Faculty working with Languages which are written right-to-left still often find authoring tools like Articulate Storyline and Adobe Captivate frustrating. We recently assisted two of our faculty, who teach Arabic and Farsi, respectively, with creating some online instructional modules, and we were surprised to find persistent difficulties with handling right-to-left text. Storyline 2 is simply unable to accommodate it. Characters appear correctly, but in reverse order. Captivate 9 can handle pasted-in text, but our faculty member has still run into problems entering text directly via her keyboard (we haven’t yet confirmed what the issue is exactly, but her example includes embedded left-to-right text, as well). Creating right-to-left crossword puzzles, a commonly-used language practice tool, simply cannot  be done with current tools.

Screen Shot of Arabic text in Adobe Captivate 9

Screen Shot of Arabic text in Adobe Captivate 9

The right-to-left text problem is emblematic of a wider range of problems language faculty can run into when trying to author content for their students with these types of tools. Language faculty have long been drivers of innovation in interactive learning content, because they need to engage students in a variety of ways, using media creatively and expressively, reacting to multi-modal responses (words and/or images dragged about, listened to and spoken about, etc.), but these tools often cannot accommodate their needs. As a result, they are forced to cobble together innovative lessons by using bits of functionality from various online tools that offer specific functions, such as iSpraak, for accepting and scoring spoken input. This means students are often logging in to more than one tool, keeping them resident in different browser tabs, and trying to co-ordinate their work across them, cutting and pasting terms, or turning in assigned work across different URLs.

This is obviously not a desirable situation. The cognitive load on both students and teachers is unacceptable. It interferes with the practices that the interactive pieces are meant to enable. That teachers will sometimes go to the lengths described to create a unique interactive experience for their students speaks to the need, the potential, and their desire and ability to innovate, but the missing piece is still in the technology. Basic Web technologies can handle these things. HTML can handle right-to-left text, it can show video and co-ordinate it in a variety of ways with other media on the page. Javascript tools have proliferated over the past several years to offer an impressive array of possibilities for interactions. Web application frameworks make it easy to assemble applications to track and report on a variety of student work, and even to co-ordinate work across applications, through API’s. All the pieces are in place. What is still needed is a relatively simple set of tools with which faculty can assemble these functions, and modify and direct them towards their specific needs.

Tools like Storyline and Captivate are designed for and driven by corporate training needs, which are often less inventive and require less deep thought from users than the kinds of interactive content that faculty have been trying to achieve. It is time for a new set of tools, designed for and driven by faculty and teachers and what they want to accomplish. There is not an economic incentive for this to happen through industry. The revolution may or may not be televised, but it will have to be funded.