One of the best kept secrets in our industry is the line of products made by iSpring. Their authoring tools have a reputation for solid-engineering. They provide lots of functionality for creating online PowerPoint courses in Flash. And they are priced to fit most budgets. (Note: This article hasn’t been updated so the latest product may now differ from this description.)
After installation, the iSpring Suite toolbar displays as a tab in the PowerPoint ribbon. You’ll find all the tools here for publishing, managing the presentation, recording media, adding SWF files, building quizzes and creating interactions.
Managing the Slides
When working in iSpring Pro, you manage the course properties through the Presentation Explorer shown below. Here you can modify the slide title, hierarchy, visibility, method of advancing, duration, and layout. You can also add background music and create a looping playback.
Recording and Adding Media
As to media, you can record video through a webcam, record and import audio and add a YouTube video if your course is online on a public server.
Most of the media functionality is handled through the Manage Narration tool. Here you’ll find an intuitive interface for expanding or contracting the narration along the timeline to place things where you want. This makes it easy to let one audio file spread across several slides (see below). You can also sync an audio track with video and sync with actions on the screen.
Although you can record a webcam video and add a published Flash file, getting other video formats to work is a little tricky. You can import AVI, WMV, MPG, and MP4 files through the Manage Narration tool or through PowerPoint’s Insert Menu. I believe the latter is your best option. But you also need to install a free codec pack to make these video formats run in your published course.
The iSpring knowledge base recommends installing the free FFMPEG or K-Lite software. If your courses require lots of video, I suggest downloading iSpring’s free trial version to see if you can make this work. I’d say this is iSpring Pro’s weakest point, though if you don’t need video it’s not an issue. Although I realize there are licensing issues, I’m hoping a future release will handle FLV video with a built-in codec.
Kinetics is iSpring’s interaction builder. When you buy the suite, it’s integrated into the toolbar but also works as a standalone tool. So far it has four interactions. It could use just a few more.
The 3D Book creates one of those Flash books where you drag to turn a page. The Directory allows you to create references, resources and glossaries. This seems quite useful for providing additional information for learners to explore on their own. The FAQ interaction can be used for any type of question and answer content. And finally, the Timeline interaction allows you to add content in a chronological format.
iSpring QuizMaker is part of the the suite or works as a standalone test and survey creation tool. You’ll probably appreciate the variety of question types it provides. In addition to the standard ones you’d expect, you’ll find quite a few others, shown in the toolbar below.
The Streamline Player is the skin and set of controls where playback occurs. You can access it through the Publish button. Here you’ll find numerous settings and options for customizing the look and feel. I like the layout and organization of this dialog window. It’s easy to understand and use, with a drop down menu in the upper left for selecting each category of options.
iSpring Pro is one of many authoring tools that convert PowerPoint to SWF (the Flash format). At first, the publishing options seem to include what you would expect: publish to CD, Web, iSpring Online or to a Learning Management System with the standard SCORM options. On closer examination, though, you’ll find more unique options, such as publishing each slide as a separate SWF file; generating an EXE; and access to a variety of compression and protection settings.
iSpring Suite has much of the functionality that many eLearning designers and developers are seeking. It’s a a good place to start creating things for your portfolio. You can find it at iSpring Solutions and you can download the free version at iSpring Free.