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Book Review: The Starter's Guide to ZebraZapps, by Chris Lee

“The exercises provide interesting and fun examples. They include landing a plane on a runway and having it follow the proper path, thus teaching how to set up paths in Zebra. Other exercises show how to use sliders in a variety of ways, such as creating a realistic audiometer. Zebra makes it so easy to create interactivity of so many kinds, and the guide does a good job of covering interactions – for example, drag and drop, different types of buttons, and more.”

Chris Lee has the distinct privilege of publishing the first guide to ZebraZapps (also called Zebra), and it is sure to be welcomed by the many users of this relatively new authoring tool (see my review of Zebra here in Learning Solutions Magazine).

The Starter's Guide to ZebraZappsWell-organized content

Lee has divided the 176 pages into eight chapters:

  1. Let’s Go
  2. Building Simple Instruction
  3. Interacting with Your User
  4. Fun Stuff
  5. Logic Problems
  6. The Whopping Great Project, Part 1
  7. The Whopping Great Project, The Big Finish
  8. Last Call

Each chapter begins with a list of bullet points describing what will be covered and ends with a summary of the same and any additional features that may have been discussed. The first five chapters comprise the first half the book. Chapters 6 and 7 make up the second half and cover “The Whopping Great Project,” a driving simulation exercise.

Exercises illustrate the steps

All of the exercise resource files can be accessed at www.learnzebrazapps.com/resources.html, where you can also watch 12 different screencasts narrated by the author. Each screencast is called out in the manual at the proper point and helps to illustrate the steps in the book. I found it a bit unfortunate that the screencasts are available for only the first four chapters. I think most would find it quite helpful to also be able to view similar screencasts for the rest of the book. (Editor’s Note: When I asked him about this, Chris Lee said, “The screencasts cover some of the key instructional elements as they are first introduced. The last several chapters really focus on practice, combining skills to build a big project. I didn’t feel screencasts were so relevant there.”)

The exercises provide interesting and fun examples. They include landing a plane on a runway and having it follow the proper path, thus teaching how to set up paths in Zebra. Other exercises show how to use sliders in a variety of ways, such as creating a realistic audiometer. Zebra makes it so easy to create interactivity of so many kinds, and the guide does a good job of covering interactions – for example, drag and drop, different types of buttons, and more.

Chapter 5 covers the three table objects that are among the more advanced topics in Zebra. Truth tables, answer tables, and state tables offer a tremendous amount of power without the need for scripting or programming; a whole book can be written on the myriad ways to use Zebra tables. Again, this manual does a good job of introducing the topic of tables and giving an example for each.

The final exercise puts to practice much of what is learned in the prior chapters. The exercise is attractive, showing a dashboard and windshield, through which you see video of the road ahead of you as you properly shift gears. It’s an excellent way of tying together disparate ideas into a cohesive example. I highly recommend taking the time to move through the instructions and follow the steps; they will help ensure a complete understanding of the topics covered.

Summary: A great way to get started with Zebra Zapps

Being cursed with traits of a copy editor, I couldn’t help but see occasional typographical and syntactical errors, but they are not frequent and they do not detract from the book’s quality. Nevertheless, the manual could benefit from a good copy edit.

Well illustrated with screenshots and dosed with a sense of humor, the book does a good job of fulfilling its title mission: it is a great way for starters to get their feet wet and learn the basics of Zebra. Truth be told, Zebra is such a rich environment, with so many features, that to cover it adequately requires many more pages. Hence, if you are new to Zebra, this guide will get you up to speed quickly. If you are already quite familiar with Zebra, you may still find some nuggets of information that were previously unknown to you.

You certainly can’t beat the price. You can purchase a copy of your own for only $9.95 in the Kindle and Nook stores. You can also buy it as a PDF file and read the first chapter free at www.learnzebrazapps.com.  

Full Disclosure: I’m in the process of writing the official manual on ZebraZapps for Allen Interactions, the creators and distributors of ZebraZapps. It’s my pleasure to have been asked to review Chris Lee’s guide with this understanding.

 

 


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I am really enjoying Chris' book. Zebra is quite a unique application. At times I have even called it weird. Having Chris' book has helped me to find my way around many of Zebra's one of a kind features.

Joe (and Chris if you are planning any edits/additions) - when you write your book, would you consider inserting build challenges? If you remember Allen Interactions official Macromedia Authorware books, they had brainteasers. You would go through the regular walkthrough, but then at the end of a chapter, a brainteaser would be inserted that would require you to apply the skills that you should have picked up by going through the walkthrough. I found these to be enormously engaging and helpful. Almost no books teaching software use this technique.

If you recall (or have any idea what I am referring to), these brainteasers would show you a finished construction and then challenge you to build it. If you just couldn't quite figure it out, the answer was on the next page. Sometimes, they even threw in "extra bonus challenges" that required you to stretch your understanding even further to figure out how to make something work.

This really helps to get past the passive "follow my lead" walkthrough style that even a monkey could follow, and throws down the gauntlet by asking the reader to expend some actual brainpower trying to figure out how to make something work.
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