LodeStar 7.3 Build 26 Updates

LodeStar 7.3 Build 26 (released on September 24, 2019) is a significant minor release.  Here is a summary of the changes to this build.

ActivityMaker Mobile 

Challenger Page

To start, the main template, ActivityMaker Mobile, offers a new page type called Challenger Page.

Some of you who have been with us since LodeStar 6.0 might recall the Challenger Template.   ‘Challenger Page’ is completely different.  The ancestral lineage was the Presenter Template > Challenger Template > ActivityMaker Template > ActivityMaker Mobile.  In the ‘old’ days there was a separate template for everything.  Crossword, for example, was in its own template.  Now ActivityMaker Mobile does it all.  What used to be different templates are now just page types in ActivityMaker Mobile.  For the most part, the change has given authors far more flexibility.  But for some things, like Flashcards, it has raised the ‘difficulty’ level up a notch because authors must configure the gate that loops learners back to the unsuccessfully completed cards.

Now back to Challenger Page.  Challenger Page makes it easy to set up simple simulations where there is degree of randomness.   This article reveals all.

https://lodestarhelp.wordpress.com/2019/09/27/challenger-page/

New Midnite Layout and Theme

In the past, ActivityMaker Mobile offered Daylite, which allowed an activity to fit in nicely in terms of look and feel with such Learning Management Systems as D2L Brightspace.  But today, more and more Learning Management Systems either automatically launch, or offer an option to launch, content in its own window.   Any Learning Management System connected to the SCORM Cloud, for example, launches content in its own window.   The Daylite Layout and Theme might look a little spare in some situations when the content is viewed in its own window.   The Midnite layout and theme (with Menu Option 3) adds more graphical weight to the learning activity and presents the table of contents alongside the content when there is enough screen space.

midnightwithOrange

LodeStar Midnite Layout and Theme with a little splash of color

Learn more about Midnite and a new feature, Palettes, from this article:

https://lodestarhelp.wordpress.com/2019/09/17/layouts-themes-and-palettes/

Pass Threshold

In Tools > Project Settings you can now specify the pass threshold.  You can also set the condition of completion.  Either the activity is judged to be complete when the student displays the report or the activity is judged to be complete when the student meets or exceeds the pass threshold.

Lots of Fixes

Resource Buttons

Resource buttons sometimes required a single click or a double click.  Now it is consistent.  Always just a single click.

Branching to Report Page

In earlier versions, branching to the Report Page caused an issue.  In this version, you can branch to the Report branch and include it in Table of Contents.

New Data Entry components

Where appropriate, we have added look-up combo boxes.  For example, if you are adding an item to a category, you can either type in a new category or click on an existing category.  The Drag and Drop Widget and Challenger Page are examples of where this component is used.

Table of Contents

We added Menu Style 3 to the table of contents.  When using the Midnite layout, this menu option shows the menu automatically alongside the content if there is enough screen space. In other layouts, it automatically appears but may overlap the content in some situations.

Page Level Branch Options when Page Displays

Page Level Branch Options Executed on Page Show have been improved.  You can find this setting at the top of the page .

branch_icon

 

MathML Support

mathml

LodeStar now properly renders MathML in its HTML Editor.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that at the time of this writing (September 27, 2019)  Firefox and Safari support MathML, but Internet Explorer and Chrome do not. If this technology is important to you, you have the option of directing your students to use Firefox or Safari.

LodeStar discontinued support for MathJax, which was a work around to the lack of browser support for MathML.  The retirement of the MathJax Content Delivery Network (CDN) caused problems and so, today, we rely solely on native browser support for MathML.  We hope that Google Chrome will re-enable this critical technology.

Improved SCORM data

ActivityMaker Mobile now accurately reports on the amount of time the learner has spent on an activity.

ARMaker

Directional Heading Now Supported

In addition to latitude and longitude,  authors can now specify a heading (in degrees).  So, for example, if a student is heading north away from a point of interest, the application can re-direct the student.  If the student is heading south toward the same point of interest, the application can remain silent.

Conclusion

LodeStar continues to be improved with each minor release, even as we think about and plan the next major release.

 

 

Challenger Page

Introduction:

The Challenger Page type implements the State Response Engine, which is a new interaction type that we’re developing.  Simply described, the State Response Engine (SRE) randomly selects a state (a situation or condition) and presents responses to the learners in the form of actions.  Some of the responses will be correct, based on the randomly chosen state; others will be less correct or plainly incorrect.  A response might be incorrect in one randomly selected situation but correct in another situation.  Some responses can be always correct; other responses can be configured to be never correct.

One example is worth ten thousand words.   Let’s picture a composting problem.  Composting is a great thing to talk about in instructional design because the practice of composting is rich with terms, concepts, procedures, principles and problems.  It is also something that people can relate to….generally. SRE promotes higher order thinking and so, we’ll focus on a composting problem.

Take a look at a short example.  You will see several pages of content and then the challenge. We purposely kept the content very simple.  It is simply representative of information that might precede a challenge. It might also provide context.

http://lodestarlearning.com/samples/The_Composter_V2/index.htm

The_Composter_Challenge

Screenshot of LodeStar Learning’s State Response Engine (Challenger Page)

The situation is that you (as the learner) have a compost bin in your back yard.  Someone brings you a pile of organic material to add to the compost.  The organic material is randomly chosen by the computer program.  It could be:

Maple leaves
Birch leaves
Walnut leaves
A mix of plant stems
Apple processing sludge
Fruit wastes
Hay
Brown leaves
Green leaves
Vegetable produce

Our demonstration

For our demonstration we’ve chosen two random states out of the list above:

  1.  You are presented with bags and bags of leaves (not brown).
  2.  You are presented with bags and bags of vegetable produce.

Both of these states are associated with the category titled ‘Organic Material’.
When the user clicks on the ‘Organic Material’ button for the first time, the activity will reveal what the computer has already chosen: either state 1 or state 2.   This works even if the learner clicks on the categories out of order.

Each of these requires a different set of responses.   The responses could be:

Check moisture level
Check temperature
Separate leaves into their own compost
Shred material into small pieces
Mix with a high nitrogen source
Mix with carbon rich material

For the first stage or first category or first whatever, we have chosen the following as optional responses:

Check moisture level
Check temperature
Separate leaves into their own compost

In this scenario with only the two possible states, the answer is easy.  The first two options will be always correct; the third option will never be correct.

Now on to the category ‘Problem One’.

The two random states associated with ‘Problem One’ are:

  1. Temperature is dropping
  2. The compost is beginning to smell.

The computer program will check what earlier states each of these new states is dependent upon.

‘Temperature is dropping’ is dependent upon ‘You are presented with bags and bags of leaves (not brown).’

‘The compost is beginning to smell.’ is dependent upon ‘You are presented with bags and bags of vegetable produce.’

In the first category, if the computer randomly chose the ‘bags and bags of leaves’ state, it will only choose those random states that are dependent upon this condition.  Now, in our example, we only have two states.  We could have dozens.  So, in our example, if the computer chooses bags and bags of leaves, problem one will be ‘Temperature is dropping’.  If the computer chooses vegetable produce, problem one will be related to smell.

Now the learner examines each of the options.

You can imagine loads of situations here.  I’ve limited the example to a couple of states but you can easily see the following scenarios:

If the computer chose brown leaves, the following responses would be correct:

Shred material into small pieces
Separate into its own composter

If the computer chose maple leaves, the following responses would be correct:

Shred material into small pieces
Mix with a high nitrogen source

Problem Two will be one of the following:

  1. After a while your compost process is stalling out. You have a lot of vegetable material.
  2. After a while your compost process is stalling out. You have a lot of leaves and dead grass.

The first state in problem two is dependent upon vegetable matter in the first category. The second state is dependent upon bags and bags of leaves.

You can imagine that this could get very sophisticated with lots of random states, lots of categories (or phases), lots of options, and a lot of resources.

But let’s keep it simple to start.

Let’s Build It Step By Step

The first thing you need is the LodeStar Learning eLearning authoring tool called LodeStar.  You can download it here.

http://www.lodestarlearning.com/lodestar-14-day-trial.html

You need LodeStar 7.3 Build 26 or later (which was first published on September 24, 2019).  If you don’t have a license you can request a free license for 14 days. Whatever you create is yours to keep.

  • Launch LodeStar and select the ActivityMaker Mobile template.  Click on the ‘Create Project’ button.   Title your project ‘Compost Challenge’.  Click the ‘Ok’ button.Please note:  The default layout and theme for ActivityMaker Mobile is Daylite.  The examples shown, however, use the Midnite layout and theme.  To switch, follow these directions:

https://lodestarhelp.wordpress.com/2019/09/17/layouts-themes-and-palettes/

Let’s continue:

  • The default page is a Text Page.   Create a title page as you normally would in an HTML editor. A simple title will suffice.
  • Click on the ‘Add Page’ button to create a new page.  NewPageButton
  • Change the page type of the new page by clicking on the arrow in the Pages panel and selecting ‘Challenger’.  In the screenshot below, you will find the > button to the left of the label ‘2’.
    Change_Page_Type

 

Let’s now recreate the Composter Challenge.  The Challenger Page features a data input component where you can type in overall instructions and add a title and category, as well as control how the challenge will play out.

Here are some example instructions:

Click on each of the categories below. You will be presented with information. Based on the information, select the right options. We’ll display the ‘Submit’ button after every category has been examined. In Problems One and Two, keep an eye out for helpful resources at the bottom. They will appear as buttons.

In the example I’ve shown, the Challenger Page randomly selected one of the following options:

  • You are presented with bags and bags of leaves (not brown).
  • You are presented with bags and bags of vegetable produce.

Let’s recreate that.

But first note that the Challenge Page Type features a data input control.  The data input control manages data pages.  The + button adds data pages.  The – button deletes data pages.  The <- button moves a data page towards the beginning.  The -> moves a data page towards the end.

Secondly, in the instructions below, you are either creating a data page that holds a randomly selected state or a data page that holds a response option.  There isn’t much to configuring a state data page.  You just need a title, a category, and the ‘Random State’ options menu set to ‘Yes’.  Response data pages require much more information.  So let’s get started for real this time:

  • Type  in ‘You are presented with bags and bags of leaves (not brown).’ in the Title field.  Type in ‘Organic Material’ in the Category field. Select ‘Yes’ in the Random State pull down options. Don’t worry about the remaining fields.  Your form should resemble the screenshot below:

    ChallengerPage1

    LodeStar Learning Challenger Page Configuration

  • Click on the data input component + button, which appears just to the left of label ‘Title’.  This will add a new data page. (Notice that I said data page, not page. We only need one ‘Challenger’ page, which will hold many data pages.)
  • Type  in ‘You are presented with bags and bags of vegetable produce.’ in the Title field.  Select ‘Organic Material’ from the Category combo box. Select ‘Yes’ in the Random State option menu.
  • Add a new data page by clicking on the data input component + button.  Type in ‘Separate leaves into their own compost.’  in the Title field. Select ‘Organic Material’ from the Category combo box.  Fill in 0 points.  Select ‘Never Correct’ from the Correct Response combo.   Type in the following feedback in the Feedback A field: ‘These leaves aren’t brown and are not likely to produce leaf mold.’Please note that it is understood that this is not a random state, but a response.  If you want to make this explicit, select ‘No’ in the Random State option menu.
  • Add a new data page by clicking on the data input component + button.  Type in ‘Check moisture level’ in the Title field. Select ‘Organic Material’ from the Category combo box.  Assign 10 points. Select ‘Always Correct’ from the Correct Response menu.
  • Add a new data page by clicking on the data input component + button.  Type in ‘Check temperature’ in the Title field. Select ‘Organic Material’ from the Category combo box. Assign 10 points. Select ‘Always Correct’ from the Correct Response menu.

Let’s recap what we have done.  The computer will select from one of two random states.  The computer will either select bags of leaves or bags of produce.  In either situation, separating leaves into their own compost pile is not a good option.  It is incorrect.  If the leaves were brown, the situation would be different.  In either case, whether there are a lot of leaves or a lot of produce, checking moisture and checking temperature are correct.  This is what it should look like to the learner. (Ignore the categories of Problem One and Problem Two.  We haven’t created them yet.)

OrganicMaterialCategory.png

  • Add a new data page.  Type in ‘Temperature is Dropping’ in the Title field. Type in ‘Problem One’ in the Category combo box. Select ‘Yes’ in the Random State option menu.   Select ‘You are presented with bags and bags of leaves…” from the ‘Dependency On’ options menu.   Don’t assign any points.  This is a randomly chosen state and not a learner response.  This state will only be selected if ‘bags and bags of leaves’ was previously selected by the computer program.  Select ‘Not Applicable’ from the Correct Response options menu.  This is just an explicit way of saying that the Correct Response options don’t apply here.  They don’t apply to randomly selected states.
  • In my example, I added a resource on this data page.  If ‘Temperature is Dropping’ is randomly chosen by the computer based on the fact that bags and bags of leaves was previously chosen in the last category, a resource button will appear.  The actual resource is just another LodeStar Text Page.  To link this state to another page, paste in the Page ID for the page.  The resource presents information that will help the learner make the right selections in this category.  Only Text Pages can serve as resources.
  • Add a new data page.  Type in ‘The compost is beginning to smell.’ in the Title field. Select ‘Problem One’ in the Category combo box. Select ‘Yes’ in the Random State option menu.   Select ‘You are presented with bags and bags of vegetable produce.” from the ‘Dependency On’ options menu.   Don’t assign any points.  This again is a randomly chosen state and not a learner response.  This state will only be selected if ‘bags and bags of produce’ was previously selected by the computer program.  Select ‘Not Applicable’ from the Correct Response options menu.
  • Add a new data page.  Type in ‘Turn over the pile’ in the Title field. Select ‘Problem One’ from the Category combo box. Assign 10 points. Select ‘Always Correct’ from the Correct Response menu.
  • Add a new data page.  Type in ‘Add meat’ in the Title field. Select ‘Problem One’ from the Category combo box. Assign 10 points. Select ‘Never Correct’ from the Correct Response menu.  For Feedback A, type in ‘Never a good idea. Meat will attract rodents and cause your compost to smell.’
    • If a learner selected ‘Add Meat’ s/he would lose 10 points or whatever number of points was assigned to this data page.
    • Feedback A is shown when someone incorrectly selects a response option.
    • Feedback B is shown if response option or item is incorrectly omitted.
  • Add a new data page.  Type in ‘Add lots of fresh green material on top of the old.’. Select ‘Problem One’ from the Category combo box. Assign 10 points.  Select ‘You are presented with bags and bags of leaves’ from the ‘Dependency On’ options. Select ‘Correct if Dependency Exists’ from the Correct Response menu.  For Feedback A, type in ‘Lots of fresh material on top won’t help the smell.’  For Feedback B, type in ‘Lots of fresh material on top might help to build temp.’
    • Here we get to the heart of the matter.  If the computer previously selected ‘bags and bags of leaves’, then this response would be the correct response in the event of temperature dropping.  If the computer previously selected ‘produce’, then this would be an inappropriate response.
  • Add a new data page.  Type in ‘Shred the leaves into smaller pieces’. Select ‘Problem One’ from the Category combo box. Assign 10 points.  Select ‘You are presented with bags and bags of leaves’ from the ‘Dependency On’ options. Select ‘Correct if Dependency Exists’ from the Correct Response menu.  For Feedback A, type in ‘You don’t have many leaves’  For Feedback B, type in ”Shredding leaves is important to air out the compost and allow water to carry nutrients.’
    • If produce were selected and the learner chose to shred the leaves into smaller pieces, the learner would lose 10 points and get the feedback for A.
    • If leaves were selected and the learner neglected to choose ‘shred the leaves’, then the learner would lose 10 points and get the feedback for B. To sum up, feedback is for incorrectly selected and incorrectly omitted response options.
  • This is what it looks like if the computer selected ‘produce’. Notice that a resource  has shown up.  It is labelled “Smell Problem Solver’.

ProblemTwoCategory

  • I then went on to create Problem Two, which described rapidly falling temperatures.  If we have  nitrogen rich material we can add carbon.  If we have carbon in abundance, we can use nitrogen rich materials.  The carbon:nitrogen ratios are available as resources so that the learner can select the right materials to restore the correct ratios.

 

Conclusion

Keep it simple to start.  Once you get comfortable you can also add images to both your random states and your response options.

If you don’t want to recreate the composting problem, have the computer randomly select odd or even.  Then create some even numbered response options and some odd numbered response options.  Make those options dependent on the odd or even state.

Finally, the learners will see the submit button once they have reviewed each of the categories.  After they submit, a detailed response is shown that provides feedback for each and every option.  The feedback is also added to the transcript for future study.

For more advanced LodeStar authors, you can combine the Challenger Page with branching and present learners with increasingly difficult challenges.

Good luck.  If you create a challenge, drop me a line at robert.bilyk@LodeStarLearning.com  I would love to hear from you and would appreciate your feedback even if you don’t create anything.  If you want your comments to be public, register with this site and add your comments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Layouts, Themes and Palettes

Introduction

In LodeStar 7.3 build 25 (published 09-16-19) and later, authors can control the layout and look of their activities.  Currently, layouts, themes and palettes can be chosen for an opened project by selecting Tools > Layouts, Tools > Themes, and Tools > Palettes respectively.

When authors create a new activity with the ActivityMaker Mobile template, the default look and feel is Daylite:

daylite

In this example, the author is creating an interactive story that places the reader in the shoes of a Japanese American who is threatened with internment.  Featured in the screenshot above is the Daylite layout, the Daylite theme, and the Daylite Palette.

The Daylite layout features the navigation buttons, the page numbers and other controls above the activity.  The default table of contents (menu) type is Menu Style 3, which is controlled by a project setting found under Tools > Project Settings.

Let’s transform this default look and feel to ‘Midnite’.

Our objective is to transform the layout above to the following:

midnight.png

Notice a few changes.  The menu now runs alongside the activity (if the screen width allows it).  The background color is black.  The navigation is at the bottom. The other controls are still at the top.

To effect this change, I did the following:

  1. Select Tools > Layout.  Select Midnite.
  2. Select Tools > Theme.  Select Midnite.
  3. Select Tools > Palette.  Select Midnite.

The Midnite layout places the navigation at the bottom.  The bottom edge of the navigation area is rounded.  The top edge of the viewer area is rounded.

Let’s make this change, one step at a time.  First the layout.  Let’s select Midnite.

JustMidnightLayout.png

In the screenshot above we can see that the navigation is now at the bottom.   The theme is still Daylite.  The theme controls the menu color.  If the menu background is light, the text color automatically becomes dark, and visa versa.

Next we will select the Midnite theme.

midnightthemedialog

Notice, the Menu/Resource Button color.  It is set by default to #282828.  That is hexadecimal code for a very dark color.  We can see the color in the color chip to the left.  It is almost black — not fully black.  Black would be #000000.  White is #FFFFFF.  But you don’t need to know the code.  Just observe the color chip.

Next we will select the Midnite palette, which has no effect on the title page pictured in the screenshot.

Select Tools > Palettes and then select Midnite.

 

palette

Hover over the color palette to the right.  The tool tip describes what components the colors affect.  For example, the top color affects panel backgrounds; the lower left affects text fields.

Let’s say that we wanted an orange navigation area instead as pictured below.

midnightwithOrange

To accomplish this, we keep the Midnite Layout, Theme and Palette.  We change some parameters in the theme.

Select  Tools > Themes.  Click on the Advanced button.

advanced

The screenshot above shows the ‘Advanced’ dialog in the Theme Manager.  Click on the little stop gradient indicators (home plates) below the color bar and then pick a color.

Finally, the menu type and the visibility of the accessibility icon, the transcript icon, etc. are controlled by, as mentioned, Tools > Project Settings.

 

 

LodeStar 7.3 New Features and Improvements

Update

The article below describes all of the features of LodeStar’s 7.3 major release.  Since the 7.3 release, there have been 4 minor updates.  The latest update is 7.3 build 5.  The following description details some of the features of build 5.  If you are new to LodeStar or haven’t used LodeStar in a while, please skip to the introduction.  If you are relatively up-to-date, then please continue reading.

ActivityStarter
Instructors and trainers who are new to eLearning instructional design may be a little daunted and not know where to begin.  The ActivityStarter template provides guidelines on how to get started.  It prompts instructors to inform students of the lesson’s objectives in a meaningful way, recall prior knowledge, present content, check for understanding, and more.

New Activity Widgets
LodeStar now features a variety of activity widgets.  Activity widgets are inserted anywhere on a Text Page.  Instructors click on the  black sprocket on the HTML editor toolbar and choose from a menu of activity types.  At the time of this writing, LodeStar supports:

  • Multiple Choice Question
  • Short Answer Question
  • Image Slider
  • Drag and Drop
  • Timeline
  • Word Problem

An FAQ article is presently being written about each of the activity widgets.

New Page Types

ActivityMaker Mobile now features the FlashCard and Interview Page Types.  Both of these page types existed in the now deprecated ActivityMaker template but were excluded from ActivityMaker Mobile because they were not responsive (adaptable to different screen sizes).  They are now responsive.

More detailed FAQ articles will soon be written on each of these new features.  If you are new to LodeStar 7.3, please continue reading.

Introduction

LodeStar 7.3 organizes many new features that were introduced to the eLearning authoring tool both in the past year and more recently.

The biggest changes and improvements come in the form of widgets, which are activities that you can insert anywhere on a text page. They also include new page types, a simple Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) editor for flow charts and diagrams, and the ability to publish directly to the cloud.

Most of the work has focused on the ActivityMaker Mobile template, included in the release. Instructors are encouraged to use ActivityMaker Mobile, which has the following advantages over older templates:

  1. Responsive – ActivityMaker Mobile will work on all modern browsers on desktops, tablets, and smart phone devices.
  2. Accessible – ActivityMaker Mobile offers disabled students a variety of options. The template provides accessible navigation, images with alt tags, and screen-readable text. Question Pages and Question Widgets feature accessible pop up dialogs that instruct the screen reader to read the text immediately. All navigation items and dialogs use WAI-ARIA roles and attributes. WAI-ARIA roles and attributes provide information to screen readers through the browser’s accessibility interface (APIs).  In short, WAI-ARIA provides more information to the screen reader than HTML alone.
  3. Powerful – ActivityMaker Mobile supports widgets. Widgets enable you to insert activities into a text page almost anywhere you wish. Widgets can be inserted with the help of the black sprocket that is located on the HTML Editor toolbar on a Text Page.
1

Black sprocket provides access to LodeStar’s Widget Dialog

In short, LodeStar 7.3 offers templates (ActivityMaker Mobile being the most important) which include a variety of page types and activity widgets. Let’s start with the feature with the biggest impact.

Widgets

Widgets enable you to design simple interactions quickly. Widgets capture your content and then display it plainly in the HTML editor. When previewed, the content is transformed into a rich interaction. Here is a catalog of the widgets currently supported:

 

MultipleChoiceWidgetMultiple Choice

The Multiple Choice Widget supports a multiple choice question that can include a very large number of distractors (answer options). Whereas the Multiple Choice Question page type can support between 1 and 7 answer options, the Multiple Choice Widget can include seventy answer options or more. In the screen shot below, you will see where to type in a question stem. This field is supported by a rich text editor that allows different fonts, font sizes, colors and alignment.

2

Multiple Choice Widget Dialog

About midway you will find a component that includes a  + and – button. These buttons enable you to add and delete distractors (answer options). You can add as many as you please. For each distractor, type in the text that students will read, select whether or not the option is correct, and type in feedback to display to students once their answers have been ‘submitted’.

You fill in points and optionally select randomize and a background color if you so choose.

The result is that the question is neatly inserted into the text flow. You can check for understanding in strategic locations related to the content. LodeStar tracks the student’s overall performance as well as student answers and the matching feedback. Once the student submits an answer, the question is locked and can only be unlocked through a setting on a Gate – which is a page type. Students can review their performance by clicking on the Transcript button. 

The transcript collects information on the question, the student answer, the correct answer and the feedback.  The transcript button is made visible through Tools > Project Settings.

The following is a progression of what a widget activity looks like from the Multiple Choice Widget Dialog to the HTML editor author view to the student view.

3

Author View: Activity Widget Dialog

4

Author View: Inserted into a Text Page

5

Student View: Interactive Question

ShortAnswerWidgetShort Answer

The Short Answer Activity Widget requires students to type in a short answer to a question. It also enables you to handle the anticipated wrong answer. For example, when asked to calculate 234 to the power of 0, students commonly and incorrectly answer 0. You can provide some helpful feedback for this and other common cases.

ImageSliderWidgetImage Slider

With Image Slider you select a series of images that you wish displayed in a slide viewer. Each image can be labeled. The Image Slider is an excellent choice for displaying a progression such as the life cycle of a butterfly or the urbanization of an area over time.

DragAndDropWidgetDrag and Drop

The Drag and Drop offers a fully accessible drag and drop experience for students. Students can categorize words and phrases by dragging with their mouse or finger or interacting with the keyboard.

With Drag and Drop, you input a word and the category the word belongs to. For example, Roosevelt is input as the item. ‘Democrat’ is input as the category.  Here is what the student sees:

7.png

Accessible Drag and Drop activity

 

AudioSyncWidgetAudio Sync

The Audio Sync widget is experimental, not user-friendly yet, and is only included here for completeness. It syncs elements on a page to an imported MP3 file.

The widget collects a list of all of the HTML elements on a page. For example, if a page included ten images, the widget would list them in the order that they appeared on the page. You can use the widget to sync each image’s visibility with a time on the audio track (MP3 file). For example, at one second into the selected audio track, image 1 would fade in and, at five seconds, it would disappear. Image 2 appears at the six second mark and disappears at the ten second mark. And so on. Essentially, you can create a narrated slide show from the elements on your page. This includes simple drawings made with LodeStar’s Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) editor.

Page Types

In this section, I’ll list the page types that have been most affected by the latest build. I’ll highlight some of the changes.

CrosswordCrossword

You can generate a crossword with your course content. LodeStar compiles the crossword and also creates an accessible page that lists the hints and the length of word that matches the hint. The latest version of the crossword simplifies the interface and allows much longer hints than previous versions. When students click on a numbered square, the hint appears below the crossword.

Crossword

Crossword generated with the LodeStar eLearning Authoring Tool

GateGate

Gates enable you to control the flow of the course and what the student sees. You can set a threshold based on points or percentage of points. If a student meets or exceeds the threshold, s/he follows the ‘Pass’ branch. If a student doesn’t meet the threshold score, s/he follows the ‘Fail’ branch. Branches feature a dozen options, including a scripting option for more sophisticated control.

In the screen shot below (top half of the gate page), you’ll see that you can also reset the score or simply reset the questions so that they become interactive again after being answered and locked. One can also create custom variables and branch according to their value.

gate

Partial screenshot of a Gate Page that supports branching, resetting a score, and resetting an activity

Interactive ImageInteractive Image

Interactive Image enables you to create a drag and drop or click/touch exercise from an image. The Interactive Image component prompts you to identify rectangular areas on an image and then map events to the areas. The events include Click (Touch), Drag and Drop and Hover. The actions triggered by the events include Evaluate Drag and Drop, Show Feedback and Jump to Page. For example, you could present students with an image of the United States and ask students to drag labels to the matching states. Similarly, you can present the heart, the brain, a plant…and ask students to label the parts.

Long AnswerLong Answer

The Long Answer page collects the student response to a question and sends it both to the Learning Management System and to a journal that can be displayed using the Journal Page Type.

The Long Answer Page now includes a branch icon that gets triggered on submit. Now you can respond to a student’s submission with, for example, the expert’s response to the same question. The branch icon provides a variety of options that get triggered when the student submits.

TextText

The Text Page holds the widgets. The page supports a large number of widgets, each with a large number of options.

Also new to the Text Page is the branch icon. The branch icon, depicted in the screenshot below, appears on the far right.

Instructors have a range of options included processing branch options before the text page appears.

It allows the text page to pre-process a branch instruction before the page is displayed. For example if you wanted to hide and/or show resources based on the text page, the branch options provide you with an Execute Command Option. The Execute Command Option includes a scripting window in which you can include such commands as:

addToResources(‘Page ID’);

This is a trickier concept to explain in an article, but it means that any page can be dynamically turned into a resource. Resources display as buttons on the side of or below the viewer. Resources can be manually toggled on by checking the Resource check box on a text page – or they can be programmatically added with the help of the Execute Command script.

Simple things can also be done – like displaying a feedback message upon entering the page. Simply click on the branch icon, type in text and check the ‘Show Feedback’ checkbox.

Accessibility

Although LodeStar activities are general accessible, disabled students will get tripped up in places. Crossword pages are a good example. Technically, disabled students can use command keys to navigate the crossword input boxes. This is extremely difficult. There is a better solution.

LodeStar automatically generates an alternative page to the crossword. Students can select the “Accessible Version for Current Page” and launch a pop up window for that page only and hear the crossword hints and the word length. Students could also select the “Accessible Version”, which provides alternative pages for the entire project.  Other page types do not have an accessible version automatically generated at the page level — but you can click on the accessibility button in the authoring tool and input alternative content.

Student view, with access to Accessible Version of Content at the Page and Project Levels

For Project Level accessibility, you can elect to have LodeStar automatically generate the accessible version or you can control the accessible content by clicking on the icon with the tool tip that reads “Add accessible/alternative text for this page.”  By manually adding accessible content to the page, you are, in effect, controlling content both at the page level and at the project level.

Instructor view — with ability to add accessible content customized for each page.

SVG Editor

LodeStar’s SVG editor enables you to draw circles, ellipses, rectangles, squares, straight lines, free form lines, polygons and text. You can draw simple diagrams such as flow charts and Venn diagrams. The advantage to SVG is implied in its name: Scalable Vector Graphics. SVG graphics are scalable. They retain their sharpness at any size. Standard images are composed of pixels. Scaling a standard image or bitmap reveals the pixels whereas scaling the vector image preserves the image’s sharpness.

To create an SVG, click on where you wish the image to be located and then click on the SVG button on the HTML Editor tool bar. After you draw an image, select ‘Fit to Content’ and then ‘Save to Page’. LodeStar also supports the import of SVG images. To import an SVG image, click on the image button on the SVG toolbar. Select ‘Get Image’ and then change the Image Type to SVG at the bottom right of the dialog. (SVG images with embedded pictures (bitmaps) are not supported at this time.)

Publishing to the Cloud

The final major feature of LodeStar 7.3 is its ability to publish to the cloud. A full article will be dedicated to this new function. The following is just a quick summary:

Under Tools in the menu bar, LodeStar offers a PENS option. PENS means Package Exchange Notification System. LodeStar users can request a special license key from supportteam@LodeStarLearning.com in order to publish directly into Rustici Software’s Scorm Cloud, a popular system that can deliver interactive content to students in a variety of ways: email, Drupal sites, WordPress, and, with the help of the Learning Tools Interoperability specification, to a number of learning management systems.  Please note that the LodeStar License does not cover a Rustici Scorm Cloud License — however, the SCORM cloud does offer a free trial with limited storage and registrations.

Conclusion

LodeStar 7.3 is powerful. It enables instructors to create rich, interactive experiences for their students that supports the outcomes of the online course. The combination of templates, page types, widgets and new publishing options makes this authoring system a critical tool for the online instructor.

What’s new in LodeStar 7.2 Build 36

Introduction

Some of the features that we explore below are new to LodeStar. Others are features that appeared several builds ago, but instructors may still not be aware of them. There is no particular ordering to the new features.  Some of the features will be more significant to individual instructors than others.  The most powerful additions appear both at the beginning and at the end.

Activity Widgets

2016-09-12_1922

LodeStar HTML Editor with insert question widget button (?)

Click on the ? button in the HTML Editor on the Text Page and you’ll discover a new capability. Instructors can now inject an indefinite number of activity widgets into their text pages. To start, LodeStar offers the Multiple Choice and Short Answer widgets. In the future, the choices will multiply.

The ‘Multiple Choice widget’ offers unlimited number of distractors, custom feedback for each distractor, and partial credit — all integrated with LodeStar reporting.

activitywidgets

LodeStar Activity Widget Dialog

The Short Answer widget offers the instructor not only the ability to identify correct answers to short answer questions, but alternative correct answers and anticipated wrong responses. In illustration of the latter point, a question might ask, for example, what any number to the power zero equates to. The right answer is 1. The anticipated wrong answer is 0. The widget offers instructors the ability to provide precise feedback for the anticipated wrong answer.

Activity Maker Mobile

This fairly new template enables instructors to create content that is responsive – playable on a variety of devices including desktops, tablets and smartphones. Whereas ActivityMaker makes adjustments for the tablet, ActivityMaker Mobile adapts to any device – while maintaining ease of navigation and readability.

activitymakermobile

LodeStar’s ActivityMaker Mobile Template

See full article and example

PBLMaker

PBLMaker is a relatively new template, and continues to receive improvements. The template was initially developed at the University of Minnesota to help instructors around the world build learning objects that prepare health workers to prevent, detect, and respond to the threat of infectious diseases. The template is now widely available to any LodeStar author interested in a problem-based learning approach to online instruction.

pblmaker

Lodestar Learning’s Problem Based Learning Template

See full article and example

Student tools

studenttools

Instructors select Tools > Project Settings to turn on and off student tools. Pictured above are a variety of tools that instructors can choose to enable for students. From left to right, they include a table of contents. (Instructors select a style of table of contents, type in a page title for each page and check off the Table of Contents check box.)

toc

Adding a Table of Contents entry requires typing in a Page Id and checking Table of Contents

The next tool includes a student notepad that saves content to the student’s computer.

The print tool makes it easy for students to print off content, if the instructors permit.

The last tool pictured above launches a version of the content that is more easily read by screen readers. Faculty can override what content gets displayed by selecting the accessible/alternative text tool (see below – last icon on the right).

alternativecontent

If alternative text is not desired due to the nature of the content, instructors can simply turn this feature off.  Again, this  control is available under Tools > Project Settings as pictured below:

projectsettings

Tools > Project Settings gives control to  instructors in ActivityMaker

Preview

Most LodeStar projects can be previewed with the click of the ‘Preview’ button. There are times, however, when instructors might want to preview in the Firefox browser. Firefox enables instructors to test the responsiveness of an ActivityMaker Mobile project and to test out the commands authored in LodeStar JetScript (next section).

Once an instructor clicks the ‘Preview’ button, LodeStar saves the local address of the project on the clipboard. Instructors simply need to right click on the URL address bar in Firefox, and select ‘Paste and Go’.

Execute commands (advanced)

LodeStar has added a scripting language call LodeStar JetScript. In some specialized cases, instructors might find the branching drop down menus too limiting. The Execute Command branch option allows instructors to script the actions that LodeStar should take when students select an answer or when students meet or fail to meet a performance threshold set in a gate.

executecommands

Execute Command is a new branch option accessed from a question option, menu page, or gate.

Examples include, adding and removing resources, jumping to pages, resetting pages, suspending and retrieving data from the learning management system and more. Inside of LodeStar, the list of commands in the appendix below and can be accessed by clicking on the blue help button with the question mark.

Please Note: Use Firefox to preview projects that feature LodeStar JetScript (see previous section).

Conclusion

LodeStar Learning continually strives for functionality that helps instructors build higher order learning activities. In addition, LodeStar continually improves on the experience for mobile learners and for all students who benefit from accessible content. Many new developments are on the road map.  So stay tuned!

Appendix

Scripted Commands

concatenate(val1,val2);

message(value);

goToNextPage();

goToPreviousPage();

jumpToPage(‘Page ID’);

openUrl(‘insert url’);

addOverlay(‘Page ID’);

setValue(‘variable name’, value);

appendValue(‘variable name’, value);

getValue(‘variable name’);

resetPage();

removeFromFlow();

removeFromFlowById(‘Page ID’);

addToResources(‘Page ID’);

removeFromResources(‘Page ID’);

resetAllInteractivity();

updateProgressBar(value, max);

suspendData();

retrieveData();

clearData();

setCompletionStatus();

Math.random();

Math.round(value);

Math.floor(value);

Math.ceil(value);

Math.round(value);

convertToString(value);