only let you share your video through YouTube or with a direct link, so if you want to download videos this isn’t a workable option. However, you can pay per export. The thing that I really don’t like about the free version is that it has both a watermark and an annoying outro slide at the end that has a little “created using PowToon” jingle.

For $228 a year you can get a pretty good business plan that allows you to download videos, get rid of the watermark and outro, and has a lot more included styles though not all of the styles. The only downside to this plan is that you are only allowed to use the videos for your own business; they can not be sold.

If you want the whole shebang, it’ll cost you $684 a year, though they sometimes run specials that will allow you to get the best plan for the price of $228 a year.

Why we switched

GoAnimate offers superb control over both audio and visual elements. You can even create your own custom characters in several of the styles and sync their talking to your audio narration.  It’s impressive! In addition, you can make characters actually hold objects (and they move with the objects in hand) and there are several more options for exits and entrances in addition to motion paths.

Also, you can search for a particular prop among all styles which is super handy and something I was often wished for with PowToon.

GoAnimate also has lots of features I didn’t know I was missing like a Ken Burns effect, great built-in “scenes” that can be modified as needed, and cool infographic animations.

What’s missing

I think my only let down with GoAnimate is that timing objects is a definitely trickier. There is a timeline but it only shows the scenes and audio, not the individual elements in each scene. You have to time objects relative to each other which can be tricky and makes time the full scene difficult. I think the best workaround for this is to create several short scenes with a couple of things happening as opposed to one longer scene with several actions.

GoAnimate does make this a little smoother than PowToon, including the fact that handwritten text matches up exactly with non-handwritten text, an issue I battled in PowToon more than once. I also just realized the other day that you can fit the scene duration to the content so that helps as well.


The free plan for GoAnimate doesn’t allow exporting either, however you can copy embed code for the video or share a link. Also, the branding is a little less intrusive than that of PowToons in that there is only a small logo and not a jarring outro. However, you can only create videos that are less than 30 seconds long.

The mid level plan is $299 a year, about the same a PowToon and with basically the same additional features.You do get access to ALL the styles with this plan which is nice but you still have a watermark and can only use the videos internally.

The high level plan is $599 a year, considerably less than PowToon and, in my opinion, with a great deal more to offer.

In addition, GoAnimate offers a team subscription. It’s pricey, starting at $2000 a year for 3 subscribers, but allows separate accounts to collaborate on videos which is pretty handy.

So which one is better for me?

Glad you asked! Overall, I think GoAnimate is a better tool with more bang for your buck.  If they would add slide elements to the timeline, I would even call it close to perfect! However, if you are looking for a great tool to create some (longer than 30 second) free videos, PowToon definitely has the upper hand. Either way, these tools are easy to use and can really up your animation game!

Do you use either of these? Or another tool that you like?  Please share your experience in the comments!

Tell Me a Story… Resources!

800px-Once_Upon_a_Time_LogoI was planning to write a post on some tips and tools for storytelling to wrap up this series.  But there are already so many great free and low cost resources out there that I just decided to curate a list and share with you guys.

Fun things around the internet:

Resources I linked to in this guest post:

Articles from ASTD ATD and other professional sites:


Free tools for telling digital stories:

I know that there are lots of other great resources out there… please share them in the comments and I will add them to this list!

Tell Me a Story… But Edit it First!

Photo by Denny Culbert

Our guest post this week is from Rachel Nederveld, a film producer, writer, musician and all around creative genius who also happens to be my sister. She recently wrote a
series for Vice on living in the swamps of Louisiana and is currently living out her dreams in the other LA, Los Angeles. If you need someone to produce a music video, or a partner in crime for an off-the-wall adventure, this is your gal.


One of the things that I love about film is all of the different aspects of storytelling that are tied into one – writing, lighting, acting, composition, and so on. It’s the director’s job to make sure that all of these are working together during production, the story is being told successfully through the delivery of the lines, the shadows carefully placed, the colors thought through on each set, the angles of the shot are appropriate for the scene. But the thing that really ends up tying them all together is something that all of these art forms have in common, and that is editing. In fact, editing is so important there is a theory that for the Oscars, Editing Nominations predict the Best Picture Winner.

When you go into production, you start with a script. When you come out, you end up with hours upon hours of footage to comb through. The original story is (or isn’t!) in there, but is it the best story? Which ideas on paper actually translated successfully visually and aurally and which ones didn’t? Is there a way to use your footage to tell the same idea better than originally planned? It is rare that the answer is a confident yes. So then the director takes their baby and places it in the tender love and care of an editor with confidence in their ability to do magic.

We_Can_EditOne of the hardest parts, especially in self editing, is to take out something that you love but that doesn’t add to the story. Say you have the most stunning view of a city at night. Or you somehow caught a jack rabbit running down the road into the sunset and it’s the most amazing and beautiful thing you’ve ever caught on camera. Maybe it’s a scene that you wrote that is so profound it made your friends cry when they read the script. And now things have changed and it doesn’t totally fit in, but man it’s such great dialogue how can you possibly take it out?

My favorite mantra in editing all mediums is less is more. When I’m writing even an email I always read it over and think, how can I say this in fewer words and still get the point across? I can’t count the number of times I’ve written a page long emotional email, saved it, then come back the next day and said the same things more successfully in two sentences. The same goes for film. A common rookie mistake is to be down to a 2.5 hour edit and believe NOTHING can be taken out.

Really, nothing?


In the age of the rise of the Indie/low budget everything, we now have the privilege of being able to over-create content. This is both a blessing and a curse. It’s worth the time, the thought, and the discipline if you want your end product to be the best it can be.  Just remember, no matter how hard it is, to stick to the core of your story and find the best way to communicate that idea.

Tell Me a Story… In Three Acts

DSC_0035 We have another great guest blogger today! Melissa F. Miller is a practicing attorney and author of the Sasha McCandless legal thriller series. Her debut novel won the 2012 National Fiction Writing Competition for Physicians and Lawyers and she is a USA Today bestselling author. Melissa is an awesome mom, great drinking buddy, and an all around kick @$$ woman, just like the characters she writes. So, read on!


When Allison invited me to do a guest post about storytelling, I figured it’d be a snap to write about telling stories. After all, I’ve written six full-length novels, two novellas, and counting. I thought I could simply discuss my process and that would make for an interesting–or at least worthwhile—post.

I was wrong. Really wrong. Dead wrong, even.


Or perhaps chocolate craft beer?

Part of the problem is that my process is messy and organic. I may tell myself I’m going to outline, or use the Snowflake method, or story beats, or writing from the middle, but what actually happens is I have a plan, the plan goes south, and then I wail to my husband that I’m stuck. He points and laughs at me and tells me that must mean I’m almost done. I grumble, drink some craft beer, and eat some dark chocolate that has been carefully stashed in my desk for just this occasion. And then somehow out of the ooze, the rest of the story results. Not the most interesting topic to read about.

So instead, let me tell you a story. Once a year, I do a story session with kindergarteners at my kids’ school. Some of my storytellers are not yet reading, some are emergent readers, some are fluent readers, but ALL of them are storytellers.

We talk about how a story has a hero (and usually a sidekick), a special tool or skill (historically, the six and under set seems to favor magic and/or superpowers here), and a goal. But our hero encounters an obstacle. The situation looks bleak. Then our hero uses his or her special tool or skill to overcome the obstacle and prevail!

There you have it: A vastly oversimplified discussion of three-act structure.


As a group, we brainstorm and write a story using these elements. They’re all super excited and eager to share their ideas.

But that’s not the neat part. The neat part is that, even at their tender age, these kindergarteners have already internalized this basic story framework. They ask insightful questions like, “What if the main character is the bad guy and he has a bad goal?” Antihero! “What if the hero doesn’t win?” Dark twist! “What if nothing exciting happens?” Literary fiction! Just kidding.

But even very young children can grasp the power of story. Telling stories (and, later, reading stories and writing stories) is how humankind had made sense of the world since, well, since the before the beginning of recorded history. The structure of a story is embedded in our DNA.

And with that the writer relied on her secret weapon (adorable children) to overcome the obstacle of writing a blog post for the delightful and clever Ms. Nederveld. The End.

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.