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487 Chapter 17. Creating Instructional Materials

In this chapter, you’ll learn…

Nisus Writer has proved to be quite popular in the academic community, largely because of its multilingual capabilities, autonumbering and cross-referencing features, and text editing tools, all of which make it ideal for many kinds of academic writing. There is another side to Nisus Writer, though, which should give it special appeal to anyone developing instructional materials—whether in an academic, corporate, or even a family setting. Nisus Writer’s macro and sound capabilities give it the unique ability to create interactive instructional materials. Rather than creating static handouts, exercises, or quizzes, you can use Nisus Writer to make computer-based lessons that will engage the learner and increase the effectiveness of the presentation. In this brief chapter, I’d like to 488 give you some ideas that will help you to develop materials like this. We’ll focus on two specific areas: hypertext documents and language-learning lessons, with some brief thoughts on other strategies to round out the chapter.

Examples of some of the lessons discussed in this chapter can be found on the CD-ROM. You may even want to try out the lessons yourself before reading this chapter, to get a better idea of what the final result can be.

The materials in this chapter assume that each instructee will have access to a computer running Nisus Writer. This is already the case in numerous school computer labs and corporate environments, but of course far from universal. If you’re interested in pursuing this type of instruction, keep in mind that Nisus Software offers site licenses for Nisus Writer at significant savings over the single-unit cost, and the cost is even less for academic institutions.

Hypertext Documents

Some documents—like stories or sermons—only make sense if read in a linear fashion from start to finish. But this is not always the best or most useful way to present information. Dictionaries and encyclopedias, for example, are clearly not intended to be read from front to back. Neither are computer reference books (except for this book, of course…), anthologies, and many other kinds of texts. Instead, these books are, ideally, arranged so that readers can jump right to the information they need. And if documents are indexed well and internally cross-referenced, readers can easily find other references to material that is of interest, or obtain more detail about a topic that is only mentioned in passing. When a document (usually in electronic form) is structured so as to enable the reader to jump around in this fashion, it’s called a hypertext document. The most famous example of hypertext is the World Wide Web, which we discussed in Chapter 16. But even if you’re working with a single file on a single computer, Nisus Writer can create hypertext links that give both the author and the reader much greater flexibility in accessing information. This is especially important for training and study materials in which the reader can benefit greatly from the ability to get more, or related, information on any subject.

Basic Principles

To create a hypertext document in Nisus Writer, you’ll start with a regular, linear document. The general idea is then this. First, mark the locations in your document to which you 489 want to be able to jump. Next, go to the locations from which you want to jump and establish a link. Finally, set up a macro that will actually perform the jump. There are several possible variations to each of these steps, and we’ll look at each of them. But in every case, the reader will move from point to point by pressing one or more modifier keys and double-clicking a specially-marked navigation word.

Marking the Text

For Nisus Writer to jump to a spot, it will need some unique identifier to look for. The easiest type of identifier is a bookmark created using the Mark… command on the Tools menu. For example, at the beginning of a passage about seaweed, you can select a word or two, choose Mark…, and enter a bookmark name of Seaweed. When marking text this way, it doesn’t matter what the selected text is—the only things that are important are that your marker names are unique and that they are single words. Once you’ve created a marker, all your macro will have to do is jump to that marker. Continue creating markers until you’ve identified all the locations in your text to which you want to be able to jump.

Establishing a Link

Next, you have to give the reader a location to click that will enable them to jump to the spot you just marked. The simplest way to do this is to type in the name of your marker and apply a special style to it. With some careful planning, these links can flow along with the rest of your text—but you may certainly keep them separate if you wish. In any case, you must type in the marker name exactly as it appears on the Jump To submenu, including any capitalization. The style you apply can be any style, but it should be something that stands apart from the text enough for the reader to identify it easily as a link. One suggestion would be to use the HTML convention of blue, underlined text for links. Once again, continue to add these links to your text at every location in your document where you’d like the reader to be able to click for more information.

490 Creating and Using the Macro

Finally, the big step—which isn’t very big. You’ll need to create a single, two-line macro:

Jump '\CC'

Give this macro any one of the following names: Command, Option, or CommandOption. The name you choose will determine which modifier key(s) must be pressed while double-clicking to activate the macro. For the duration of this example, let’s assume you’ve named it Command.

Now here’s how it all works. A user sees a specially-marked word, like “Seaweed.” Command-double clicking this word does two things. First, it selects the word (as double-clicking always does). Then it runs the macro. The first line of the macro copies the word to the clipboard. And the second line jumps to the marker which has its name on the clipboard. That’s the whole trick—you now have hypertext.

The file Hypertext Sample on the CD-ROM and its associated macro file will give you an idea how this works.

Variations on a Theme

While the method I’ve just described is the easiest way to create hypertext in Nisus Writer, there are a number of variations. For example:

Language Learning Lessons

As we saw in Chapter 6, it is easy to add sound to your Nisus Writer document. In Chapter 13, we looked at WorldScript, which enables you to enter text from many languages. And just above we looked at using macros to create hypertext links. When you combine these three capabilities, it seems only natural to imagine language-learning applications.

So many different implementations are possible that it’s hard to know where to begin—and it’s impossible to list them all. So rather than giving a concrete recipe for creating language-learning materials, I’d like to suggest some general strategies, and then some specific tips.

Lesson Ideas

Because language learning is a multi-faceted task, you’ll need to decide what aspects of the language need to be taught and at what level your audience is. Here are the basic tasks and some ideas for implementing them in Nisus Writer:

The CD-ROM contains a short English story with recorded sounds attached to both paragraphs and individual words. This will give you an idea of how a reading lesson might be implemented.

Specific Tips

When creating an electronic lesson for people unfamiliar with the target language—and especially for those unfamiliar with the Macintosh—you’ll need to take extra steps to make the presentation clear, simple, and straightforward. Ironically, the simpler it becomes for the user, the harder it becomes for the designer. Here are some specific tips:

493 Other Strategies

I’d like to end the chapter with just a few other quick ideas to stimulate your thinking about the instructional uses of Nisus Writer.


If your job involves teaching others, I hope that the ideas in this chapter will serve as a good starting point for developing creative and effective learning tools. The initial effort required to create these tools is eclipsed by their unique usefulness. In the next and final chapter, we’ll explore yet another dimension of Nisus Writer: its use as an all-in-one organizational tool.

Copyright © 1995, 1996, 1999 by Joe Kissell

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