Course Creation – Online with Versal

Reading Time: 2 minutes

A short decade ago Moodle and Blackboard were the only real options for providing online training or education. Today there is a growing number of course authoring platforms to choose from. Over the past few weeks I’ve been exploring several of these new options and want to share my experiences with them, beginning with Versal.

Interactive learning

Versal markets their course authoring platform as “interactive” as opposed to more passive learning experiences. How they achieve interactivity is through the use of “gadgets”. In addition to the usual fare of embedded graphics and videos, Versal offers course designers over a dozen embeddable objects (aka gadgets), aimed at getting learners to do things within the course.  The gadgets include things like 3D model simulations and quizzes. The real joy in these is that the gadgets simply drag and drop into the course authoring area. No coding, no juggling multiple windows, just drag, drop and configure right in line.

Collaborate on course authoring

In addition to gadgets the other thing I appreciate about this platform is that it’s collaborative by design. Course creators can invite other people to co-create with them and there is even an easy to use discussion area attached to each section of the course. This works very much like the comments option in Google docs.

Versal collaboration option

Sharing your course

To share a course with learners there are a few options. You can share via link or, if you choose to use Versal as a “organization”, you can embed the full course into your own website.

Versal is in beta as of this writing, but even in beta I haven’t found many bugs and other than a full fledged documentation section, it’s works very well.

There are a number of courses that you can take to see the platform in action and if you are a JavaScript developer the gadget platform/APIs will be opening up soon. That means that even more gadgets will be available for course authors.



This looks like a great option for organizations who need to be able to develop online training quickly. The learning curve is so small that almost anyone could create a course. You would still want to follow sound learning theory and ensure courses are well organized and learner friendly but this kind of tool would allow you to focus on that, and not so much on the technology behind it. As for affordability – there is a free version for individuals and a version for organizations that begins at 5.00 per month for up to 50 learners. Versal also offers a free 60 day trial.

If you try Versal out let me know what you think or better yet let the folks at Versal know. They are on Twitter @versal. If you have suggestions for other online platforms, drop me a note so I can check them out too.

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Engagement and Feedback with VoiceThread

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I’m a student of engagement and feedback. I think they’re related on micro and macro levels and are on a continuum. A micro engagement could be a small as a glance exchanged between two people. A macro engagement could be – no it doesn’t have to do with a ring – a community wide, civic engagement activity that spans months or even years.

Feedback is similar. Micro feedback can also be a glance or a “look”. You know, the one your mom gave you when you were about to misbehave in a restaurant. Macro level feedback can be as large scale and long term as a longitudinal research project about health outcomes or educational initiatives.

I also think that feedback on a micro level can improve outcomes at a macro or community level. The sum of the parts kind of thing.

In behavioral health, many counsellors use a system of feedback called My Outcomes. I’ve posted on it before but due to the originators of the system restructuring their organization the links may be broken, so here’s a link to their new site and video. Don’t let the medical profession type language scare you off. The system itself is easy, effective and brilliant. I used it for the last few years that I worked as a counselor and even the most street entrenched of my clients loved it. They loved it because it offered them an opportunity to tell me clearly what they thought and felt about our relationship and time together.

I have also used the MyOutcomes tool (which comes in a paper version that any individual can use for free on Barry Duncan’s website by the way) to get feedback from groups that I’ve facilitated. And to be fair here is link to Scott Miller‘s resource page. Miller and Duncan co-created the system and then had some kind of change in their relationship, each taking a different path.

In thinking about feedback, engagement and then having a Twitter conversation with @pmacoun that began with the cool things he’s doing with claymation in his classroom which eventually lead to swapping VoiceThread links. His first link is this charming story created by his daughter and captured on the VoiceThread mobile app. The second link he shared was to a really awesome example of digital storytelling by Grade One students at Aspengrove School in Nanaimo, BC.

The VoiceThreads got me to thinking about my own experiences in elementary school and I had an epiphany about siloed curriculum and classes in high school being evil, but will save that for another post. It also got me thinking about how I would like to see VoiceThread used for feedback and community engagement. See, if you stick with me long enough I eventually get back around to the point 🙂

Wouldn’t it be amazing to start a VoiceThread for each child in a class at the beginning of the school year and use it to provide both a space for reflection (for older kids) and for a space to provide ongoing formative feedback in the  tone of appreciative inquiry?

Lets say Johnny is a grade three student. At the beginning of the year his teacher would take a picture of him or better yet a short video. Johnny could add comments, his teacher could say something she has come to appreciate about Johnny, other teachers and even his classmates could add a comment or two. This could be done monthly with a new picture or video each month or just one picture and lots of comments. The link could be shared with parents right from the beginning. They could also add comments.

At the end of the year each child would have ten months worth of positive affirmations about them to take with them into the next year. The VoiceThread could be burned onto a DVD for those families that struggle with internet access. (I work with a lot of economically challenged families and virtually all have a DVD player). Innovative schools could even sell additional copies to grandparents. I have seven grandchicklets and I promise you, I would purchase something like this from each of them.

This is a way to provide feedback that builds learners up and is a way to engage multiple people in that process. It’s kind of like the pat on the back process where at the end of the year each child draws an outline of their hand an it’s passed around so others can write something they like about that person… this is the digital or 2.0 version.

I would also love to see VoiceThread used for larger scale, macro if you will, community engagement. Imagine using it to gather informal feedback about a school or class initiative. Or using it to share a special project or story about a class in general. Because of the way VoiceThread works you can control who has access, it can be moderated and it can be left open for adding comments, for as long as you want.

Ok, I rest my case. Leaving you with the VoiceThread that won me over in the first place. Click the arrow in the bottom right corner to progress through all the slides. The third slide has some interesting ideas about formative and summative assessment.

Update: Here is the workshop archive for May – June 2015, from the VoiceThread blog.

What other ways can you think of to use VoiceThread or other kinds of collaborative technology to engage community or provide feedback?

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