A new, intuitive platform lets educators design their online courses—easily
As an educator, it’s hard to please today’s tech-savvy students with PowerPoints and lecture-on-video—but those are exactly the kinds of tools available for educators who don’t have time to learn online learning design 101.
That is, until now.
Coming out of beta today, an online content creation platform called Versal is quickly gaining traction with educators in 59 countries interested in creating online lessons to support dynamic teaching methods, such as flipped learning, blended learning, MOOC creation, and fully online learning.
“My school is very interested in flipped learning classrooms, but I didn’t feel comfortable making videos myself or taking over PowerPoints,” said Steven Iannuccilli, a science and technology teacher at New York’s Xavier High School. “Versal gave me the idea to reinvent myself and get away from the typical PowerPoint lesson that I normally do, and to make it more organized and academic then, say, a blog. Without Versal, I probably wouldn’t have tried flipped learning because of the uncomfortableness of hearing and seeing myself on a podcast.”
(Next page: How Versal works; an open platform for integration)
“We’re trying to solve a real dilemma,” said Gregor Freund, co-founder and CEO at Versal. “Every day, millions of teachers stand in front of 30-40 students, students from the ‘app generation.’ They’re incredibly tech-savvy and demand information at their fingertips. Educators tend to think that online learning should be left to a production designer, because they don’t have the time or skills to use complicated software—and they wouldn’t be wrong! Most educators also don’t have the budget to hire an online content designer.”
Freund continued, saying the he wants Versal’s capabilities to inspire a “cultural shift in thinking,” allowing teachers and professors to view themselves as online learning designers thanks to this “intuitive” platform for creating online curricula as they see fit. “Videos and slide decks no longer make the grade. Online assignments have to be interactive. Versal empowers any teacher, trainer or online expert—without any coding skills—to easily create and customize incredibly dynamic and effective lessons.”
“Versal is not the only tool I use, nor is the Internet,” explained Iannuccilli. “I don’t know if I would give myself the moniker of ‘Online Learning Designer,’ [but] I do feel that Versal is an online tool that allows me to communicate information to my students in such a way that will excite their interest in science as well as better their understanding of science, and that is my job. If that makes me an ‘Online Learning Designer’ then so be it.”
Like WordPress, but for online learning
A course creator platform, Versal’s major benefits for educators include:
- The ability to drag and drop text, images, notes, and more onto a blank canvas.
- A completely open platform that allows for the use of multiple third-party gadgets, such as Quizlets, Google Docs, Prezis, SketchUp 3D diagrams, etc. The open platform also allows for any generic embed.
- The ability to incorporate videos, surveys, quizzes, diagrams, and countless other tools to make courses more engaging.
- Integration with major LMS solutions, such as Schoology, Blackboard, and Canvas; as well as the ability to receive analytics [both functionalities available with a Pro account].
An example of an embeddable SketchUp 3D diagram:
Next page: How teachers are using it
“The way to think about the platform is in three types of functionalities: basic functionality like text and video; advanced with timelines and diagrams; and views into other worlds by incorporating tools like Prezi and SketchUp,” said Freund. “However, even though there are lots of tools, we make sure to limit text and design formatting so that educators don’t get carried away. Sometimes when you have too much going on, it doesn’t look good on mobile devices.”
A pro account additionally allows users to access embedded assessment information, track student progress, and integrate with LMS functions.
All about Versal:
“Another great perk is that Versal allows creators to collaborate on content—like a Google Doc but for online content,” noted Freund.
Users can download all content created on Versal, since content is hosted on Versal’s server, and anything created on Versal can be embedded via code or link [some of these capabilities are included as part of the pro account].
“I love the fact that I can embed quizzes into my lesson,” said Iannuccilli. “These quizzes serve many different roles. For example, it gives the students immediate feedback on what they just learned about. Also, I am able to use the quizzes to make sure that they are completing the assignment by setting the lesson up in a way that doesn’t allow the student to move forward in the lesson unless they take and pass the quiz with a grade that I set as a standard—this really gives me a good idea of who is doing the work and who is not. I also like the deeper diagram gadget, because I love the idea that you can take an image and add pertinent info to it so the student can understand the image better, and then the student can use it as a practice quiz as well; like fancy flash cards.”
Iannuccilli says that, on average, he spends 2-to-3 hours creating a Versal lesson for his flipped classroom course, and 15-30 minutes for creating assessments. “I have been teaching for 10 years, so I have piled up many resources through the years. I would assume a newer teacher might need some more time to find and create their assessments.”
Upgrades coming out of beta
Along with the company’s out-of-beta announcement, Versal touted its new partnership with Wolfram Research and the appointment of Stephen Wolfram to Versal’s Board of Directors. The two companies are working together to offer teachers direct access to Wolfram’s catalog of interactive math and science exercises via Versal gadgets. Read more.
This partnership isn’t the only one, however, as Discovery Education announced the launch of five newly-created interactive training courses powered by Versal. The courses aim to guide educators through features of Discovery Ed’s digital resources; and each course includes video overviews and step-by-step guides created exclusively by members of the Discovery Educator Network (DEN).
Versal also announced a course and lesson management console design refresh, including making organization features, invitations, and publishing options more “discoverable.” In addition, the Versal.com homepage has been overhauled to better reflect Versal’s “focus and commitment to the content creation process,” said the company.
In the future, “I would like to see more opportunities to change the format of the lesson,” said Iannuccilli, “maybe [have] different themes and colors, since every lesson feels kind of the same to me. As far as functions and tools go, anything they add will just enhance the Versal experience for me.”
When asked if he would recommend the product to colleagues, Iannuccilli said he would and already has. “I showed a couple of them to my Dean of Faculty as well as some colleagues and they seemed very interested in checking it out. I also showed it to a graduate class that I am in, and from what I understand, about a third of the class has signed up and given Versal a shot. I wouldn’t target tech-savvy people, necessarily, but it would help if the people you are pitching it to know how to use a computer.”
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