The following report (July 27, 2015) is in response to the impending closure of myBrainShark.com, a free online service for uploading a PowerPoint (PPT) presentation, adding audio to each slide, and then publishing in a Moodle course.
myBrainShark is the free version of a larger enterprise-scale marketing and training solution called BrainShark [ http://www.brainshark.com/ ]. myBrainShark is popular in higher education online courses because of its easy interface and its inherent ability to present instructor presence.
THE BAD NEWS: There is no perfect free replacement for this product, and access to the main BrainShark.com enterprise presentation products requires a substantial financial commitment.
Since the myBrainShark Web tool does not occupy the same priority of a core course delivery system (such as the LMS, e-portfolio system, or media streaming system), only free products were reviewed here as a possible replacement.
Pedagogical motive: The purpose for finding a replacement solution is driven by the desire for online courses to include the kinds of media that promote instructor presence, and which convey information with the greatest potential for clarity and meaning. We have continuously encouraged instructors to “move beyond PowerPoint” so that their courses are more personalized and less like a correspondence course.
Narrated slideshows, although not a perfect tool for instruction, serve as a way for information to be presented with the benefit of the the instructor’s expertise, the learning context and professional relevance – factors which are not present in the learner’s experience of reviewing a downloaded static PPT file.
Potential replacements: There are a few replacement candidates presented below that can adequately serve the same function and purpose as myBrainShark, though their approaches are somewhat different. Some may require more or less technical support from Ed Tech staff to help initiate instructors and troubleshoot problems depending on the instructor’s skills and experience. However, none of the tools are significantly complex.
Recommended course of action
Since all myBrainShark account holders have presumably been notified directly from BrainShark of the impending sunset of the myBrainShark system, the need for an alternative solution should not be a surprise to our instructors. However, we should take the lead in showing instructors the various replacement options to consider. We do not want instructors to fall back to using static PPT files in their courses.
- Contact all instructors via email whose courses have used a myBrainShark presentation to repeat the message that this product will be terminating. We are able to generate a report from Moodle to identify courses with myBrainShark content and their instructors according to any date range.
- Indicate to instructors that there are several options to choose from that might serve as a replacement, but that the best method for choosing one should include a discussion with the Rich Media Specialist. Since each instructor’s needs, goals, and skills vary, an appropriate solution should be offered.
- Provide guidance and support to instructors as they move to a new communication system.
- Monitor courses currently offered for Fall 2015 and Winter 2016 to identify any instances of myBrainShark media, and notify instructors as they appear.
Replacements for myBrainShark fall into two classifications: Slideshow-based and Video-based. For a more detailed explanation of each platform and with analysis, please view Appendix A.
myBrainShark is a slideshow-based system (as are the two recommendations below) which means that they display slide images, but not motion video. As such, they are “light” in terms of bandwidth use (optimal for mobile device users). Presentations can be accessed through a direct link or embedded in a course page.
For dirt-simple slideshow and audio narration: Penxy – http://penxy.com/. It does only one thing, without any bells and whistles. If slides and audio are all that are needed, this will do. One potential risk factor with this system is that it is new and could, like many other online Web tools, disappear without notice or change to a different pricing model. If a longterm library of presentations is needed, proceed with caution. Second, the platform does not accommodate an accompanying transcript, so a separate transcript file will be needed if used as course material. It is not free, but charges do not apply until the user attains more than 5 hours of cumulative media. After 5 hours, the charge is $1.49 per hour, per month.
For more features and design options: Prezi – https://prezi.com/. Prezi is a familiar name in the online presentation segment, it is a stable platform, and is used in a long list of online courses. However, there are two significant caveats: (1) Prezi is not designed for uploading a PPT file as a basis for the presentation. Slides (or “steps”) are created from scratch, which will require that the user export their PPT file as a collection of JPEG files, and then upload them as images into Prezi. (2) Audio narration can be added to each “step”, but only as a pre-recorded audio file. There is no method for recording audio through a browser interface on-the-go as was facilitated in myBrainShark.
Video-based systems are primarily designed around a motion video recording with additional media added to it, either in place of the video image (while audio continues to play), or beside the video playback panel. Video-based systems must be mobile compatible to be considered here.
For dirt-simple slideshow and video/audio narration: MoveNote – https://www.movenote.com/. This is a free Google Drive add-on where a PPT file is uploaded, and then a webcam video is synchronized to each slide in realtime. It cannot natively accommodate captions, but the final product can be downloaded as a video file and then uploaded to YouTube where it can be captioned by uploading a transcript (no manual sync needed).
For interactive multimedia: Zaption – http://www.zaption.com/tours. Zaption is a platform that combines a YouTube video with user-added slides that can be an image, text, a question with a submission box, multiple-choice quiz, and other features. It accommodates captions, tracks user responses, and provides analytics. There is a free account with limited features, but adequate projects can be created with their basic tool set. An LTI integration option is available for fee-based Pro accounts.
However, for all of Zaption’s features, creating a pure narrated slideshow is not easily done since the editing tools do not provide fine grain alignment of one image slide to the next. Rather, it is best to envision Zaption as a video presentation with multimedia enhancements. If all that is needed is a basic narrated slideshow, Zaption may be overkill.
From a pedagogical perspective, Zaption’s features support the educational research that interactive video produces less mind wandering and better recall, if used appropriately.
Options not considered:
Some options were not considered as a replacement for my BrainShark because they did not meet specific needs, requirements, or were logistically unfeasible:
- Cost: There is currently no budget specified for an enterprise multimedia presentation solution, nor a systemwide program in place to reimburse instructors for out-of-pocket license expenses. Only free solutions were considered at this point in time.
- Complex audio narration process: Some solutions required multiple steps to produce a final product which were deemed not suitable for recommendation.
- Mobile incompatibility: Knovio is a video-based solution, and its user interface is good. However, it is based on Flash, which is not mobile compatible.
- Desktop-based systems: It is assumed that instructors will be doing the bulk of their course development work on a desktop or laptop environment. It would be unfair for the College to recommend a replacement solution that worked exclusively on an iPad.
- Screencast applications: While these applications will work, our experience with screencasting applications suggests that supporting a platform where variations in user equipment and operating systems could cause more support problems to emerge than would be desired. Since captioning would then require a conversion process to upload to YouTube or Kaltura, these tools were bypassed for consideration for the context of solving our immediate myBrainShark problem.
- Proprietary PowerPoint methods: Recent versions of the PowerPoint software in Microsoft Office include the ability to record audio to each slide and export the presentation as a self-contained PPSX file. This method will work successfully provided the end user also has a recent version of PowerPoint, or an OpenOffice equivalent. there is a standalone PowerPoint Viewer application available from Microsoft, but it is for PC only (no Mac version). This report does not recommend requiring all instructors and students comply with a proprietary file whose licensed software is not automatically provided by the college.
- Multimedia and Bulletin Boards: There are a few online applications where images, text, audio, and video can be combined into a single multimedia artifact, such as Padlet and Glogster. These are useful tools, but fall outside the basic needs of providing a simple narrated slideshow.
- Online slideshow-only (no audio or video): There numerous online applications for uploading a PPT file or creating a basic online slideshow. Those without the affordances of adding audio or video synchronizing were eliminated. We take it as a given that instructors do not need an additional slideshow-only application beyond PowerPoint.
Appendix A: Top Replacement Recommendations – Details and Analysis
Prezi – https://prezi.com/
Strengths: Prezi is already a known entity in the educational field, and has been actively used in online courses. Its strengths include:
- Transcript capabilities.
- Ability to animate images in ways that are useful for conveying certain kinds of information, such as relationships and orientation.
- Ability to add YouTube videos into a “step”
- Ability to add pre-recorded audio files to a “step”.
- Downloadable and sharable.
- Editing capabilities that do not require republishing wherever it is embedded or linked. This is useful if instructors copy course content but need to revise certain details in an embedded Prezi.
- Mobile compatible.
- Multiple privacy levels are available.
Course Integration: Course integration should be done using a direct external link to a presentation, or by using the embed code feature to place it within a Moodle course page (must be set to Public mode to enable embedding).
Shortcomings: The composing process does not allow for uploading a pre-made PowerPoint file, and then editing it. All content is made from scratch. However, if a PPT file is exported into separate JPEG images, individual files can be uploaded into Prezi steps to reproduce the same effect.
The animated style of Prezi presentations can be annoying if the animation itself does not serve a useful purpose in conveying information. For example, if a slideshow is a series of steps through a building schematic or conceptual schema, the narrative, unbroken stream of frame animation may help viewers to understand relationships between objects or ideas with less effort than a sequence of unconnected slides. However, if the presentation is a simple series of text slides, the animation may appear more as a distraction than an aid to understanding.
Instructors with lower levels of rich media skills may find Prezi to be confusing since it is not quite the same interface as PPT. Some instructor support would likely be needed if Prezi is promoted as the replacement alternative to myBrainShark.
Whereas myBrainShark enabled users to record audio directly into a slide using a browser-based interface, Prezi requires audio narration files to be produced beforehand, and then uploaded into specific steps in the presentation. Some instructors may need assistance in producing audio files if they have not done so before.
Penxy – http://penxy.com/
Strengths: Penxy has very limited interface. It does one thing with no bells or whistles: upload a PPT, PPTX, or PDF file, and start recording your voice. When the recording is done, it serves the user a share link. Done.
- Share link and embed capabilities, without restrictions.
- Mobile iPhone/iPad app for creating presentations.
Course Integration: Course integration should be done using a direct external link to the presentation, or by using the embed code feature to place it within a Moodle course page.
Shortcomings: It appears the developers intended this application to be very limited so that it stays simple. If all that is need is create a narrated slideshow, then that’s all this system will do.
Penxy CANNOT do the following:
- Edit uploaded slides to change the order or add/delete slides.
- Re-record audio for an individual slide.
- Set privacy settings (pro version only).
- Add captioning or transcript.
- Integrate video slides from YouTube.
Penxy is not totally free, but it is possible to use it enough without incurring a significant expense. The billing is based on the total duration of all of the user’s presentations. Penxy bills only for those narrated presentations that are actually stored and available online. Presentations can deleted some to save money.
Pro (also includes extra capabilities)
5 hours for free
No free hours
$1.49 per month for each hour over 5
$1.99 per month unlimited, but requires pre-approved credit card authorization of $1,199
The Pro version does not appear to be a viable option for instructors unless they are willing to comply with the pre-approved credit card requirement.
There is a potential risk factor in relying on Penxy over the long term. Penxy is a relatively new company (2012 or so) and there is no guarantee that they will be around in a year unless they are profitable or bought up by a more established company. If it is critical to have a library of presentations that will be used frequently over a couple of years, then there is a certain amount of risk in investing time into this system. However, if the instructor feels they will always be creating new content, and one’s works are somewhat disposable after the course is done, then there isn’t much to worry about.
Generally, all options below are viable from the perspective of ease of use, platform development maturity, cost (none), and strong likelihood that faculty will be able to use the system independently (based on our subjective judgment of working directly with faculty to use other rich media tools).
Zaption – http://www.zaption.com/tours
Strengths: Zaption is a powerful online platform that includes features most useful for teaching and learning online:
- Captioning capabilities
- Image, text, and quiz slides are added either next to your video or on top of it.
- The quiz/question slides (which can be set to stop video playback until completed, as seen above) can help to maintain attention and provide opportunities for student feedback at the moment they are thinking about it.
- Prompts viewers to post their name prior to viewing so that you can view analytics with an identity.
Zaption integrates with YouTube, so an instructor can upload to their YT account and then import the video URL into a presentation. Adding captions can be done in either YouTube or within Zaption. The YT method is less labor intensive – if a transcript is uploaded, YT will automatically sync it to the video. In Zaption, a preformatted caption file (such an SRT file created in Camtasia) would be uploaded.
Creating enhanced media on top of or next to the video is a matter of dragging and dropping icons into the video play field – very simple. However, some preparation will be needed ahead of time to format images or slides. Image editing in Zaption is limited to positioning and rough scaling.
From a pedagogical perspective, there is research to support that viewers are more likely to remain engaged and retain information when the video presentation includes opportunities for viewers to interact and respond actively to the video stream. In an experiment involving quizzing students across several intervals of a recorded presentation video, Schacter & Szpunar  found that students’ minds wandered less during recorded lectures, they took notes on more slides, and were able to recall more information correctly. Students also reported that interactive videos were “less mentally taxing” to watch, perhaps because the effort to process and retain information was segmented.
The Zaption platform supports the ability to create the kinds of interactive learning experience described in the above research.
Course Integration: Course integration should be done using a direct link to the presentation. Even though it is possible to embed a presentation within a Moodle page (like myBrainShark or YouTube), it requires a minimum page width of 980px, which is more than the standard page width in Moodle courses (and the embed code cannot be manually modified to change it).
Note that there is also an LTI integration option that can work in the Moodle environment: https://zaption.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/204422115-Moodle-LTI-Integration
Users with a Pro account are also granted their own individual LTI key, which could be integrated into Moodle with the assistance of Ed Tech staff: https://zaption.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/203065715-LTI-Integration
Shortcomings: If the desired presentation needs only to be a pure slideshow with audio narration (no video), the Zaption editing interface doesn’t accommodate this very well. It is difficult to align and time consecutive slides to make accurate seamless edits. The free account has limited tools. However, even without a Pro account, it is possible to produce sufficient presentations for a course.
 – Schacter, Daniel L.; Szpunar, Karl K., (2015). Enhancing attention and memory during video-recorded lectures. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, Vol 1(1), Mar 2015, 60-71. Retrieved 7-6-2015 from: http://www.researchgate.net/publication/272365169_Enhancing_Attention_and_Memory_During_Video-Recorded_Lectures
MoveNote – https://www.movenote.com/
Strengths: MoveNote is a free add-on to the user’s personal Google Drive account (users will need a Google account of some kind to access the Google Drive area). Once the add-on is installed, creating a new presentation is a matter of selecting it among the other options in your Google Drive account for creating a new presentation.
Assembling a MoveNote presentation involves uploading a PPT presentation and then activating the video/audio capabilities in the user’s computer to record the video accompaniment. It is also possible to pre-record a video, upload it, and then play it back while the user advance the slides to match your recording.
Course Integration: The end result of a MoveNote production is a synchronized, self-contained piece of media that can be integrated into a course as either a link or embedded within a Moodle page. There are options to scale the presentation to fit within Moodle page dimensions, and a fullscreen button is available for students to use if the details are too small.
Weaknesses: Other than uploading and recording, there are very few bells and whistles in MoveNote. It is designed to be turnkey, so editing after recording is not available.
Captioning is not available natively within Movenote. However, the user can click on a download button to produce a self-contained .MP4 video file, which can then be uploaded to the user’s personal YouTube channel, with a transcript for captioning uploaded afterwards. YouTube will then automatically synchronize the transcript to into captions as best it can, with usable results.
KnovioWeb – http://www.knovio.com/knovio-web/
Strengths: KnovioWeb is a proprietary cloud-based system that is the “little sibling” to the more robust enterprise scale KnowledgeVision.com presentation system. Like MoveNote, the process involves uploading a PPT presentation, enabling the user’s computer’s webcam and audio, and then manually advancing slides as the user records.
The production process includes the ability replace video media on an individual slide basis, though the results are imperfect – especially if the speaker advances a slide while in the middle of sentence.
Weaknesses: In this review, only the cloud-based version was tested. It produced a final product that is Flash-based. The presentation would work sufficiently in a desktop environment, but would be inaccessible to students with mobile devices. There is a mobile app version of Knovio which produces mobile-compatible products, but we will assume that the majority of instructors who intend to produce a presentation will be using a PC or Mac laptop/desktop device.