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Adobe Flex: Article

Mobile Learning with Flash Lite 2 and Adobe Captivate

In just a few years long-distance learning, or Electronic Learning (e-learning), has become a reality

In just a few years long-distance learning, or Electronic Learning (e-learning), has become a reality. The problem with distance and having to be in a certain place at a certain time has been eliminated with the use of the personal computer and the Web.

Nowadays, hundreds of millions of people are able to receive information as they walk along the street - with a mobile phone.

The use of the mobile phone as a device to deliver content for distance learning, Mobile Learning (m-learning), has passed the experimental stage and received excellent feedback from tutors and students.

The mobile's CPU power is growing monthly. With increasing processor speed and larger memories in which to store data, the mobile phone is truly a portable PC, leaving little to be desired from its big brother, insomuch as it can be used to carry out complex programs, load multi-media elements such as audio and video, speed up a browser, and surf the Web.

In the technological process of the mobile phone, Adobe Flash Lite, the player that enables us to enjoy the content created by Flash, has taken an enormous step forward. We all know the characteristics that have made Flash famous on the Web and we have also seen and used the excellent didactic content created with this technology, which lends itself so successfully as an instrument for learning, thanks to its interactivity and multi-media.

Now the second version of Flash Lite offers an efficacious technology for creating content for the mobile device, providing support for ActionScript 2, the possibility of launching videos in 3GP format, loading and parsing XML files, saving data on the mobile, and loading external images and sounds.

Flash Lite's popularity is growing daily and a team of developers has created a variety of Flash content for mobile devices: games, utility, RSS reader, screensaver, animated wallpapers, etc. To see what can be done with Flash, the starting point is certainly the Flash Lite Exchange (www.adobe.com/cfusion/exchange/index.cfm?view=sn310), which picks up many Flash Lite applications.

The greater limits of the diffusion of Flash applications are shown by its penetration, which increases exponentially thanks to the new mobile devices that are coming out (especially, but not limited to, Nokia S60 and Sony Ericsson) and have already embedded the player.

Adobe has other software that enables long-distance teaching and the creation of didactic material, for example, Captivate, Director, and Authorware.

Adobe Captivate, in particular, is the best for creating learning objects in the form of interactive tutorials with audio comments, the simulation of software obtained with the desktop recording, and quizzes and interactive content that allow the tracing of data (SCORM and AICC compliant). This program is for creating, in a speedy and efficacious manner, software simulations using the desktop recording features and the recording and synchronization of the audio, and support of the content, but this is not all. It is, in fact, possible to make this content interactive and to ask the user to participate actively in certain operations, for example, by repeating a determined operation or sequence of clicks that has been explained to the user and to receive feedback and a grade. Activities like this and quizzes with questions and answers can be traced in any LMS (Learning Management System), AICC, or SCORM compliant. (For more information on this topic, read "An Overview of Tracking Options in Captivate" on the Adobe Developer Center [www.adobe.com/devnet/captivate/articles/lms_output.html].)

Used separately, Captivate and Flash Lite produce excellent work. In this article we shall try to see what the possible integrations between these two instruments are and if it is possible to effectively create Flash Lite's learning objects for the mobile phone.

Learning Object with Captivate for Flash Lite
In creating a learning object for a device such as the mobile phone using Captivate, we must bear in mind the target on which we are going to visualize the movie. Apart from setting some options in the exportation phase, which allows the compatibility with Flash Lite 2, we must first consider the reduced dimensions of the screen and the different measures that vary from despotic to device. There is an article on my blog that examines more thoroughly: "Nokia S60 platform UI screen resolutions for Flash Lite" (http://casario.blogs.com/mmworld/2006/05/nokia_s60_platf.html) and for this example a screen resolution of 170x208 pixels will be used. This is the classic S60 UI resolution supported from the first S60 devices, the Nokia7650 phone through to the latest Nokia3250 music phone. To have a complete list of S60 phones Nokia has created a site dedicated to these models: S60.com

Creating a tutorial with Captivate is easy and amusing. On opening the program you'll see the Set Up, which shows the basic operations you can carry out.

Under the option Record new movie, select Record or create new movie. Now the recording stage begins and the window to select the kind of movie you want to create opens.

Since we have to create content for a particular device, we have to choose the precise size and position for the recording window. The successive display will allow us to insert the dimensions of the recording rectangle, 176x208 pixels, and to position it on the screen.

In the example provided with this article, you will find a recorded tutorial demonstrating how to send an SMS message using a common mobile device. (To download the example code, go to the online version of this article at http://webddj.sys-con.com.) For this demonstration, the Remote S60 mobile application, which clones the screen of the mobile phone on the PC desktop, will be used. Remote S60 helps create screenshots and even allows you to record AVI movies from the screen of your mobile phone.

Before starting with the registration, deselect the Record Narration check box. By clicking Record, the recording will start automatically and can be stopped by pressing the DEL key on the PC. When the recording is finished, Captivate will process the recording and open the slides captured inside its IDE.

The final result of the recorded example is in the file sendsms.cp and is made up of 14 slides. Captivate allows us to edit and modify the captured images that it has automatically carried out. To edit we must go to the Edit tab on the right of the Storyboard tab. This will display all the slides on the left, and on the right the details of the selected slides and a Timeline (see Figure 1). You can work on this to impose the viewing times of the various topics.

The software allows us to insert Text Captions among the various images of Captivate to support the captured images.

From Captivate's Insert menu select Text Caption to create a text box. It is possible to choose from different types of graphics and to set dimensions and a type font (see Figure 2). A Text Caption of the Captivate Blue type with black Arial font, dimension 12px bold, will be inserted in the example.

When the editing phase is finished, the movie can be exported. After several tries, I managed to understand the options that have to be disabled in order for the movie to be used by Flash Lite 2. Pay attention to the following operations.

To export a movie, go to the file menu and select Publish. A window will open, allowing you to choose the type of exportation. For the example, the movie will be exported in Flash (swf). Let's name the movie and decide on which folder to save it in. In the lower right of the window, Publish is the Preferences key that allows access to the advanced options of exportation to which we can make the changes necessary to render the movie compatible with Flash Lite 2 (see Figure 3).

On the first tab of the Preferences window, Start and End, disable the option Loading Screen that automatically runs a preloader that is awaiting the loading of the entire movie (see Figure 4).

The next tab, Preferences, is the one that contains the options most compatible with Flash Lite. Uncheck Advanced movie compression, 508 compliance, Compress compiled SWF file, Include Breeze Metadata (this option is present only if you have Breeze Presenter installed on the machine) (see Figure 5).

The game is over. Click on OK and confirm all the options. The final result is sendsms_final.swf.

With this setting it's impossible to have any type of e-learning output or to track any data generated by the users. This information is contained in metadata inside the file SWF that Flash Lite 2 did not like.

Load Captivate Movies into Flash Lite
The sendsms_final.swf file that you just created is now ready to be copied onto the mobile device and sent.

Make sure your mobile is compatible with Flash Lite 2 and that the player has already been installed. It is possible to see the compatibility of the devices on Adobe's Web site, under the Mobile section (www.adobe.com/mobile) and download Flash Lite 2 from Adobe's store for $10 U.S. (https://store1.adobe.com/cfusion/store/index.cfm? store=OLS-US&view=ols_prod&category=/Applications/FlashLite2).

Use the Bluetooth connection or the lead USB with such software as Nokia PC Suite to transfer the SWF file onto the mobile. Once it has been copied, select it to send to the Flash Player and see it loaded.

The only inconvenience is that the movie will not load in Full Screen; you will be forced to choose the option of the Soft Key on the left.

Let's create a short stub movie that consists of a simple Flash Lite 2 shell with a button that sends the movie.

We shall open the Flash 8 Professional (make sure that the Flash Lite 2 Update for Flash Professional 8 is installed) and from the Start Page create a new project for the mobile by selecting the line Global Phones from Create from Template and choosing Flash Lite1.1-Symbian Series 60 Template.

A new project will be created and the dimensions of the stage are set at 176x208 pixels, those of the screen of a modelS60 mobile device.

We'll now create a button-type movie clip on the first frame of the Timeline and name it load_btn. Then we insert the following ActionScript code on the first frame at the level ActionScript on the Timeline:

load_btn.onPress=function()
}
       loadMovie("sendsns_final.swf",1):
}

The final code on the first frame will be the following:

fscommanda(FullScreen",true);
_focusrect=false;
load_btn.onPress=function(){
       loadMovie("sendsms_final.swf",1):
}
stop();

Save the file and name it main.fla.

The only thing left to do is to export the movie, launching Publish Settings under the File menu, make sure that the version from the exported file is set to Flash Lite 2 as in Figure 6.

Before copying the two files (main.swf and sendswf_final.swf) into the mobile, test the movie inside the Flash 8 IDE. From Commands menu item select Test Movie (or Command/Contrast-Return shortcut). The Flash 8 Mobile Emulator will be launched to simulate the movie as it will appear on the mobile device.

The last step is to copy the files onto your device and run them.

Flash 8 Mobile Emulator Limits
If you wish to use Flash 8 to develop Flash Lite content, when you hit Command/Control-Return to test the movie, load the mobile emulator, which you can use to run and debug mobile applications in context, on your mobile handset of choice and see how the content behaves. One of the features I love is the ability to rotate the content on the emulated mobile screen 90 CW or CCW (from View menu). It's a very helpful tool because now you can test movies without physically moving them to your phone.

Don't forget that it's just an emulator and it can't:

  • Simulate FSCommand2 control
  • Simulate some handset attributes
  • Simulate performance
  • Simulate the mobile memory consumption
The Future of Mobile Learning
Mobile learning is a new frontier in long-distance learning. As in all new fields there are still a lot of things to discover and try out.

The idea of being able to optimize our time and of always having a device at hand that enables us to study at any moment during the day is indeed very interesting.

The topic becomes even more interesting the moment in which it is possible to use mobile technology, such as Flash Lite, integrated with software, such as Captivate or Flex, that allows us to create rich and interactive content and to involve the learner.

As Benjamin Franklin said: Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.

More Stories By Marco Casario

Marco Casario is CEO of Comtaste, a company devoted to develop Rich Internet Applications on the Web and for mobile devices.

He collaborates intensively with Adobe Italy as a speaker at conferences and as a consultant for Flash, Flex, and Flash Lite.

Learn more about Marco Casario at his blog http://casario.blogs.com. In 2005, Marco has founded Comtaste, a company dedicated to exploring new frontiers in Rich Internet Applications and the convergence between the web and the world of mobile devices — MobyMobile and YouThru are representative of their recent work. He is founder of the biggest worldwide Flash Lite User Group and of www.augitaly.com, a reference point for the Italian community of Adobe users, in which he carries out the role of Channel Manager for the section dedicated to Flex.

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