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Flash Applications

man swingingFrom simple animations to complex, interactive simulations, the potential applications of Flash are endless. As you evaluate existing projects and learn to use the software yourself, think about how these new skills can be applied to the creation of effective products.

As you consider the possibilities, think about the purpose of the project as well as possible formats. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is your project intended to entertain, inform, instruct, or persuade?
  • What pedagogical or persuasive techniques would work best for your content?
  • What approaches to organization and presentation match the needs of end users?
  • What elements (animation, interaction, multimedia) make the most sense?

When Flash first became popular, many of the applications were simply goofy cartoons and swirling graphics. Today, developers are also using Flash to create sophisticated programs that inform, instruct, and persuade. These more advanced applications require creators to think carefully about organization and presentation of materials, use of interactivity, and elements of multimedia to meet individual needs and interests. Flash projects have evolved to include sophisticated simulations and problem-solving software.

This page focuses on different approaches that can be taken when producing Flash projects. Keep in mind that a single project may include each of these areas. The following links take you to the resources on this page. Within each topic you'll find off-site examples.

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Flash provides tools for creating fun, attractive Flash projects. One of the most popular applications is entertainment. What makes a Flash movie entertaining? What motivates game players? Think about the value of entertainment and the features that attract end users.

Two categories will be explored: games and movies.

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Many of the online and CD-based games you see are produced with Flash. Games involve applying strategies to reach a goal. For example, you might match photographs to test your memory or move pieces around the screen to build a puzzle. More complex games may involve simulations or virtual adventures. All games share some of the same basic features. They generally contain buttons to start and go to instructions. Some have a practice area. Many games have levels and reward accomplishments.

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Explore the games at Orisinal : Morning Sunshine. This website contains simple, yet elegant games. What is a game? How are some of these games different from the popular video games? What do you like and dislike about specific approaches?

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Explore a few of the following PBS games for children and young adults.
Arthur Games
Between the Lions
Early Math: Grades 1 & 2
Maya & Miguel
Sesame Street
Sesame Workshop

Would you call them learning games? Are they entertainment, educational, or both? Why?

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Examine the structure of the Save the Egg game from the movie March of the Penguins. What are the elements of an effective game? Create your own plan for a game based on a book or movie.

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From animated banners on school or library websites to full-length movies, Flash is often used for producing projects intended to entertain. Flash projects can draw interest to a website, provide a humorous introduction to an idea, or simply provide dramatic visual and auditory experiences. Some examples of movies include splash introductions, flash banners, cartoons, short-subject movies, and music video.

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Explore the short instructional movies at Stop Bullying Now, Brainpop (you can only view 3 movies without a subscription or you can get a 14 day trial) or watch The Elements music video. Both use Flash as a tool to make learning interesting. What techniques do the developers use to make the Flash movies both entertaining and educational?

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Many Flash projects involve some form of information sharing. Libraries, museums, and government agencies often use Flash to develop informational resources of interest to their patrons. In many cases, an organization's mission may require the dissemination of information. The Internet provides a wonderful outlet for these unique projects.

When designing information-rich programs, consider the unique or special nature of the information you have to share. In other words, many local historical societies have photographs, diaries, and documents unavailable anywhere else in the world. How can Flash be used as a tool for sharing this unique information? Libraries and museums may contain data and resources unavailable in other regions of the world. Children and their teachers may be conducting experiments in their local nature preserve. Use Flash to share this information with others.

Two categories will be examined: information exploration and digital storytelling.

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Information Exploration

In some cases, a Flash project may simply disseminate information. The key to an effective information exploration project is organization and navigation. End users must be able to easily access and use the information. Interactive timelines, thumbnail graphics, maps, and other visual tools are often used to assist users in exploring information. Quality directions and intuitive navigation tools are essential. If they become lost or frustrated, they may quit or use another information resource. Consider the following types of information exploration materials:

  • Informational slide show
  • Interactive database
  • News sources
  • Reference materials
  • Virtual exhibits
  • Virtual field trips

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Explore the Anatomy of a Croc, A Prisoner's Sketchbook, Great Barrier Reef, Iraq Navigator, ISS - International Space Station, and Underground Adventures as examples of informational projects. Compare the organization and presentation of information in these projects. How are they alike and different? What tools are provided for navigation?

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Digital Storytelling

Sharing oral histories, retelling fables and fairy tales, creating electronic scrapbooks, and designing online travel logs, are just a few of the many ways Flash can be used for digital storytelling activities. Consider the following types of digital stories:

  • Digital travel logs
  • Personal histories
  • Electronic scrapbooks
  • Interactive stories and books
  • Oral and video histories

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Explore the following interactive storybooks.
ABC Book for Nonreaders
ABC Book for Early Readers
All About Sea Otters
Snow Babies
Aesop's Fables
Alphabet Action
Li'l Fingers
Star Fall

What features do they share? What considerations could be taken for nonreaders, non-English speakers, and users with special needs? Why is interactivity important? What other interactive elements could be added?

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Increasingly, Flash is being used as a tool for developing materials for teaching and learning. These materials may stand alone or be used in conjunction with the guidance of a teacher. From step-by-step instructions to complex simulations, instructional materials are intended to assist users in reaching a specific learning outcome.

As you explore Flash projects you find online, consider how they might be repurposed. Repurposing involves adapting a resources for a new activity. For example, the Fido Luggage project by Peter Yeadon might be used as part of a lesson to stimulate student thinking about inventions or advertising. It could also be used in a class teaching people how to use Flash as a tool for promoting their inventions.

Three areas will be explored: inquired-based activities, Q&A projects, and tutorials.

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Inquiry-based Activities

Inquiry-based approaches help users explore questions, conduct investigations, and solve problems. By providing an environment to analyze information, manipulate variables, examine relationships, and make decisions, users are asked to apply their skills to "real life" situations. This software is generally used after initial information exploration and instruction as part of application, review, or remediation.

Users are often provided with examples and activities, problems to solve, an encyclopedia of information, and lots of tools. The key to an effective inquiry-based environment is a high level of interaction and a sense of participation in "real life" activities.

The most effective inquiry-based environments are challenging without being overwhelming. In other words if users carefully follow the guidance provided, they'll be successful.

Simulations, virtual field trips, and mysteries can all be used to prepare students for a real field trip, experiment, or experience. On the other hand, they may also substitute for a "hands-on" experience that would be difficult to duplicate at home, in a library, or in a classroom. For example, activities that involve dangerous situations, time consuming processes, spending money, or "impossible" projects like an interstellar flight are good applications of the technology.

Simulations are often paired with elements of tutorials. They are particularly effective as a culminating activity after learners have basic skills in the concepts being addressed. Without background skills, the simulation may become a game rather than a meaningful learning experience where students can make informed decisions.

There are many types of simulations. Physical simulations involve students in using objects or machines such as microscopes or airplanes. Procedural simulations involve a series of actions or steps such as medical diagnosis or frog dissection. Situational simulations involve critical incidents within particular settings such as interactions with customers. Process simulations involve decision making skills related to topics such as economics, genetics, or geology. Users must choose among alternative paths.

Problem-solving software is intended to assist students in developing skills related to making effective decisions. Although similar to a simulation, more emphasis is placed on reasoning, logic, and critical thinking. Problem solving software generally involves a set of procedures to accomplish some type of goal. Students may identify a problem, plan an approach, gather information, develop strategies, test hypotheses, and develop plans of action during the program. In most cases, the program focuses on a core set of principles or strategies.

  • Decision making
  • Experiments
  • Mysteries
  • Problem Solving
  • Simulations

When selecting inquiry-based applications or designing your own, consider the amount of time you have to dedicate to the program. In particular, simulations can be time-consuming if done well. Ask yourself:

  • What do you want students to be able to do when they complete the experience?
  • Will students complete the simulation as individuals, in small groups, or as a class?
  • Will they be able to transfer their skills to new situations?
  • How will these skills relate to specific content area goals?
  • Is the content realistic enough to involve the students?
  • Does the activity really engage users in the content and address learning needs?
  • Will they really "get into" the simulation or simply treat it like a game? For example, does it make a difference that the students aren't responsible for real money or lives.

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Explore the following inquiry-based activities:
BBC Science Clips

Blobz Guide to Electric Circuits
Edheads Simple Machines
Edheads Weather
Fly the Glider
Make a Tidepool Interactive Game
Nobel Prize Games
Out on a Limb

Using the criteria above, evaluate the quality of these inquiry-based activities.

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Q&A Projects

Although the Question and Answer (Q&A) approach can be used to simply facilitate information sharing, it can also be used to reinforce concepts and allow opportunities for learners to practice skills.

Drill and practice software was the first widespread application of computers in learning. Other than fancier "bells and whistles", many of today's approaches have changed very little since the 1960s. Although some drill and practice applications contain age-appropriate levels that allow children to progress at their own pace, many are simply a series of traditional multiple choice questions.

Although some Q&A programs provide instruction in addition to practice, they aren't intended to replace initial instruction. Instead, these programs are developed to support information exploration or promote review. The strength of these projects is their ability to provide endless practice and immediate feedback to meet the individual needs of end users. Many of the new Q&A approaches provide fun situations, animation, graphics, modeling, and corrective feedback. They may let students explore for answers rather than being posed with traditional multiple choice questions on the screen. For example, students might explore interactive maps, matching sounds to graphics, or roll-over photographs to explore vocabulary to seek answers to questions.

  • Frequently-asked questions
  • Drill and practice

When selecting Q&A applications or designing your own, make certain the program handles questions and answers effectively. Ask yourself:

  • Are the questions those that users would be likely to ask?
  • Does the program present stimulating, essential questions rather than trivial facts?
  • Are answers or feedback adequately detailed to promote understanding without being overwhelming?
  • Does the order of presentation assist users in their overall understanding of the concepts?
  • How do auditory and visual elements contribute to understanding by people with different learning styles?

When focusing on learning applications, you’ll find both effective and ineffective approaches. Look for the quality of the feedback. Ask yourself:

  • Is it important for students to practice until mastery?
  • Is over learning really needed?
  • Should the computer take the role of instructor and evaluator?
  • Is positive reinforcement used?
  • What happens if students fail?
  • Will students get bored or frustrated using this program?
  • Are students given quality corrective feedback that will help in their learning?
  • Are variations in the musical, graphical, or text environment provided to keep the practice interesting?
  • Is paper and pencil cheaper, easier, or better for the type of practice required?

When evaluating software, be aware of the screen layout. This is particularly important in spelling and math problems. Ask yourself:

  • In spelling, is the word read aloud or does it flash on the screen?
  • Will students be selecting the word from a list or typing the word from memory?
  • In math, consider the placement of the response.
  • Do students write in the tens or ones column first?
  • How were they taught?
  • Is the activity timed?

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Explore the following question and answer projects
Food Technology
Math Activities
Physical Education
Take a Regional DARE!
Test Your Vowel Power
Sandcastle Quiz

Compare the techniques used to present the questions and answers. Is getting the correct answer important? Why or why not? What role does scoring play in the project?

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Tutorials present step-by-step instruction teaching new concepts. They are designed to provide new information along with examples and nonexamples of concepts. In addition, practice and feedback is often incorporated into the program. Tutorials work well when introducing new concepts, reviewing difficult ideas, or providing enrichment.

Some tutorials are linear. In other words, they provide the same information and examples to all learners in a predetermined order. Sometimes called "electronic page turners" they don't address the needs of individual students. On the other hand, branching provides alternative paths through the program. Each student receives that instruction he or she needs based on responses to specific questions or problems. Or, in some cases student may have control over the paths they take through the materials. They may also choice examples of interest.

The strength of tutorials lies in their consistency and accuracy. They allow students to work at their own pace and provide individualized practice and feedback which is difficult to do in the traditional classroom environment. They are particularly useful in teaching concepts that involve processes and procedures such as "how-to" run a piece of equipment, use a software package, or type a knot.

  • Demonstration
  • How-Tos
  • Step-by-step Instruction

When selecting tutorials or designing your own, consider the instructional strategies incorporated into the program. Ask yourself:

  • Does it teach the concepts like you would teach them?
  • Do you like the quality and quantity of examples and nonexamples provided?
  • Does the vocabulary match what you teach in class?
  • Does the control users have over the environment meet your needs (i.e., many or few choices; lots or little branching)?

It can be confusing for a student to learn one approach on the computer and be expected to demonstrate a different technique in class. Is the software a good use of instructional time in your classroom?

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Explore the following tutorials:
Edheads Virtual Knee Surgery

Galileo's Experiments
Hands on Crafts

What are the key elements of an effective tutorial? Compare the techniques used in the projects above.

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The art of persuasion often combines entertainment, information, and instruction. Users may be asked to make a decision and take action. Rather than an inquiry-based environment where participants may reach varied conclusions, persuasive projects focus on a particular answer or action such as purchasing a product, going to a movie, or starting a fitness program.


From television ads to movie trailers, people are constantly bombarded by persuasive messages. Many of these messages are now being produced in Flash. Many of these projects are intended to change attitudes or action by providing new information, interactive activities, or emotional messages.

    • Advertisements
    • Movie Trailers
    • Public Service Announcements

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Explore the following projects. What methods of persuasion are used? How do they combine entertainment with advertising?
Cingular - Make Me Dance

The Meatrix
Store Wars
Super Bowl Commercials

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Explore the following projects. How many different categories can you find?
Arizona OperaArts
Alive Canada
Dallas Symphony
San Francisco Symphony
Dinosphere Activities
Lewis and Clark as Naturalists