Show your work: Coordinator eLearning edition

I’m a big fan of sharing not just what we do but how we get things done. As I hope to do more working out loud in my new position in the Libraries, I thought I’d kick things off by sharing some tips and tools that benefited my work in HR.


One of my primary eLearning authoring tools, Adobe Captivate, allows one to convert text in slide notes into audio using a text-to-speech engine from NeoSpeech. This YouTube video from Adobe shows how the feature works and demos some of the voices available in an earlier version of Captivate:

While most of the subject matter experts with whom I worked wished to add voiceover audio to their eLearning content, they were reluctant to record their own voices and wished to at least consider, if not use, a text-to-speech alternative.

I used Captivate to create eLearning audio in the manner described in the video and was particularly fond of the US English NeoSpeech voices: Julie, Kate, and Paul (you can demo them on the NeoSpeech site). For the most part, the text-to-speech quality was very good as-is. However, when I needed to better control the output, I utilized VoiceText Markup Language, or VTML.

VTML is an XML-based markup language used for manipulating speech synthesis. By using VTML tags, one can control pronunciation, volume, pitch, rate, and other aspects of speech across platforms. While I input my VTML tags directly into Captivate, not the editor pictured in the video, this YouTube clip from NeoSpeech gives an idea of how it works:

While I still prefer recorded voiceover to text-to-speech, I had a great deal of fun trying out the various tags (PDF) and figuring out which phonemes to use and was very pleased with the results.

Audacity’s Noise Removal Effect

I couldn’t turn off the HVAC system or close the ceiling vents in the room where I recorded voiceover audio. Enter Audacity and its noise removal effect.

From the Audacity wiki:

Audacity’s Noise Removal effect can be used to attenuate constant background noise such as tape hiss, electric fans or hums. It will not work very well for removing talking or music in the background. There are two steps:

  • Show Audacity a “noise profile” – a short section of audio containing only the noise to be removed
  • Return to the effect to apply the noise profile to all the audio.

While I’ll likely have to continue recording audio in an office environment with a constant stream of background noise (my own computer fan, if nothing else), I plan to keep this tip in mind when creating tutorials.

Excel: VLOOKUP, sort by cell color, and keyboard shortcuts for selecting data

The following tips will be old news for advanced Excel users but, as someone who previously used Excel to do little more than make lists, they made a real difference in my workflow in HR.


Need to combine, compare, or otherwise cross-reference data from multiple spreadsheets? VLOOKUP is your friend.

One of my first tasks as HR’s new eLearning coordinator was the production of a bimonthly training status report. The first time I produced the report I spent several hours searching, sorting, scrolling, copying, and pasting to locate and combine information from two spreadsheets: one containing data from the online learning system and one containing payroll data. The next time training status report time rolled around, I realized it would behoove me to invest a little time in learning how to cross-reference data in Excel more efficiently (related: xkcd: Is it Worth the Time?). That’s when I discovered VLOOKUP.

Rather than attempt to explain it myself, I’ll share the tutorial I followed: How to cross reference spreadsheet data using VLOOKUP. In the case of the training status report, I used the employee’s myBama ID that appeared in the first column of each spreadhseet as the lookup value, selected the table array from the payroll report, and entered the number of the column in the payroll report that contained the “answer” I needed to add to my learning system data as the column index number.

I ended up using VLOOKUP for lots of things- comparing a list of users with access to a curriculum in Skillport with a list of license holders who were supposed to have access is another example- and if you often find yourself making similar comparisons or doing lots of copying and pasting between spreadsheets, you might consider using VLOOKUP, too.

Sort by cell color

Rageguy screaming  “FFFFFFUUUUUUUUUU” in red letters.

I used to go total Rage Guy when encountering a spreadsheet where someone used shading to categorize entries: “Why didn’t they just add another column? Don’t they realize you can’t sort without text or numbers to sort by?”

While I’m still not a fan of relying on color alone to convey information, I no longer lose my sh*t now that I know I can simply sort by cell or font color.

Select all cells in a row or column

I will confess that it took a noisy scroll wheel to make me finally look up this Excel keyboard shortcut. Ctrl+Shift+Arrow Key extends the selection of cells to the last nonblank cell in the same column or row as the active cell. You’re welcome.

PowerPoint slide titles

Ever since I learned that doing so is a must for making presentations accessible to assistive technology users, I’ve assigned a unique title to each slide in my PowerPoints. It wasn’t until I started regularly importing slide decks into eLearning authoring tools, however, that I learned how useful having titles in the title placeholder fields could be.

Don’t want visible titles on your slides? No worries: simply toggle their visibility or move them off the slide (“Use Slide Titles as Metadata”).

Dragging and dropping to create Outlook tasks and appointments

Outlook users: are you clicking away from your messages to add related tasks and appointments via File > New? Well, you don’t have to. I tweeted this final tip a few weeks into my tenure at HR:

Happy working!