Saturday, March 10, 2018

Building interactive videos: tool review

Why to Read this Post

In fifteen minutes, you can edit any publicly-available video, including your own, to add an interactive quiz for your students. Here are free software tools that let you collect answers from students, and providence incentive for students to complete assigned video-watching assignments!


A few years ago, I decided to start making small steps to improve the learning atmosphere in my collegiate course in genetics (enrollment ~80). The main premise of the trajectory of my course improvement is that if I make class more engaging and interactive then students will attend more, better understand the application of course content to life, and their learning will improve.

Over that time, one of the major changes I've made has been to "flip the classroom." In such a blended-learning approach, students access the course content on their own before class (either by reading or, more recently, by watching video lectures) and spend their in-class time discussing the content with the instructor, asking questions about ambiguous or complicated content, and practicing using the content.

A major push I have made is to create custom video content for this class. I've recorded many videos of various types to augment this course, including:
I've also spend a fair amount of time identifying videos I want to share with my students and that others have created and made available on sites like YouTube. After all, there is no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to educational materials. But, I still suggest that potential benefits of creating your own videos are that:
  • your students see (and hopefully appreciate) the effort you're putting into your class
  • the content is customized for your class
Up until this point, some of my obsessions about videos have been:
  • captioning them for accessibility (this obsession is motivated by legal issues)
  • creating tables of contents for my videos to help students more easily navigate longer videos
  • using YouTube analytics to glean information about student video use and what it can reveal to me about how I can improve instruction
Now I have a new obsession, thanks to some egging-on from my colleagues: integrating quizzes and other interactions into videos!

Here's an example of what an interactive video might look like. This is a screen capture video of my computer screen as I play (and interact with) a short video I created and added questions to:

I just yesterday co-led a discussion among California State University system faculty about:
  • various tools that can accomplish this goal
  • their pros and cons
You can view the video of my co-presenter's (Erik Wasinger's), remarks about the use of Camtasia software to add quiz content to videos here: but I haven't included Camtasia in my review, mainly because it is a tool you have to purchase.

Here, I review the following four software tools that let you add quiz content to videos:

Executive Summary: PlayPosit > EdPuzzle > Vizia > Captivate

Of these four tools, my top three are all web-based tools. PlayPosit earns my top rating, mainly for intuitive interface and ease of use, price (free) and available features. EdPuzzle is also free, but has a little bit less flexibility/freedom in how to share content. It would share top honors with PlayPosit, except that the option to upgrade (for a price) to a PlayPosit Pro account ($144/year) means you always have the option of getting more power (including question types and analytics) from PlayPosit compared to EdPuzzle. Vizia has a smaller feature set than the first two, but must critically, at this point, I have to report that quiz responses do not immediately show up in the Google Sheet & .csv files that record those data (and sometimes, when I demo-ed my quizzes, answers never showed up). Captivate ends my ranked list because, as you'll read below, it isn't really a video quiz-creation tool (although it can do that, kind of…) and because of the price ($30/month or $349 for educators). As most Adobe products, it is a very powerful tool, but it also has a steeper learning curve than the first three options.

From the bottom to the top,

4. Adobe Captivate

It is expensive (I used the two-week free trial to test it), and its primary use is to build interactive web-based quizzes. This is the only tool I'm reviewing that is a stand-alone software package (the rest are web-based tools). You'd probably recognize Captivate-like content as online training modules that your employer has you complete for things like sexual assault, FERPA compliance, and so on. Captivate is, basically, PowerPoint on steroids: it uses a slide-based approach to creating content. You can place video on one slide, and then insert a following slide that contains a quiz. Captivate isn't a direct video editor, like the rest of the tools I'm reviewing. Thus, you can't insert content in the middle of the video unless you, yourself, split your video file into two at the point where you want to add an interaction. Then you'd add those videos on two separate slides, with a third (quiz) slide in between. However, the upside to Adobe is that it has a vast number of education-oriented widgets that are way more than just multiple-choice or free response. For example, there is a word search widget! A big drawback to using Captivate might be that you save your content as a .SWF file that you then have to have hosted on a website somewhere; .SWF files also require web browsers to have Flash installed to play. In other words, you need to have web-hosting tools to use Captivate content (which your institution might already have), and the viewers of that content may have to do a little work on their end to make sure their web browser is configured properly to access it. Here's a demo I made using Captivate (although access might expire when my free trial expires…and ignore/close any "error" messages that might pop up - it should, hopefully, still work)

3. Vizia

Free and easy to use. This is the first video tool I used as I was preparing this review. Aside from the issue I mentioned above that some quiz responses seem never to get recorded (which could be a major concern if you're using this for summative assessment & grading), it is an easy tool for anybody to use to accomplish the basic goal of inserting interactions into videos. Here's a demo I made using Vizia.

2. EdPuzzle

Here's a demo I made using EdPuzzle. Because you have to be signed in as a student to an EdPuzzle classroom to access the content, the demo link takes you to a YouTube video of a screen capture of me using the EdPuzzle-based video quiz. This sign-in requirement might either be a feature or a drawback, depending on your position. The only edge EdPuzzle has over the other tools is the ability for you to add instructor audio comments at specific points in the video. In the other tools, if you wanted to add comments, you would do that either as a free-response question in which you simply do not pose a question (and don't expect a response from the viewer) or by adding a hyperlink to a separate web page where you provided that additional content.

1. PlayPosit

Both EdPuzzle and PlayPosit share some features that I would particularly appreciate but won't apply to all of you. Because I teach at a school that is a Google campus, I like the ability to sign in to both of these tools using my Google educator account (through my campus single sign-on). Likewise, both of these tools can integrate with Google Classroom. PlayPosit edges out EdPuzzle because (with the for-money version) PlayPosit can integrate directly to your campus learning management system (LMS, like Canvas, Moodle, Blackboard, etc.) PlayPosit also gets the edge on not requiring students to register/login to their system to view your video quiz content and also offering (with the Pro version, $144/year) additional question types. Here's a demo I made using PlayPosit

My suggested considerations when choosing which of these tools to edit your videos

  • Cost
  • Capacity (how many users? how many videos?)
  • Where does the movie you want to edit need to be located? (can you upload a movie yourself? does it already have to be on the web with a publicly-accessible URL?)
  • Where will your interactive video be hosted when students access it? (do you have to download a file and find a place to put it on a website?)
  • How does your audience access the video quiz? Do students have to create an account; is student login required?
  • How much does the tool cost to use?
  • What types of questions can be deployed?
  • When editing a question, can you use rich text (e.g. bold, underline, italics, super/subscript)? Can you attach an image to be displayed?
  • What sorts of data can be collected? How are the data reported? What analytics tools are provided? Is LMS integration supported?
  • Is question skipping allowed?
  • Does the service provide the ability to organize your quiz-embedded videos in any way? (i.e. a folder or "classroom" structure)
Here is a table of how the different software tools address many of these considerations:

Other considerations, which might be relevant to you but I didn't include in this review, could be:

  • accessibility/captioning support
  • can the video quiz be embedded (with provided HTML code) into an existing webpage?
  • ability to share (and use others') video quizzes created in the same tool
  • FERPA compliance

When using your own videos

When creating your own video to add quiz questions, I've found that it can be useful, with most of the software packages above, to intentionally insert "white space" (in the case of my demo video above, those were a few seconds worth of solid black) where you intend to place questions. Later, when you're editing the video to add interactions, this provides buffer space between the end of video content and the start of the quiz. Otherwise, it can be quite jarring to have speech end and a quiz immediately displayed. I prefer having the video content end, and then have a couple of seconds of nothing before the quiz is displayed. For those of you who use Apple's Clips app to create classroom videos, this is easily accomplished by ending each video segment where you intend to place a quiz question, adding a solid black image to your Photos library, recording it for a few seconds, and then moving it in between video segments where you will eventually add an interaction:

Best Practices with Interactive Video

  • Use video quizzing in clips for students to watch prior to class to collect formative feedback so that you are aware what students understand (and what they don't) by the time class starts
  • Collect summative feedback while requesting students to employ information and skills in new situations by integrating existing videos (like news media, TED talks, and the like) with questions. This approach might also help students relate class content to "real life."
  • Instead of collecting formative or summative data on student understanding, leverage the ability to insert information (not necessarily a question, or perhaps a rhetorical question) into a video. For example
    • After a section of video that you think might be particularly complicated to understand, you might insert a statement containing a URL that students could navigate to for additional perspective (a textbook chapter, or a different video on the same topic)
    • You could ask the student, at that point, to reflect on articulating what is most difficult to understand, or to identify the specific point when they feel they started to lose focus. The student could either provide that feedback during the video, or you could ask them to bring a response to class to engage a live discussion
    • Interactive videos don't just have to be quizzes; they can support and enhance student mindset and provide them a sort of on-demand, adaptive support.


Although my initial interest in learning how to add quizzes to videos was to enforce student use of the videos, just from having spent a weekend playing with the available tools, I now can see so many more potentially powerful uses of the ability to edit videos by adding interactions. If you have additional uses of such interactions, please share them with me! How do (or would) you use this power in or out of the classroom?

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Preaching to the choir

Last week, I gave an invited presentation at my local Mac User Group meeting (Fresno Mac Users Group, FMUG)
180206 FMUG Joe.jpg
The MUG learned about me through one of my former colleagues, who had seen me give an untethered presentation (about the biology research my undergrad and grad students and I conduct at California State University, Fresno) using my iPad and iPhone, and ExplainEverything. You can view that presentation here, if you're interested in learning more about mutations, in a presentation geared to a lay audience:
I hadn't known we had a MUG in central California! I was elated to be asked, and it was great to be back in the company of local die-hard Apple evangelists. When I was in high school in Oregon, I took regular advantage of that local MUG (in Corvallis), and I vividly recall borrowing my mom's car to drive there monthly to rub elbows with the other Apple geeks. My strongest memory of the CMUG meetings was the one where I purchased (and had installed) 4x 1 MB RAM chips to replace the 4x 256k RAM chips in the MacPlus I had inherited from my parents when they upgraded to a 9500.
Yes, my family are famously: slow adopters of new tech and/or advocates of the "drive it until it dies" approach (cars in my family tend to be on the road 20+ years before they get replaced). I'm the same way, which sometimes makes me a less-capable advocate of technology because I'm often behind the curve on having the latest and greatest, but that's another story.
I had three main goals of my presentation to FMUG (an overview video, produced in Clips, is at:
Goal 1. To demonstrate how Apple builds accessibility features into their hardware and software. As an example, I used these screen shots that show how inaccessible (to us red-green color-blind folk) color pickers used to be, as recently as System 7, shown here:
The introduction of the crayon color picker may have seemed childish, but that the colors were accompanied by names was a huge deal to those of us who rely on this sort of information so that we color grass green and not brown or red!
macos80 first crayon picker.png
Here, just for fun, is a current version of the Apple color-picker (left) and a color-blind simulated version (right). To me, the two images look identical. To you, if you aren't color-blind, this gives you an idea of how I view the world and why it is useful to have color accessibility.
Normal & CB.png
For more information, please refer to this resource for choosing color-blind friendly colors to use in media you produce!
Goal 2. To broadcast information about Fresno State's "DISCOVERe" program, launched in 2014, which is a 1:1 tablet program (but not exclusively Apple, and probably inevitably moving to a BYOD approach). As a program that is entirely voluntary for faculty to join, and then design at least one course to use mobile devices to increase student engagement and success, we have quadrupled the number of DISCOVERe courses, as well as students enrolled in DISCOVERe classes, over the past three years; we have almost 200 faculty fellows of the program now, while our initial cohort (of which I was a member) numbered 32. Most importantly, I wanted to share with FMUG (and you, too!) that in a single semester last year, DISCOVERe faculty who chose to adopt open educational resources, like iBooks, saved our students a total of over $117,000 in course materials costs!
Goal 3. To share my love of Clips. The highlight of the presentation was a live demonstration of Clips. I first showed a few examples of Clips I had produced, after which questions from the audience immediately turned to the captioning (which I pointed out was a critical component of accessibility).
Not surprisingly (to those with Clips experience), the biggest audible *gasp* in the room came when I gave a live demonstration of Live Titling. Many audience members had previously asked how I created the captions, but I held off on answering those questions until I got to this point!
After I was done demonstrating Clips, I was surprised to hear from the audience that most of them had not heard about Clips and wondered, after I showed them the basics of using this app, why Apple hadn't made a bigger push to promote Clips! I told them that this was one reason I was here, and that I would continue to be a resource for them in their adoption of Clips.
In every presentation I give, I want to make sure the audience leaves with information or a skill of immediate value. So, tonight, I asked all of them to brainstorm how they might use Clips in their lives. We had a great conversation about using the app to (for example) send multimedia greetings to family members via social media, and one kingergarten teacher asked me if it would make sense for her to record herself reading picture books for her students.
I remarked both that Clips would be reasonble (for short books like picture books) but I emphasized a

Key Benefit

of Live Titling in videos: that this accessibility feature is not just for the deaf, but that non-native English speakers (and those, like children, learning to read and write English) really benefit from hearing the word and seeing it written at the same time!
By the end of the meeting, I had demonstrated another way to use Clips: as an aid to newcomers (to any event or organization). Clips, especially in conjunction with time-lapse video using Camera, are great to show people how to navigate from one place to another, as I did here for students at the start of the semester to show them how to get from our lecture classroom to my office on campus:
This could work just as well for directions to a church, to your house for birthday party invitees, and so on. Here, I used Clips to provide FMUG a resource to share with new members to help them find the FMUG meeting space!
I was honored to share the power of Clips with my new Apple allies in Fresno and to build new  connections between my campus and community. Again, you can view my FMUG Clip here:

Student Attitudes about Classroom Clips Videos

Last (Fall) semester, I incorporated some newly-developed technological skills, related to Apple's Clips app, to augment my upper-division biology majors class in genetics using instructor-created and brief videos for students to use in various scenarios. I've blogged about these before:
• Introducing yourself; your classroom
• Class "trailer" videos to on-board students to the topic of each class period
• Jigsaw exercises and remote instruction
• Describing and annotating processes in locations it is difficult to get your entire class to
Separately, I created a digital course manual (which, sadly, is not in iBook format yet) where I curated these Clips and other movies and resources I created, as well as open-education resources. I distributed this resource, called "GATC" (for "Genetics Assets and Tools Companion"), to my class at the start of the term.
  My intro Clip for students on using the GATC:
I'm happy to report that I just received my written comments from student ratings of instruction, and here are excerpts from those related to these videos and digital content I was able to produce using Clips and other Apple (and related) software and hardware: iPad, MacBook Air, QuickTime, and ExplainEverything (for lecture capture video recording)
I'm sharing these to suggest that the blog posts above may contain some valuable practices for using short videos in the context of a student's classroom experience. For full disclosure, I should also mention that, as part of my course augmentation with technology, I also employed pre-class video lectures that students watched before coming to class; this was not accomplished with Apple hardware or software (see an example of one of my Lighboard, a.k.a. Learning Glass, videos at:

Student comments

"I love the GATC Course manual because he highlights the exact topics that we should focus on and he makes lots of information easily available to his students."
"I appreciate the recorded lectures that are posted on YouTube. Sometimes I don't get stuff down in time and it's nice to be able to go back and listen to Dr. Ross' explanations again."
"The class discussions made it easier to learn the information. The before class videos were also very helpful."
"The way in which Dr. Ross incorporates technology allows for his students to better understand the material at hand."
In all, I think a critical point here, for dissemination as broadly as possible, is that educators can make positive impacts on students using mobile technology even if the students don't all have a device. Apple technology only in the hands of the instructor can still help engage and inspire students!