The power of the Wolfram Cloud in a Versal gadget? Yes! Stephen Wolfram spotlights at SXSW Interactive

March 09, 2014

Wolfram|Alpha. Mathematica.

Stephen Wolfram demos a Versal gadget at SXSW

Stephen Wolfram spotlights a Versal gadget at SXSW

These are incredibly powerful and essential tools in the classroom (and beyond). Now, Stephen Wolfram & team are beginning to roll out their next big projects…the Wolfram Cloud and Wolfram Language.

And together, they’re going to transform the way you and your students create and access Wolfram-powered
resources.

In a nutshell, the Wolfram Cloud will enable educators to access the power of Wolfram’s dynamic content from any
web device. It’s all about sharing and collaboration. Wolfram Language is all about knowledge-based programming.

How can Versal help you take advantage of the Wolfram Cloud and Wolfram Language?

By building the first way to embed Wolfram Cloud content into an external web experience – via a Versal gadget. 

The new gadget is a window into all of the dynamic Wolfram Language content that will soon be available via the Wolfram Cloud. Thanks to their new web-based platform, Wolfram content is more portable than ever before. wolfram_sample image 4_edited-1

And we’re excited and honored that just a few minutes ago, Stephen Wolfram shared a demo
of a Versal course on stage at SXSW Interactive during his speech titled “Injecting Computation Everywhere.”

When we heard about the still-stealthy Wolfram Cloud and Wolfram Language initiatives, we
knew that Versal’s gadget-based course creator would be the ideal platform to showcase the
new Wolfram capabilities. And even more importantly, it will help you integrate the Wolfram Cloud into your lessons.

By adding the gadget to your Versal courses, you’ll be able to embed interactive Wolfram content directly within the context of all of your videos, text, and interactive diagrams and other Versal simulations. It’s coming to your gadget tray very soon…stay tuned!

If you’re at SXSW Interactive, please say hello, we’d love to meet up (shoot me a note to connect). Gregor, James, Dylan and I will be here until Tuesday and happy to answer any questions.

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Introducing Collaborative Authoring (beta): Work Together to Create Amazingly Interactive Courses

January 06, 2014

From the very earliest days of Versal, many of our conversations revolved around one core idea: how do we make our platform as open and welcoming as possible?Collab illustration - small

That’s why when we launched last July, Versal’s interactive course creator was (and will remain) open to everyone – from schoolteachers and professors, to tutors and corporate trainers. No contracts for your organization or district to sign, and no hoops to jump through.

This philosophy is also why we chose to empower you to embed courses anywhere on the web. No walled gardens. And it’s why we will open up our gadget library to third-party developers early this year.

Today, we’re continuing with this theme and are very excited to announce that Versal is now open to collaborative authoring. Invite anyone to contribute to your course and work hand-in-hand to transform online learning. Please keep in mind that this is a new beta feature, so if you encounter a gremlin or two please shoot us a note (and thank you for your patience!). We’ll be continuing to test and enhance everything over the next few weeks.collab screenshot blog_edited-1 border

All Versal courses are now collaborative by default – the new features are seamlessly integrated into the platform.

In our official press release this morning, our CEO Gregor Freund shared more on his vision behind open collaboration:

“Collaborative authoring paves the way for a new approach to creating online courses. Imagine dozens of physics professors and researchers from around the world working together to author the ultimate guide to the fundamental structure of the universe. Or an online community of gardening enthusiasts teaching people how to grow organic vegetables. Or a network of global non-profit advocates creating a water filtration course to help individuals in developing countries. The possibilities are unlimited.”

Beyond enabling you to invite people to join your course, approved contributors may also comment on each other’s contributions and exchange ideas inside the course creator. We’re expecting lively debates!

There are no restrictions on the number of contributors you may add to your course. However we recommend that you initially limit it to people you trust – especially if the content you’ve created is sensitive. Soon we’ll release new permissions to allow you to choose who can only add and edit their own gadgets.

Collaboration Catalog blogWe’re also kicking off this new feature by opening up a catalog of pre-scaffolded courses designed for anyone to join in and contribute. Courses range from Organic Chemistry to The Clever Gardener Guide to DSLR Photography and more. Check it out! (We’ll be accepting requests to join these courses on a rolling basis at first, so if you don’t receive approval right away, you will soon.

Welcome to a new era in open collaboration. Give it a try and let us know what you think?

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YouTube Phenom Launches First Interactive Piano Course on Versal

January 06, 2014

With over 22 million views of his videos on YouTube, Andrew Furmanczyk is fulfilling his dream of teaching the world how to play piano – free. Today, Andrew launches his first interactive Versal course, Matching Piano Keys to Music. It’s a fantastic way to master the basics of playing the piano and learn through interactive gadgets.

Embedded Piano CourseI first discovered Andrew almost a year ago. One night I found myself sitting at home staring at a digital piano that had somehow ended up in my living room. I wanted to learn how to play, but between work, the gym and sleep, I really didn’t have the time to commit to a local piano tutor.

A quick search on YouTube surfaced a video called How to Play Piano. With over 9 million views (at the time), I figured I’d give it a try.

I was hooked, and soon made it through the first five lessons. Andrew was approachable, funny, and very talented at teaching me the basics, even though I was more than 2,000 miles away. But every now and then I hit a snag. Because there was no way to interact with his lessons or get any feedback, I couldn’t always figure out what I was doing wrong.

A few months later, when we were nearing the launch of Versal, I reached out to Andrew to see if he might have an interest in creating a more interactive style of course. He instantly understood the challenges I’d experienced. He talked about how powerful video is for showing students the ropes, but also how hands on experience and feedback – especially with music – is essential. And very hard to do over the Internet.

Andrew was very interested in exploring new interactive ways of teaching, especially if he could use many of the videos he’s already created. So we invited him to work with us and explore ways to create a new and engaging experience for his students.

While Versal’s course creator has many interactive gadgets for anyone to use, we decided that Andrew’s course also deserved something special. And since we’re testing our third-party developer SDK (to launch in the first half of this year), it was the perfect opportunity to pair Andrew with a developer and see what unfolded.

Soon we paired Andrew with Cyril Silverman, a Javascript developer from Seattle. The two created a very fun interactive piano – a gadget where students can play along directly in the course and get instant feedback on their success.

“Versal’s vision is powerful, and I’m really excited to be a part it,” said Andrew. “The interactive gadgets were all customizable, which made it easy for me to take my videos and add context to create a complete course. YouTube is an amazing platform for video, and I believe Versal will become the de facto platform for amazing courses.”

Everyone here at Versal is not only excited to see Andrew’s course go live today, but we’re inspired by his story. Formerly a concert pianist, Andrew suffered from heart problems and related tendonitis, and was eventually forced to give up performing. But instead of giving up his love of music, Andrew was determined to put his talents to good use, and find new ways to offer anyone a chance to learn how to play piano.

It’s a mission we’re honored to support. As for me, my piano has been gathering a little dust since Versal keeps me so busy, but I did have a chance to preview Andrew’s new course over the weekend, and I’m back at the keyboard. Who knew learning could be this fun?

So go check it out

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Introducing Versal for Teams – Now Manage Authors, Courses and More from a Single Dashboard

December 19, 2013

Almost instantly after we launched, many of you got in touch to let us know how much you love using Versal in schools and in companies. Most of the requests asked a similar question: “Is there a way to create a single account to manage the efforts of everyone on my team?”

keyToday, the answer is yes. An early beta of the new Versal for Teams is now available. And while we’ll always offer a free plan as the base tier, as a special thanks for your help with our beta test all accounts will receive the first 30-days free! Sign up by December 31st.

Whether your team is creating educational courses in a K-12 or university setting or developing corporate HR or product training courses, Versal for Teams is a simple, convenient way to manage authors and courses from a central administrative dashboard. Add new members of your team, review course progress and more.

Versal for Teams Screenshot_blogWhile convenience is the core promise of Versal for Teams, we’ve also added in several features to take your Versal courses to a new level. First is learner success monitoring. This feature is in the very early stages, and currently shows how many students have started your course and how far along they’ve progressed. Stay tuned…we have more insights to help you understand the success of your course coming soon.

Versal for Teams offers an advanced way to embed your course in a website. For institutions and companies, this is especially valuable since it’s always preferable to send your learners directly to your own site instead of somewhere random on the web. While Versal has offered course embedding for some time (and will continue to offer it for all courses), with Versal for Teams you can expand beyond the standard embed window and create a full-player on your website.

We’ve been honored to work with three amazing organizations to test Versal for Teams. Neo Technology, makers of the world’s leading graph database Neo4j; Typesafe, provider of the world’s first Reactive platform and the company behind Play Framework, Akka and Scala; and ITMO University, Russia’s foremost information and optical technology school.

Neo Cypher Gadget Screenshot - launch blog V4“We needed a way to teach our users how to get the most out of our product, and Versal for Teams was the perfect solution,” said Adam Frankl, VP of Marketing and Training at Neo Technology. “Helping developers get up to speed on graph databases quickly is essential to our business. With Versal, we were able to create an interactive online course from our existing training classes, and the new administrative features gave us the tools to track adoption and generate qualified leads. Having such an effective teaching tool at our disposal is immeasurably valuable to both our users and to us. There’s nothing else like it.”

“We help developers build Reactive applications, and our technologies are cutting-edge,” said Sushila Sahay, VP of Customer Operations at Typesafe. “It’s imperative that we take the time to create educational materials for developers to get them up and running quickly. Programming is interactive, so it’s great to have an alternative to video presentations. Versal gave us the ability to create a fantastic course, and the tools to manage it in-house. I recommend it for anyone looking to create education materials.”

As an early beta tester, you may experience a few hiccups, so please pardon our dust and please drop us a line at support@versal.com if you stumble across an issue.

The Versal for Teams base plan is free. For teams offering more than three courses, 100 expected learners, or for higher-bandwidth courses, pricing starts at $250/month. Read more details in our press release or visit https://versal.com/versalforteams.

Quick tip…once you’ve signed up, if you leave your dashboard the best way to get back in is via the direct url from your confirmation email. Keep this handy for now, and very soon we’ll be adding shortcuts for your convenience. Thank you for your patience!

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First Foundation Grants + Two CES Innovations Awards = Exciting Day at Versal

November 12, 2013

Today we couldn’t be more pleased to announce our first Versal Foundation grants (press release).versal-foundation-logo-sm

Out of all of the applications submitted to date, three courses exemplified our mission to inspire the creation of innovative online courses with the potential to improve people’s lives:

How to Create and Use Free, Clean Energy - a course that will explain the physics principles of clean solar and wind energy, and provide a practical how-to guide for their simple capture, storage and use. It will demonstrate how communities can embrace free energy to heat water and even how to make a battery. (Jianing Han, visiting assistant professor of physics at Hollins University)

The concept of transformative education fostered by the Versal Foundation is really powerful when you stop and think about it,” said Jianing Han, visiting assistant professor of physics at Hollins University. “This idea that online learning has the very real potential to transform and make the world a better place, it’s not just a dream. It’s happening, and I’m really proud to be a part of it.

Empowering Underprivileged Girls in Academic and Career Development – a course for middle school girls in underserved communities to explore and identify their academic career interests, with a particular focus on STEM careers.  Featuring video interviews of a diverse array of inspiring women leaders created by local non-profit CareerGirls.org, this course will help girls learn about career options they may not have considered. The lessons will provide insight into other topics related to academic and career success, including what it means to be a leader, overcoming obstacles and the importance of life­long learning. Lessons will draw on Common Core standards of literacy and critical thinking. (Lisa Tenorio, tech industry veteran and educator)

Girls in underserved communities don’t always have access to role models and information about career and academic planning. Yet today most do have access to the Internet,” said Lisa Tenorio, the grant awardee for a Empowering Underprivileged Girls in Academic and Career Development. “This grant will help me develop the materials and exercises to best teach the skills to inspire a bright future for girls, especially in STEM fields. And Versal’s course creator will make it easy to create and publish a fun, interesting and interactive course. I’m excited to get started.

Basic Biology for Everyone - a highly interactive course that will use images, video, quizzes, expressions, and references to engage middle school and high school students in a five-part basic biology course focusing on the subject’s key ideas and core disciplinary knowledge as identified by the Next Generation Science Standards. (Joshua Rosenberg, a doctoral student at Michigan State University; Frank Jones, Southern Regional Director for Wikipedia’s education outreach program; and Aaron Rosenberg, dual masters student at the University of Connecticut)

A learner-centered approach is missing from many educational resources,” Joshua Rosenberg, a doctoral student at Michigan State University who received a grant for his course Basic Biology for Everyone. “When teaching teens, for example, the challenge is identifying ways to take advantage of and engage students’ interests. An interactive, online Versal course in science will inspire them roll up their sleeves. And we’re not just talking about teens in the developed world. Internet access is growing exponentially. We’re building a course that will be forever free and available to anyone in the world who finds it valuable.

Congratulations to these very deserving education innovators! A special thanks to our panel of judges.

The Versal Foundation grant program is continuing to accept applications. Additional grants from $1,000  to $25,000 will be considered in two categories:

  • Transformative Education: courses with a profound potential for improving people’s lives. Individuals, not-for-profits and NGOs with domain expertise are encouraged to apply.

  • Foundational Education: courses covering basic literacy, arithmetic, science and related topics. In a nutshell, core knowledge that should be readily available to every single person on the planet.

To apply, visit the Versal Foundation website at versal.org.

AwardGraphic2Last but not least, we have one more piece of news for the day: moments ago the Consumer Electronics Association named Versal a CES Innovations Design and Engineering Honoree!* And we were awarded in two categories – “Tech for a Better World” (which is amazing because it validates our values) and “Software and Mobile Apps” (also amazing, because the competition is so high). Congratulations to our entire team for all of their hard work and effort over the past year since we started this amazing journey.

*The CES Innovations Design and Engineering Award is based upon descriptive materials submitted to the judges.

 

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Embed a Versal Course in your Website or Blog

August 08, 2013

In our quest to build an open platform for anyone to create and share courses, we are especially drawn to ideas that offer instructors new levels of freedom and flexibility.

The Versal Embedded PlayerToday, we’re releasing our first major feature since launch: course embedding. It’s the freedom to publish your course on your website or blog.

Course embedding has been on the Versal roadmap since very early in our development. And as we suspected, it has also been the top request since launch – by a landslide. So today we’re very excited to test this new feature, and are especially interested to hear your experiences as you give it a try.

What is course embedding?

It’s an easy way to add your course directly to your website or blog. Much like with embedded videos, people who take your course never leave your website. They access the course right in the embedded course player.

How hard is it to embed a Versal course?

Simply copy a short snippet of code from your course’s overview page (click the </> icon) and paste it into your website or blog’s HTML code. Your course is now live wherever you’ve embedded it. Embed code

Wait, does this mean you have to be a coder to embed a course? No, absolutely not. If you can copy-and-paste text, you can embed a Versal course.

To make it easy, we’ve created this short course below (coincidentally, embedded here in our own blog using the same feature) with step-by-step instructions for many of the most common places on the web, including:

How to Embed a Versal Course on Versal.com

Course embedding is also a new way for people to share your courses with their own audiences. Let’s say you create a course to teach Conversational Spanish, and embed it on your own blog. One of your readers also writes a blog with travel tips. She can also embed your course in her own site and share it with her readers.*

Can courses go viral? Courses are a very different experience than a 50-second cat video, but it’s always possible. If you embed a course into your blog or website, post a link on our Facebook page and we’ll feature our favorites.

A few quick tips:

  1. The embedded course player is 750 pixels wide. If you embed a course on your website, make sure you allocate the appropriate space. If you are embedding your course on a blog, we recommend single column-width templates or themes with extra white space around the columns.
  2. When you open the embed code window (by clicking on the </> symbol), you have two size choices: 750×527 and 750×1000. The difference? The second offers your learners more vertical space for reading.
  3. As the first version of the embedded course player, you may encounter a few glitches. For example, in some cases when you’re using Safari, the course may not fully load correctly in the frame. If you refresh your page, it should load properly. If you come across any bugs or glitches, please drop us a note at help@versal.com or here.

We’re looking forward to seeing your courses appear all over the web. And keep the ideas and feedback coming (email us, or find us on Facebook and Twitter). Our beta has been an incredible learning experience, and we’ve been humbled by your support and grateful for your enthusiasm. Stay tuned for more updates coming soon…

 

*Note…we’re sensitive to the fact that you may want to post a course on your own blog, but not have it posted elsewhere. This is an early version, and like all of our other beta features, we’ll be continually refining and enhancing it. We do expect to offer instructors the option to turn off course embedding in the future. For now, if you do not want your course to be embedded by anyone else, we recommend inviting people to directly take your course or sharing links with people you trust.

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The Versal Foundation – Create Courses for Good

July 09, 2013

versalFoundation

The Versal Foundation offers grants for people to create amazingly interactive, forever-free courses designed to help improve people’s lives.

At Versal, our focus is to build new technologies to act as a catalyst to transform online education. At the same time, we’re all enthusiastic lifelong learners, and we’re especially aware of the power of education to make a difference.

We created the Versal Foundation for inspiring people to share their unique expertise with the world. Grants, ranging from $1,000 to $25,000 depending on a variety of factors, are available in two categories:

The Transformative Education category is designed for courses with the potential to profoundly improve the quality of life for disadvantaged populations. We think of it as “courses for the betterment of humankind”. Know how to teach villagers how to build a clean water system in impoverished desert regions? Or perhaps you’ve created a method for generating electricity with locally sourced materials.

Many individuals, NGOs and non-profits have a particular expertise in helping people in need. We invite you to apply for a Versal Foundation grant to make this knowledge available to everyone.

The Foundational Education category is designed for courses that will cover basic literacy, arithmetic, science, and related topics. Core knowledge that should be readily available by every single person on the planet. People with an extensive background in introducing fundamental educational principles to people of all backgrounds and learning types are encouraged to apply.

Please visit versal.org for additional details and an online application.

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Introducing Versal…

July 09, 2013

Versal is a new way for anyone to easily create and share interactive online courses – no coding required. Create a Course

Few gifts are as inspirational as knowledge. People around the world share this gift every day – in the classroom, in the field, and increasingly online. The Internet has connected us like never before and we read, watch and learn more everyday.

And yet, online learning is often one-dimensional. It doesn’t have to be that way. Computers, and the modern Internet, are designed for interactivity.

A year ago, our engineers set out to build an open technology platform to bring interactivity to online courses. The most important consideration? We needed to avoid requiring instructors to know software programming.

Course CreatorToday, we released an early beta of the first piece of the puzzle: a simple, clean course creator – available to everyone – with customizable elements we call “gadgets.” (Read the press release here.)

It’s free…check it out. We’d love your feedback. But before you do, there are more details below. And, we ask for your patience. Since it is a beta, you may come across an occasional gremlin, bugs, awkward experiences, and missing features. Tell us what you like (and what you don’t) here.

What you should know:

It’s an open platform.

Open to teachers, professors, instructors, and experts from all walks of life. Programmers, artists, mathematicians, language experts, yoga gurus. You. (It’s also free.)

No need to know how to code to bring your courses to life.

The Versal course creator features interactive elements called gadgets. Gadgets are individual Javascript applications built to engage people with the material in your course. Start with a clean blank slate, and simply drag-and-drop gadgets onto the canvas.

Sample Course - 3D Modeling 600x343“Versal’s vision of creating innovative solutions for online education will change the way students learn, and the way we teach in the classroom,” said Scott White, Professor of 3D Modeling and Sculpture, University of Pennsylvania and the owner of Scott White Studio. “I’m always interested in experimenting with new ways to combine online learning with classroom instruction, and Versal’s approach – especially relating to the ability to add interactivity – is very appealing.”

View Scott’s course on Anatomy and Modeling in Maya here.

For our beta testing, we’ve included the most fundamental gadgets (text, images and videos) plus a sample of interactive gadgets such as quizzes, charts, math simulations, surveys and more. Keep checking back, we’ll be adding more gadgets on an ongoing basis. And later this summer…

We will open up gadget developer APIs

While we’ve created a variety of basic and sample gadgets, one of the key aspects of our platform will be third-party developer access. In a couple of months, we’ll start rolling out an API for JavaScript developers to create all sorts of interactive gadgets and contribute to the Versal library.

Interested in developing gadgets with Versal? Sign up for an invite here and we’ll be in touch soon.

Last…but not least: The Versal Foundation is now accepting applications

The new Versal Foundation is one of our most exciting projects. In a nutshell, the foundation offers grants from $1,000 – $25,000 for people to create amazingly interactive, forever-free courses with a potential to profoundly benefit the world.

Learn more at versal.org, or read the announcement.

Welcome to Versal. We can’t wait to see what you create.

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  • About us

    Versal is an open publishing platform for anyone to create interactive online courses - no coding required.

    The Internet has connected all of us like never before. And yet, online learning is often one-dimensional - limited to videos and slide decks. It doesn’t have to be that way. Computers, and the modern Internet, are designed for interactivity.