ZebraZapps is a new cloud-based authoring and publishing tool for instructional designers, eLearning developers, and others interested in developing and publishing online interactions. It offers powerful programming capabilities without requiring the user to do any direct scripting. This input/output programming is handled through a unique system of connecting properties between objects and tables with virtual “wires”.
ZebraZapps offers a full set of object drawing tools, along with an integrated Run/Restart option to quickly switch between preview and edit modes. Programming logic is built through use of logic tables that can be visually tied to object properties. As a cloud-based authoring environment, the ZebraZapp creators went a step further and created a ZebraZapps “Shopps” marketplace where users can publish and share, and even sell, interactions.
While many eLearning design/development tools are oriented toward a more or less linear authoring and course development mode (content on this screen, followed by content on the next screen, and so on..), ZebraZapps makes no assumptions regarding how content and interactivity will occur on the screen. It truly provides a blank canvas for the designer/developer to sketch, design, and develop the course, module, or interactive element, and that’s a good thing.
While the numerous wires between objects and properties that start to accumulate as you develop an interaction can get messy at times, even with changing the view properties, there’s no mistaking the power and ease of being able to visually associate two properties or objects and have the programming occur on the fly. Once I became more familiar with the properties and options, dragging and dropping wired connections for actions like drag and drop, show and hide, or rollover effects, became a breeze.
I really like the low price-point for the tool, which starts at less than $10/month. It’s a great way to add the tool to your eLearning development toolbox without breaking your eLearning development budget. And having the authoring tool in the cloud means I can access and edit my projects from any computer, mac or PC, wherever I am. No need for software installs and updates.
The tool also includes a useful object/graphic replace feature, allowing for replacing rough sketch graphics with production graphics and not lose any of the programming attached. With this feature and how smoothly it works in ZebraZapps, you can really see that the tool was produced with an iterative design perspective, a refreshing change from many other authoring or development tools.
Content developed and published in ZebraZapps is currently limited to Flash-player output. For PC-based web sites or eLearning courses that may be acceptable for some, but any tool that doesn’t provide provide for a cross-platform mobile publishing option faces a serious shortcoming. As with other tool developers, the ZebraZapps creators will likely address this shortcoming in future product updates.
Product documentation is sketchy, though there are a number of video tutorials that help with getting started. Also a ZebraZapps Wiki is available and will continue to be updated over time. I also found the technical support response via email to be timely and helpful. Still, for a completely new tool that is seeking to capture a broad audience, particularly non-programmers, I found the product documentation and getting-started resources fairly weak overall. While ZebraZapps seems easy to use for building very simple interactive elements, many designers, particularly those used to working with more typical point and click tools, may require a significant learning curve, or at least a lot of practice, to move beyond the basics.
While the cloud-based authoring provides a great deal of flexibility, in my experience the tool locked up on at least a couple occasions, requiring me to close and restart the program. The cloud-based feature is undoubtedly one of the reasons there’s a default auto-save feature.
One area I think could be improved is the management of the wires and message centers. While you can select different views to view none, some, or all of the wires or message centers, the screen space can quickly become cluttered and difficult to distinguish between objects and properties. The challenge of managing your screen real estate becomes more apparent as the complexity of your project grows.
Plan Pricing and Options
ZebraZapps authors can sign up for a free 60-day trial, a great way to get started. After that, the price for the basic Creator option is just $8.99/month. For that price you can develop and publish interactions up to a specified file storage/transfer limit. However, both the authored content and the published interactions live in the cloud. Future account options will be added for Professional and Enterprise level users, offering additional features such as private publishing, LMS publishing, desktop editor, and more. Pricing for those expanded account options is not yet available.
ZebraZapps also allows individuals access to embed links to free or purchased completed interactions as a sort of learning resource marketplace.
So far, I’ve found ZebraZapps to be a powerful design and development tool that makes a great addition to the eLearning developer’s toolbox. And although essentially no scripting is involved by the user, to move beyond simple point and click interactions and leverage the more powerful logic and interactive features requires thinking like a programmer as well as designer. To that end, I think more comprehensive training and user-friendly documentation and project examples would go a long way to helping users make effective use of this powerful new tool.