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Friday, January 30, 2009

Interview with Grace Oh, Musicshake -- Innovators in E-Learning Series

Welcome to an interview with Grace Oh of Musicshake, an easy-to-use music making program that incorporates social networking and bookmarking.

What is your name and what is your involvement in e-learning?
Grace Oh with Musicshake, and I head our Musicshake for Education program.

What is Musicshake, and what is its mission and vision?

Musicshake is a free to download, super user-friendly, music making program that anyone can use to make their own high quality music.You can create your own beats and tracks (hip hop, pop, electronica, rock, R&B, jazz, etc…) and even add your own voice! After you create your music, you can share with your friends and build a community around your own music.
Musicshake for Education – Unlike other existing difficult and boring music programs, Musicshake is fun and engaging. It is a great way to introduce students to music. Students can learn how every imaginable instrument sounds like, individually, and in combination with other instruments in every possible genre.

If the goal of music education is not to make every student a Mozart or Beethoven, Musicshake is the best way to introduce music to today’s already overloaded students.

Who do you consider to be the target audience? Why?

Anyone without a formal music background, or any music beginner, is a part of our target audience. This would include most of the mass audience who only dream of creating their own music but can’t because they are not musicians. Musicshake is meant to educate people on the fundamentals of music, as well as include them in the music making process without the hassle of taking classes, buying instruments and practicing.

What makes Musicshake effective?

Musicshake contains categorized lists of every combination of all the imaginable music genres and instruments and offers over 550,000 different music samples.

An innovative algorithm (MuBot – Music Robot) sits at the background and recommends the optimal music pattern mix which allows users to simply listen, click, and select what they like. This means that you have 99.9% probability that whatever you make on Musicshake would sound very professional. In fact, our users have often told us that “you really have to try hard to make something that does not sound good.”

Have recent changes in the way online learners interact changed anything about Musicshake? (social networking, twitter, wikis, multimedia, voice boards, etc.)

Yes, they have greatly changed the way people use Musicshake and interact on We originally started as an online music making software but with the advances in virtual communities and social networks, saw the need to build a community based on user generated music. In order to address these market shifts, we are going after three distinct yet very interrelated markets – music creation, music consumption and user communities around user generated music.

Please list and describe a few key benefits of using Music Shake. Do you have any demos? (please provide links, and a jpeg or two, with captions) – A feature done on us by G4 TV – A presentation of Musicshake

The benefit of Musicshake is that you are able to create music exactly how you want it for your offline/online contents. If you are making your own YouTube video or your own slideshow, why resort to a 3rd party music that doesn’t exactly match your contents? Why not make your own music for your own user generated contents? Traditionally, you had to be a musician to do this but Musicshake completely facilitates this.

Another key benefit – and one that is becoming more and more important these days – is that we have our own in-house musicians that have created all of the different over half a million different samples in our music library. We own all the copyrights to our music so we can grant our users the peace of mind of using Musicshake music for their own iMovies, DVDs, and anything else they may need music for, without worrying about any copyright infringement issues.

Unlike most software that requires license for both home and school usage, Musicshake is accessible from both home and school, if you have an internet connection.

Musicshake is also very competitively priced and special discounts are available for educational use. Please send an email to for any inquiries.

We are also offering to your readers a free 3 month subscription for them, and any of their students, that they can learn more about by contacting

Please describe upcoming activities.

Musicshake continues to have fun and interesting events throughout the year for students. One promotion we are working on for a school is a “School Spirit Contest”! We are having students create a song for their school to promote school spirit. For other schools that are interested, we can also take any existing song and make into music blocks, which can then be remixed with the rest of the over 550,000 music blocks in Musicshake’s database.

Optional question: Do you see any applications of Musicshake for developing online courses for technical / professional development?

This is a great question. The answer is YES. In the future, we plan to develop a Musicshake Pro Version which would have more sophisticated functionalities and that would help even the professional musicians with their work. Once we have this version available, we can develop online course for technical and professional development.

For E-Learning Queen readers: When signing up with Musicshake at, please use the following promo code “MUSICSHAKEPROMO3” to get 3 FREE mp3 free downloads.

(Note: The Innovators in E-Learning Series consists of interviews with who are working on projects that the E-Learning Queen readers might find interesting, useful, and inspiring. The questions are intended to enable readers to look at the products and services in a new way, and to encourage collaborative work and thinking. We welcome information about new products and services, and if they fit our readers' interests and needs, we may invite you to participate in an interview.)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Interview with Sue Polyson Evans, SoftChalk - Innovators in E-Learning Series

Welcome to an interview with Sue Polyson Evans, co-founder and CEO of SoftChalk LLC. Softchalk is well-known among online instructors for its product, LessonBuilder. Online instructors and course developers from the mid-1990s will already have an acquaintance with Sue through Web Course in a Box, which she helped develop. Readers may wish to weigh in on the current state of learning management systems.

What is your name and what is your involvement in e-learning?

My name is Sue Polyson Evans, and I am a co-founder and the CEO of SoftChalk LLC. I have been working in the eLearning field from its inception in the early 1990s when I was the principal developer of Web Course in a Box, one of the first commercially available learning management systems in the U.S. I’ve also had various management positions at the university level in both instructional and academic technology.

What is Soft Chalk (link, please), and what is its mission and vision?

SoftChalk’s flagship product is LessonBuilder, a software tool designed to allow educators to create professional, sophisticated e-learning content. The thing that is unique about SoftChalk is how easy it is to use – we like to say “If it’s not easy, it’s not SoftChalk”.

SoftChalk came about as a result of the work that Bob Godwin-Jones (another SoftChalk co-founder) and I did in the 1990s, developing learning management system software. As LMS systems began to proliferate on college campuses, we saw that educators needed an easy way to move beyond the static lesson content (word processing documents and slide shows) found in most on-line courses. Through our work with faculty, we found that although educators desire to create sophisticated, interactive content, they typically do not have the time to learn complicated authoring tools. So we set about creating a software product based on these principles: the software had to be simple to use, yet powerful enough that educators could create truly interactive content. And the lesson content had to be portable for use in virtually any learning management system or on any web server. The result was SoftChalk LessonBuilder.

Today, as the leading provider of educational content authoring software for educators in K-12, colleges, universities and medical schools, we think SoftChalk is the educator’s only choice for easy content creation. With SoftChalk, educators can create professional, sophisticated content, while students love the interactive, engaging lessons created using SoftChalk. SoftChalk’s easy-to-use LessonBuilder software provides educators with a tool that enhances their teaching experience, and improves the learning experience of their students.

We would love to have you visit us online at and we invite you to download the 30-day free trial version of SoftChalk – the download link can be found on our website.

Who do you consider to be the target audience? Why?

On the one hand, SoftChalk’s primary target audience is the educator or content expert who desires to create professional-looking, interactive content for their digital learner. In addition, we target school administrators who are looking to leverage the investment they have already made in technology for online learning, and specifically in a learning management system. Very often institutions have difficulty getting faculty on-board in using an LMS, or adapting their course for distance delivery. But if you give those educators SoftChalk, they actually enjoy using it to create content. Once an educator has content they are enthused about, they see the value of the LMS as a way to deliver the content, and they see that adapting their course for distance delivery is very do-able.

What makes Soft Chalk effective?

SoftChalk is effective for three reasons – first is ease of use. SoftChalk works just like a word processing program. Most everyone is familiar with the word processing program interface so the learning curve for SoftChalk is very low. The average faculty member can learn to use SoftChalk in 2-3 hours. Secondly, educators really appreciate the ability to create professional-looking content very quickly. And lastly, the ability to create engaging, interactive content by including customizable Flash activities, pop-up annotations, and self-check questions with feedback, is key to student engagement.

Have recent changes in the way online learners interact changed anything about Soft Chalk? (social networking, twitter, wikis, multimedia, voice boards, etc.)

A very popular new feature of SoftChalk is the ability to easily embed YouTube videos into a SoftChalk lesson. We are working on another new feature that will be available in SoftChalk V5, scheduled for delivery in Spring 09. This feature will allow the content author to perform a federated search of multiple content/media repositories to locate images, video, audio, and text content for inclusion in their SoftChalk lesson. We think that the ability to create a “mash up” of content from various sources in a SoftChalk lesson will be extremely popular.

Please list and describe a few key benefits of using Soft Chalk.

I’d like to share some SoftChalk customer comments to help illustrate some of the key benefits of using Softchalk.

From Michael Chaney, Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, Respiratory Program Instructor, “I have a student who had barely passed every term of our professional program. Two terms ago, his grades shot up significantly. When I asked him what he had done differently, he said it was the time he spent with the activities in my new online lessons. He was referring to the SoftChalk activities. My experience is the more time students spend with the material, the better they do. They can do this in a variety of ways, but will probably pick the one that is the most fun. I think the SoftChalk activities that give instant feedback, are easy to use, and can be taken multiple times would be the one they will pick. As I had hoped, SoftChalk was improving student learing!”.

And from Nancy Terrell, Hampton City Schools, Teacher Librarian, “SoftChalk LessonBuilder allows us to easily organize information for both teaching and professional development because it makes it so easy to integrate our own content and then add SoftChalk’s interactive activities. Here in Hampton City Schools, we love having this resource to assist us in our instruction”.

And lastly, from Bill Ganza, Director of Professional Development at Florida Community College in Jacksonville, “LessonBuilder is easy to use and creates stunning interactive lessons that keep students engaged. In a very short time ANYONE can produce professional looking lessons that increase student motivation and aid in the learning process.”

For those who would like to try SoftChalk, you can download a 30-day free trial from this link:

And you can view short “Quick Start” videos that give you a “jump start” on using SoftChalk from here:

We also offer free, live online demonstrations of the software. You can sign up here:

Please describe upcoming activities.

SoftChalk offers an “Innovators in Online Learning” webinar series where we feature educators in the field who are using SoftChalk in innovative ways to enhance instruction.

This is a monthly series, and in January we feature Adora Svitak, a 10-year old published author and teacher, who will be demonstrativng the interactive web pages and learning tools that she created using SoftChalk.

Then, in February, we feature Angelique Smith and Jennyly Nevarez, faculty at Valencia Community College, who will demonstrate SoftChalk instructional modules they have developed and published in their statewide digital repository, “The Orange Grove”.

We invite anyone who is interested to register for these free webinars here:

Optional question: Do you see any applications of Soft Chalk for developing online courses for technical / professional development?

Absolutely! Although SoftChalk started in the higher education world, it has developed a large following in K12 and is catching on in corporate training. It is amazing that we have SoftChalk users who are developing content for such diverse groups of students – from gifted middle school kids, to community college students , to University nursing students, to the Air Force. It is truly a cross-disciplinary software tool.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Interview with Ann Boland, Hot Lava: Interview with E-Learning Innovators

Welcome to an interview with Ann Boland, owner of OHE Associates, a Hot Lava Partner, provider of mobile learning platforms. You may sign up on the site for a demo of Hot Lava delivered to your web-enabled mobile device (PDA, cell phone, iPhone, iTouch).

What is Hot Lava? What does it do? How does it work? Why do you believe in it?

Hot Lava is a mobile learning platform that enables authoring and delivery of content; tracking, and recording of activity and results.

You can’t just take eLearning content and port it to the web. It must be reauthored in XML for delivery over a WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) server. But authoring is not difficult – even I can do it, with no technical training or background. Hot Lava recently introduced a Content Converter that instantly converts standardized content, such as a PowerPoint presentation, into content that you can drag directly into the LMA (Learning Mobile Author) and publish.

The “magic” of Hot Lava is that you author once and can publish for use on 95% of the web-enabled cell phones in use world-wide. You are not limited to one type of phone. It works on Blackberrys, iPhones, Palm, and Windows Mobile device – any phone that is web-enabled.

Ann Boland, Hot Lava

A basic management principle is that people will do what you watch and measure. So mobile learning with no tracking is nice for edutainment value, but it’s not a real tool. Hot Lava’s MDTS tracks every page that is viewed, every test, poll or survey question that is asked. It calculates pass/fail based on the author’s perimeters. Data is stored on the MDTS and/or can be instantly uploaded to the client’s Learning Management System. The MDTS has a report generator and data can be downloaded into other programs, such as Excel for further manipulation.

Modules or courses are authored and published by the LMA. They are stored on the MDTS which resides on a WAP server. From there, users log on to take the module online, or they can download the module into their phone to take it offline and upload results at a later time. So you can use your cell phone to take a course while on the airplane, or at your child’s soccer practice.

I believe in Hot Lava because it works – instantly and in the palm of your hand. There’s nothing like the enthusiasm of prospects who see for the first time on their cell phone training and job aids that previously were available only on the PC. Now they can really be learning on the job – and when and where their schedules allow.

What is the philosophy of Hot Lava?

What do our customers need to make mobile learning work in their environment? I’ve yet to see a dealer or customer make a request for an addition to the system that was not done within a reasonable period of time and usually at no charge. Bob Sanregret, Founder and CEO, feels that the client knows what is best and so long as the request is within reason and advances the platform, it gets done. I’ve never worked with an organization that was so responsive to the customer.

What do you see as the future of mobile learning?

The real advances in mobile learning are being made outside the US. We’re chained to the PC and saddled with cell carriers that restrict capabilities of the phones and schools that view cell phones as the enemy.

In third world countries, the mobile phone is ubiquitous. The PC is not. Cell phones are less expensive, batteries last longer, and are multi-purpose. There is no stigma about cell phones in the schools because they are used as precious learning tools.

In Europe, Asia and the Middle East, cell phones are used for a multitude of learning and marketing projects. Carriers are much more attuned to business and educational applications rather than all the emphasis being put on entertainment.

So, the US has a ways to go. Organizations are now turning to mobile delivery of compliance training so they can reach employees 24/7. Marketing and sales companies are looking at mobile surveys to gather data at large sporting events such as auto racing.

Who will use mobile learning or training? Where will it be distributed? How will it be publicized?

Most mobile learning is happening in business and government where employees above a certain grade level are equipped with a business phone. Inroads are slowly being made in higher education. Hot Lava is ideally suited to the education environment because it works on most all web-enabled phones. Students and faculty do not need to standardize on one carrier and one phone. We have pilot going with Thomas Edison State College in New Jersey. They have 16,000 distance-learning students, most using eLearning. In early 2009, we will be testing delivery of parts of ten courses via mobile. They plan a broad rollout beginning July 2009. They are also testing with deployed military.

Where do you see mobile training 18 months from now?

Like the migration to eLearning, the migration to mLearning will be gradual. First, it’s not for everyone. Folks who work at a desk really don’t need it. But younger employees are more used to getting all their information from the hand held, so may want mobile even if they work at a desk.

Certainly for employees who work outside the office, mobile will be the main access to job aids and support and some parts of training. We’re also seeing strong interest in mobile as a data collection tool. So engineers working at customer sites can complete a survey from the home office team about a problem and the information goes immediately from the source to the research team for action. White boards work the same way in reverse. The home office team boards the problem and the solution and the captured contents are immediately sent via mobile to all engineers working in the field.

Where and how does mobile training provide value in a recession? How does it facilitate recovery?

For business, the value proposition is doing more with less. Less workers, who still must be trained. Give them access 24/7, in the palm of their hands. Push the training to the job, don’t take people off the job.

For schools, more students need to work while attending school. Put the course work, or part of the course work into their phones so they can work on the bus, on breaks. These are motivated learners, mostly adults with multiple responsibilities.

For training developers, build an additional revenue stream by offering mobile delivery in addition to classroom and eLearning. It may be the whole course, or it may be test prep or assignments.

This recession will end. They all do. In business, training is always hit hard by downturns – maybe less so since eLearning has cut down on the T&L expenses. The organizations that pull through will be those who devise ways to delivery effective training at lower cost. Mobile delivery is part of that.

Individuals who pull through will be those who also learn to do more with less. Increasingly, land lines are cancelled and smart phones are the replacement. With one payment a month, all communication and many education needs can be met anywhere/anytime. These folks will become more tech savvy and therefore more desirable employees.

Here's an extension of the previous question -- How can we use mobile training to rebuild our world?

Get middle and high school teachers to embrace web-enabled cell phones as an education tool and build mobile learning and collaboration INTO the middle and high school classrooms!

Monday, January 05, 2009

Thinking About E-Learning? Information for New E-Learners

You may have been considering online courses for a long time, but have not been ready to take the plunge. Everyone likes to feel very confident about a new endeavor, and you realize that believing yourself able to succeed is crucial in education. Of course, it's fairly easy to feel confident about face-to-face instruction. After all, we've all had many years of experience in that area. However, sometimes the courses you need, the location of instruction, and your travel / work schedules make it impossible to take traditional face-to-face courses. And, if you're needing professional development or a certificate, the travel expenses, the time away from work, and the location and timing of the courses can totally derail your professional and academic plans.

You're left with the most logical option: online courses. But -- even in a time of widespread adoption of e-learning, many people still have a number of very basic questions. So, we'll take a moment and address those questions, and, in the process perhaps give you a better understanding of the kind of experience you're likely to have, and the way you'll learn. Finally, you'll have a chance to gain some insight into how special the e-learning experience can be.

What's really so great about online courses?
The benefits are so numerous, it's hard to know where to start. If you've got an up-to-date computer, a fast internet connection, and the right software and plug-ins, you're set. You can take the courses anywhere. If you don't have online access all day, that's often perfectly okay. Most online courses do not require you to be online all the time -- and, they encourage flexibility. You can download audio and video to experience later. You can read your books and materials offline. The things you'll do online involve communication with your professor, downloading information, taking online quizzes, practicing online quizzes, and engaging in dynamic, interactive elements (virtual labs, activities, communication). If you have to travel for your job, don't worry. Have wifi will travel. You'll be able to take your course anywhere you have a computer and an internet connection. You'd be amazed how many people log on and do their online courses from their hotel rooms while they're traveling, or going to an internet cafe or coffee shop with connections. So, you can be overseas, in an airport, or any other place with a connection.

Do online courses cost more than regular ones?
Online courses will often be the same tuition as traditional face-to-face courses. However, there may be a fee for connections and support. On the other hand, if you're taking a course with a lab, your online course may be less expensive because you will not have to pay lab fees or purchase lab equipment. You'll just have to have the book and passcode for the virtual lab. If you compare the cost of an online college with a private institution, you may be surprised that how affordable the online courses can be. In addition, many colleges that specialize in distance education for adults also have payment plans, and low-cost financing.

How much money am I going to save by taking online courses?
You may think that if you are taking an online course, you'll need to buy a better computer than you'd need for a regular face-to-face course. The truth is, you will need the same kind of computer for your regular courses. The reason for that is that most online courses require you to go online for research in their virtual library, to e-mail, and to access files and instructional materials for your course. Don't forget the realities of getting to face-to-face classes. You're going to save a great deal of money in terms of commuting time, parking, transportation costs, and incidentals.

How convenient will it be?
Taking an online course is extremely convenient. Because most courses are asynchronous, which means you can be online any time, you can follow a schedule that makes sense to you. You can work according to your own schedule. That said, it's important to keep in mind that you really need to have a reliable Internet connection that you can access often. Ideally, you should log on twice a day, even if it's just to check announcements and to see what is happening in the discussion board.

What kind of Internet connections will I need?
Dial-up used to work. It doesn't now. You will need a high-speed connection. Wifi is good, although there may be times when it can be problematic, particularly if there are a lot of users and band-width is crunched.

Do I have to be connected to the Internet all the time?
You don't need to be connected all the time. However, some courses need more connectivity than others. If you have to do activities that are accessible online, but not downloadable, you will need to be online. If this is the case, be sure to plan your day and your proximity to a computer with a high-speed connection.

Will I need textbooks?
Yes. In fact, please do not forget to get your books early and to print out your assignments, review what you'll be doing. Be sure to map out your work, and to be sure to have a good sense of how to budget your time and to schedule your study time.

What kind of computer? What kind of computer software?
Be sure to get a computer that has a fast processor (1.0 Ghz), plenty of RAM (1.0 GB minimum), storage (80 Gb), and excellent drivers.

What kinds of courses can I take online?
You can take almost all kinds of classes online today, even those with labs (natural sciences, etc.). However, some are going to be more relaxing than others, and some with resonate with your learning styles more than others.

What kinds of degrees?
You can get arts and sciences degrees, associates degrees, obtain certificates and more.

Does it take me any longer to get a degree online?
In some cases, getting a degree online can take less time rather than more.

Are online degrees respected?
Yes. What is more important is the reputation of the college rather than the delivery system.

What kinds of things will I do in an online course?
You can expect to read texts, watch videos, listen to audio, take quizzes (practice and for-credit), interact on the discussion board, post information in a home page, interact with other people, email your instructor and students, participate in innovative activities (wikis, mapping, mashups, more).

Who teaches online courses? What happens?
Instructors who have special training in online courses teach them. They often do not develop the courses, but they guide students in discussions, grade papers, post announcements, and provide personal feedback.

What's the best way to succeed in an online course?
Follow the guidelines below.

Top Ten Ways to Succeed:

1. Sign up early, take course in the correct sequence
2. Check out entire course, click all links
3. Find timeline, familiarize yourself with tasks
4. Connect with professor
5. Have appropriate computer, software, connection
6. Keep up with reading and tasks
7. Establish connection with fellow students, keep up with discussion / cooperative tasks
8. Practice writing activities: paragraphs, short essays, research papers
9. Practice quizzes, review materials
10. Perfect online research, writing

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