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Captured by Captivate

Feature rich and a lot of fun

As an educator with a post-secondary institution I have had something of a ringside seat watching the evolution of e-Learning. My biggest complaint was that, in general, most institutions getting into the game just "didn't get it." Their approach to the process was to create what I called "digital in-baskets" where the student completed the work and sent it in as an e-mail attachment. How they could regard this process as "distance learning" or the "digital classroom" was a mystery to me. One institution proudly walked me through their "digital in-basket" and was quite upset when I suggested they could save themselves some serious infrastructure dollars by replacing the program with something more efficient: envelopes and stamps.

Things changed for me this spring. I was talking to my Dean about instituting an e-Learning program at my college and there was no discussion of "in baskets". The rationale actually made sense. The college, looking to expand its reach, realized it was running out of parking lots for new buildings and that maybe the college should go to the students rather than the students come to the college. At about the same time, this discussion was going on, Peachpit Press asked if I would be interested in writing the RoboDemo Visual QuickStart. Right in the middle of that project, Macromedia unveiled the beta of RoboDemo's replacement, Captivate, and it was at that point that I realized e-Learning had become serious business and Macromedia was, as is so typical of the company, in the vanguard of an evolving discipline.

It Does Almost Everything
Captivate has all the hallmarks of becoming an important Macromedia product. If you are looking at doing any sort of e-Learning either in the private or public sectors, Captivate will most likely become your most important course development and support tool. What follows is an overview of the major features of the product.

First, if you are a longtime RoboDemo user understand this: "RoboDemo is dead. Get over it." What Macromedia has managed to do is to successfully retain all that was good about RoboDemo and then seriously improve on it by either beefing up the feature or replacing it with something even better. In fact, it starts as soon as you open the application.

When Captivate launches you arrive in a very familiar place: a typical Macromedia Start Page that replaces RoboDemo's Project View panel. Here you can open new documents, create new recordings, open other types of movies, and even work your way through a few tutorials. A rather nifty feature of this page is the ability to keep the page manageable. If you right-click on the name of a recent movie, you are given the opportunity to open the movie, hide the movie, or even delete it from the Start Page. If you are a RoboDemo user your movies are still compatible with Captivate. If you open a RoboDemo movie in Captivate, the movie is converted to the Captivate format, including the replacement of the .RD extension with the new .cpt file extension (see Figure 1).

When a movie opens you will experience another great change. The RoboDemo Frames and Edit View Panels have been replaced with panels named Storyboard and Edit. In fact, the term "frames" is defunct. It has been replaced with the more succinct term "slide". Figure 2 shows you the differences between the Frames View panel in RoboDemo and Captivate's new Slideshow View panel.

The two biggest changes are the addition of "Record" and "Publish" buttons to the Main toolbar. Click the Record button and Captivate will ask you where the new recording will be placed in the currently open movie (see Figure 3). Click the Publish button and you have one click access to a number of new and old output options (see Figure 2). The term "publish" replaces the term "export" in RoboDemo and moves Captivate's terminology into line with the rest of Macromedia's products.

The Edit View panel is another area where there have been some major changes. The first one you'll notice is the addition of a timeline and a change in the Advanced Toolbar that reflects many of the changes in the application (see Figure 4).

The timeline is probably the single most important addition to the product. One of my biggest complaints with RoboDemo was an inability to control the timing and duration of objects in a frame and even the frame itself. This has all changed. If you are a Flash or Director user, the biggest mistake you can make is to view the Captivate timeline as being similar to the ones in those two applications. A good way of looking at the timeline in Captivate is to regard it as a micro view of each frame in a Flash or Director movie. Objects on the timeline can be dragged to new positions on the timeline. You can expand or contract their duration by dragging the edge inwards or outwards and, if you're a control freak like me, double-click any object on the timeline and you can set its appearance and duration in the slide "by the numbers" (see Figure 5). Double-clicking a timeline object opens the Object's properties dialog box where the object can be edited.

Even the recording process has undergone a fundamental change ... for the better. Macromedia spends an inordinate amount of time listening to its users and the changes to the recording process reflect how users approach the end use of the product. There are three types of recordings you can create. They are:

  • Demonstration: A typical "sit -back-and-watch-how-it-is-done" presentation
  • Simulation: Simulates how the product is used and requires the viewer to be engaged in the process
  • Training: The student is essentially told, "You have seen the demo and you have seen how to use it. Now you try it."
These modes are now available to you right in the Recording Window. Click the Options button in the Recoding dialog box and the options will appear (see Figure 6).

Another handy feature of the Recording window is the "Snap window to fit inside the red recording area" button. Clicking this button moves the entire screen being recorded inside the recording area. Another major change to the recording process is the loss of "full motion" recording. This required a little extra work in RoboDemo if you wanted to record mouse movements. It is now an automated process in Captivate.

Sound is a major element in any new media presentation and Macromedia hasn't overlooked this feature. You can add MP3 background audio tracks to the movie or the slide and record slide-by-slide voice-over narrations, but the handling of sound in Captivate has had its molecules turned inside out and rearranged when compared to RoboDemo's abilities.

First, sound is added to the timeline and double-clicking the sound on the timeline opens the new Edit Audio dialog box (see Figure 7). When it opens you can perform some basic sound editing operations to the waveform which include adding silence, deleting sections of the waveform, and adding normalization to the waveform to "clean up" the recording.

Another welcome addition to the audio recording features is the ability to enter scripts directly into the audio recording dialog box by selecting View Script. Now when you click the Record button, you have the script for the narration visible right in the Recording dialog box (see Figure 8).

Creating and editing the movie is important, but the end game - preparing the movie for output - is also important. Again, Macromedia has added some very important changes to this process. The first, as noted earlier, is a terminology change. Movies are no longer exported, they are "published," and this process has been added to and, more importantly, streamlined (see Figure 9).

Publishing a movie in RoboDemo was a rather complicated process. Captivate smoothes out this process and puts all of the options in one place for easy access. Click an output option and the window changes to reflect your choice and the ability to access the Movie Preferences to, for example, change the Playback Control style or remove the Controller entirely. One of the major changes to the publishing process is the ability to publish the movie directly to your Breeze or BreezeLive server from within Captivate.

Wait, There Are Flaws...
Though I have sounded pretty positive about the application there is one aspect that disturbs me. It is the ability to export your Captivate movies directly into Flash MX 2004 or Flash MX Professional 2004. This release marks the demise of the Flash Module for RoboDemo. Instead of being a separate product, it has been folded into Captivate. The issue I have is the import into Flash.

First, if you select Import/Export> Export to Flash you will see a dialog box that essentially tells you nothing more than "Click this Button to launch Flash." That's exactly what the button does: it launches Flash. You then have to import the Captivate file into Flash using the Import dialog box in Flash (see Figure 10). If you are familiar with the Quick Export feature of Fireworks MX, for example, it strikes me that it makes sense to add this as a "Launch Flash" button on the Main Toolbar than as a menu item that implies more than it does.

More Stories By Tom Green

Tom Green describes himself as 'teacher, author, chief cook and bottle washer.' He is an instructor at Humber College's School of Media Studies in Toronto, and is also the author of 'Building Web Sites with Macromedia Studio MX' and 'Building Dynamic Web Sites with Macromedia Studio MX 2004,' both published by New Riders.

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MXDJ News Desk 11/02/05 02:07:25 PM EST

MX Developer's Journal: Captured by Captivate
As an educator with a post-secondary institution I have had something of a ringside seat watching the evolution of e-Learning. My biggest complaint was that, in general, most institutions getting into the game just 'didn't get it.' Their approach to the process was to create what I called 'digital in-baskets' where the student completed the work and sent it in as an e-mail attachment. How they could regard this process as 'distance learning' or the 'digital classroom' was a mystery to me. One institution proudly walked me through their 'digital in-basket' and was quite upset when I suggested they could save themselves some serious infrastructure dollars by replacing the program with something more efficient: envelopes and stamps.

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