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ToolBook 10.5: Comprehensive solution for fast, easy content authoring

by Tom Hall

June 25, 2010

Review

by Tom Hall

June 25, 2010

ToolBook 10.5 provides advancements in mobile learning support, and other changes that make authoring easier and the end product more accessible. New features include support for Windows Mobile and Apple iPad, in addition to the iPhone, iPod Touch, and Google Android, for geolocation, and for iPhone drag-and-drop, and an updated Quick Start tab, better support for Section 508 compliance, and improved clipboard support for Microsoft Office products.

Would you like to streamline the way you create e-Learning content? The SumTotal ToolBook solution makes it fast and easy to create rich media, customized interactions, software simulations, and mobile learning authoring. Since its debut 20 years ago, ToolBook has consistently been able to adapt to changing technology and industry demands. This adaptability is especially vital to the success of an e Learning development product, particularly with the advent of so many new mobile-learning delivery devices, including the Apple iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad, Google Android, and Windows Mobile devices such as the Blackberry.

The latest version of ToolBook (v. 10.5) continues to demonstrate the product’s flexibility. I’ll begin by giving a quick overview of how ToolBook works for readers who are unfamiliar with the product and its previous versions, and then I’ll review the most important new features in version 10.5. You’ll learn how to create content from scratch, how to start from a PowerPoint slide deck, or use Content Templates, SmartStyles, and SmartPages. You’ll get a look at the creation of mobile learning content, including how to customize interactions and create branching, and learn about important features that have been around for several versions, such as the Actions Editor and the Simulation Editor. Finally, you’ll learn about accessibility support, the Quiz Summary feature, and how to deploy ToolBook content to an LMS.

Simple and best-of-breed authoring

ToolBook is a Windows authoring product that allows you to create engaging learning experiences with ease, using authoring elements such as:

  • templates, SmartPages, and SmartStyles,
  • a catalog of elements with pre-programmed abilities,
  • an Actions Editor for programming of highly interactive learning activities,
  • a Simulation Editor for quick and easy development of software simulations, and
  • a host of starter templates for development of mobile learning content for delivery to many of the mobile devices in use today.

Here’s a look at some of the basics of ToolBook.

Object orientation

ToolBook is an object-oriented environment, which means that everything that the developer works with is an object. ToolBook uses a book metaphor to organize content and interaction, unlike the frame, slide, or flowchart metaphors you have probably seen in other authoring tools. As the developer, you are the author. Each ToolBook application is called a book (an object), and each screen is called a page (also an object). Each page can contain objects such as buttons, fields, and graphics. Each object has properties, which determine what the object looks like, what it does, how it behaves, and so on. We refer to these properties as basic properties. Many objects also contain what we refer to as extended properties, properties that can be set to control the behaviors of objects. Creating a ToolBook book is a straightforward process. The developer creates a book, adds pages to the book, adds objects to each page, and then sets the properties for each of the objects and pages.

Authoring a ToolBook book

There are two modes of operation in ToolBook: Author and Reader. When you open a new book, the developer (author) is in the Author mode. In this mode, you are in control of what happens in the book and you have the ability to set up the book as necessary by creating pages, adding objects, and setting object properties. You can reenter the book at any time at Author level to make additions or changes. In order to see what the learner (reader) will see and to test the book, you can quickly switch to the Reader mode, where ToolBook displays what the learners will see.

The ToolBook Startup dialog box

Launching the ToolBook product from the Start Menu displays a ToolBook Startup dialog box (Figure 1). This dialog box contains several tabs that provide you with choices for what you wish to do.

  • The Welcome tab provides important information for authors who are new to ToolBook.
  • The Quick Start tab (explained in more detail later) allows an author to quickly decide what type of learner environment and/or what type of mobile device they are developing for.
  • The Templates tab (shown in Figure 1) allows an author to select from a variety of pre-structured templates, such as Compliance training, New Hire training, or Soft Skills training, to name a few. It is important to note that these templates have page sizes that lend themselves to standard Desktop resolutions as opposed to mobile device resolutions.
  • The Book Wizards tab has a Book Wizard and Lesson Design Wizard that you can use to create a shell of a book by answering a few simple questions as you progress through the Wizard screens. The most recent books opened will show up on the Existing Books tab.

 

screenshot showing icon selections and a viewing window on the right

Figure 1: The Templates tab of the Startup Dialog box provides a way to quickly create a book for a variety of different types of training

 

The main authoring window

Once you make a choice from the Startup Dialog box, you’ll see the main authoring window (Figure 2). In this particular example, the author has chosen to develop a book to deploy to the Desktop. In this case, the page size is set at 783 x 539 (although you can’t tell this in the Figure), which is then viewable at a resolution as low as 800 x 600.

This window either displays all of the authoring tools or they are accessible from this main window. A Status Bar at the bottom of the page provides important information, such as the name and type of object that the mouse is currently over (a field named “Topic” of a page named “Blank”), the location of the mouse pointer, and the current page (1 of 1 in this example).

 

screenshot of application interface and toolbox panelFigure 2: The Authoring window provides an author with access to all the authoring tools

 

The main authoring window also gives the author access to a Menu Bar that is typical of other Windows applications. Table 1 lists some of the options from the various menus.

 

Table 1: Authoring options from the Menu Bar

Menu

Important Menu Options

File

New, Open, Save, Save As, Publish to Web (DHTML)

Edit

Cut, Copy, Paste, Delete, Duplicate, Select All, Select Page

View

Author, Reader, Toolbar, Palettes, Catalog, Book Explorer, Browsers, Background

Go

Next Page, Previous Page, First Page, Last Page, Go Back, History

Insert

Text, Graphic, Pages, Voice Recording, New Simulation, New Page, New Background

Object

Properties for Page, Properties for a type of object, Properties for Background, Properties for Book, Actions, Hyperlink, Resources

Text

Character, Paragraph, Regular, Bold, Italic, Underline

Draw

Transparent, Reshape, Flip, Rotate, Center, Align, Size

Tools

Spelling, Scripts, Actions, Hyperlinks, Quiz Overview

Help

Help Contents, Coach, various Help guides

 

The ToolBook Coach (visible in Figure 2, but it can be either visible or hidden at your choice) changes dynamically as you select different objects on the page.

Below the Menu Bar, you’ll normally see the Toolbar. The Toolbar contains a large selection of icons that provide one-click access to options you would normally select from the Menu Bar. In Figure 2, you can see that two icons appear in a “depressed” mode, meaning that two dialog boxes or authoring elements are currently open. In this example the authoring elements are the Tool Palette and the Catalog.

The Tool Palette and Catalog

ToolBook’s Tool Palette and Catalog provide easy access to objects. The small vertical set of icons (in 2 columns) in the left-center part of the screen in Figure 2 is the Tool Palette. The icons on the Tool Palette are used to draw objects on the page, including buttons (pushbutton, radio, checkbox styles), fields (bordered or borderless), and the various draw objects. The draw objects include lines, circles, ellipses, and polygons.

The left side of the current main authoring window shows the Catalog. The Catalog is a ToolBook authoring element containing various categories (Commonly Used Objects, Action Objects, Buttons, etc.), with each category containing objects that you can drag and drop onto a ToolBook page. Figure 3 shows a slightly different view of the main authoring window. In this example, the Questions category is open and a multiple choice question object was added to the page. Notice that moving a mouse over the icon in Catalog displays a tooltip, a short narrative that describes the use of the object. A major feature of the Catalog is that it is customizable to show more or fewer categories, and an experienced author can create his own custom Catalog and display it along with what comes with the ToolBook product.

 

screenshot of drafting page for multiple choice questioning

Figure 3: The ToolBook Catalog with the Questions category selected

 

Figure 4 shows a closer look at the Catalog, with one of the more important Catalog categories: Media Players. This Category contains the various objects needed to play and control a variety of different media types, including mpeg video, mp3 audio, and Flash movies.

 

window and available player application icons

Figure 4: Media Players category

 

The Structure of a ToolBook Page: foreground and background

The open area in the center of the window (refer to Figure 2 again) is the actual page. This page shows that several objects are added, including buttons for basic navigation, as well as placeholder text fields for text and a Prompt field.

The page actually consists of two distinctively different parts: the foreground and the background. The background typically contains objects that are common to all of the pages. In Figure 2, those objects are the Exit, Menu, Back, and Next buttons as well as the Prompt field (Click Next to continue.) The Prompt field is a special type of field called a recordfield, a field in the background that keeps the style and location of the object common to all pages, but the text can be different from page to page since it is in the foreground. Two other fields in the background are the Title (%LESSONTITLE%) and Subtitle (%CHAPTERTITLE%), which are also recordfields. Embedded in the background is the overall design of this book, a graphic that has mostly white space with a blue-gray gradient effect. Notice how the buttons graphics also reflect this overall design. The foreground of a page contains elements only found on the current page. In the example shown in Figure 3, that includes a field called Topic (%TOPICTITLE%) and the multiple choice question object, which is a group of four button objects. The % text in the Title, Subtitle, and Topic fields indicates placeholder text that gets replaced with information from the properties of the book and the page when the author switches to Reader level.

Basic object properties

All objects have basic properties and, for the most part, these properties are those that determine how an object looks on a ToolBook page. Figure 5 shows the basic properties dialog box for a SmartStyle button that was added to a ToolBook page. The Properties dialog box for this type of object has six tabs:

  • Draw – used to set the Caption, whether the object is visible or not, the stroke and/or fill colors of the button, and the border style.
  • Graphics – used to apply graphics for a normal button state, an inverted state, a disabled state, and a checked state.
  • Bounds – used to set the location and size of the button.
  • Font – if you don’t apply graphics to the button, you use this tab to set the font, the font style, and the font size.
  • Behavior – used to set behaviors, such as enabling the button or assigning a tooltip, a small popup text box that appears when the mouse pointer moves over the button.
  • Drag and Drop – used to set certain drag-and-drop properties that allow a learner to drag-and-drop the object.

In the example in Figure 5, the author named a button Click Me, while the Caption — the text that appears on the “face” of the button — has also been set to Click Me.

 

the drafting window and a properties window screenshot

Figure 5: The basic properties dialog box for a button showing the name of the button and the Caption (the text that appears to the learner)

 

In addition to the six tabs described above, the basic property dialog boxes contain a Tool Bar. An author can use the Tool Bar for the button properties dialog box to add actions to the button, add a hyperlink, or add a path animation. Hyperlinks allow for either linear navigation within a book or branching to any part of the book based upon the lesson’s design. Additionally, you can write scripts and apply them to the object to add functionality.

Extended object properties

Several of the objects in the Catalog, such as Action Objects, Question Objects, and Media Players, have extended properties. Extended properties are behavioral properties, meaning that they control how an object acts or reacts to learner interaction in Reader mode. In the example shown in Figure 6, the author added a multiple choice question object (a group of four buttons) to a page and the extended properties dialog box for that object opened. The dialog box for this type of object has five tabs:

  • General – used to name the question, set the question text, and set the limit to the number of tries and time if desired.
  • Answers – used to set up the possible answers, select the one that is correct, and determine whether to randomize the answers or whether the learner can change their response.
  • Scoring – used to set the question up to be either scored or not scored, and if scored, the score value for correct and incorrect answers.
  • Immediate Feedback – used to define one or more types of feedback, if you want feedback given as soon as the learner chooses an answer. The different types of feedback can include text displayed on the page in a static text field or popup field, audio feedback, and/or navigation to another part of the book.
  • Delayed Feedback – used to define feedback, where most likely the learner must choose more than one answer and then click a button on the page to have their answers evaluated.

 

screens how of a tabbed menu of answer keys

Figure 6: The Answers tab of the multiple choice question properties dialog box showing the various answers and the one that is correct, and showing that the author chose randomized answers and that the learner cannot change their response

 

OpenScript

Since the beginning of ToolBook, a scripting language called OpenScript has been available to extend the application’s functionalities. For native applications — those delivered on CD-ROM using the runtime set of files — authors are able to customize the ToolBook book to do most anything required. Today, with a great many of the ToolBook books deployed to the Web as HTML products, OpenScript is an important asset to allow authors to be highly productive by writing scripts that automate some of the development tasks. For instance, an author can write a shared script (a script used by multiple objects within a book) that will hide objects when the book is saved and reset. This is especially important if the author has set up a lot of show-and-hide exercises and wishes to make sure that objects that might show based upon a learner interaction are initially hidden.

Book Explorer

Another extremely useful element in ToolBook is the Book Explorer (Figure 7). Authors can use this to quickly view the pages in a book and the objects on any page, as well as to perform tasks such as renaming the objects, reordering the pages, changing the layers of objects on a page, and setting or changing the properties of objects.

 

panel with tree menu of chapter contents

Figure 7: Book Explorer with the first content page expanded to show the objects on that page


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I have recently received the 10.5 version. It has been a good while since I have obtained a recent version, so it was great to see additional features as compared to those I have in the 2004 version.

Using the Version Updater, I was able to easily update the earlier work that I had done using the 2004 version.

The book wizards and templates provided are a nice feature and so is the mobile content that the book wizard provides.

The only aspect that I am not happy with is the use of Autopackager- this feature is a disaster. When comparing the 2004 autopackager to the 10.5 version, the 10.5 fails to works smoothly. as of this time, I have found that files are not copied into the setup folder; you must copy and paste them after finishing autopackager. Upon installation of the files, the autopackager fails to create program shortcuts. The files are installed, there is no way for the user to access them unless they go and look for them on the hard drive. In one case, the autopackager actually deleted all the files that were to be packaged and only created a package.id file.
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