I like to see how a product works and for the bugs to be fixed before I use it. So, when I discovered SoftChalk this summer, I was ecstatic! Up to this point, I had made anything I needed for my online courses in Microsoft Word or through the available tools in Blackboard. All of a sudden, there were several new options available to me which captured my imagination and transformed my course. I’m going to talk about the pros and cons of SoftChalk, as well as show you some of the things that I have been doing with it.
So, what does SoftChalk bring to the table? First, it is very user friendly, even for those of us that do not have the technological savvy of computer programmers. If you can use Microsoft Word, you can use this program.
Toolbar for SoftChalk
I began by using SoftChalk for my syllabus. When I made each section title a heading, the program made a link to that section at the top of the page so that students could find a specific section or policy with much more ease than in a Word document. Yet, students could still print the whole syllabus by clicking the "Print All" link at the top of the window.
The way that my syllabus looks for my students, including heading links created by SoftChalk.
I also used the program to create several learning modules. In doing so, I was able to embed interactive review questions with the content, as well as graded activities other than quizzes into the module. While many of the activities, like the crossword puzzles and the labeling, are geared toward teaching vocabulary, there are also some activities that help to organize knowledge, such as the timelines and tables.
Second, I found that SoftChalk does all of the formatting for you. This means that I can save the files as a web page (.html), a SCORM module (.sco), a common cartridge, an executable lesson for Windows or OS X, or burn to a CD for my students. This is a two-part process, since I need to save the file, and then "package" the lesson. But, it's well worth it because I can import a SCORM module into Blackboard, as long as I use the SCORM 1.2 format. Third, any activities or quizzes in modules can be graded and recorded when imported into Blackboard. This means that I can keep track of my students’ progress as well.
When students click on the inserted activity, it brings them to the graded portion of the module.
What are the drawbacks of SoftChalk? First, some of the default settings for what counts as a heading and what does not count, is counterintuitive. This means that I had to occasionally go back to fix the format. Second, I needed to preview every page in the module because the links populated at the top of the page sometimes obscured the created content, requiring that I rearrange the content.
Notice the overlapping portions of the page, which requires either rearranging or maximizing the browser window.
Third, using a hotspot activity is sometimes hard to read, since the images are often very small compared to the rest of the module. Lastly, this software does not allow any way to change the code of a file. This means that it is like being stuck in the WYSIWYG tab of the HTML editor in Blackboard.
This is the actual largest size of a hotspot image. Notice that any writing could be hard to read because SoftChalk will shrink any images to this size.
However, for those of us that are not as proficient in reading and writing code, this is a versatile program that will add to the available options for online courses. I am thankful for finding such a program that adds options to my courses and increases the ways that I can assess and engage my students.