Free Engineering Technology Simulations for Learning

Engineering Technology is and always will be a growing field.  It is what sparks innovation in the manufacturing industry and drives economic success.  Eastern Iowa Community Colleges recognized this and sought a Department of Labor grant that aimed to teach engineering concepts in an innovative way.  Enter Lucid Way; an online training and elearning company in Moline, IL.

Owner at Lucid Way, Tim Hunter explained that “It’s a capstone project of everything we do as a company. Projects like this are challenging, creative, fun, and rewarding.  By helping a person or school with these hard to understand topics in engineering, we are in a lot of ways helping our own future.” Lucid Way was an integral part of designing the online instructional delivery at the college.

The project takes simple STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) subjects that are normally taught with a chalkboard or a book, and transforms them into an interactive 3D model that explains the inner workings of various engineering technology topics.  The website has over 150 simulations that can be downloaded or embedded into a learning management system, website, or be viewed on a classroom project.  Everything is free and is available under a Creative Commons license.

The Associate in Applied Science Degree at EICC is designed so that roughly the first three semesters are identical and students can take courses at any of the three colleges. In the final semester, the student has the choice of specializing in four different areas: Automation, Electro/Mechanical, Process Control or Renewable Energy.  These courses are delivered with a hybrid approach that works for both people in the workforce and full time students. The courses are offered through the online platform of the Iowa Community College Online Consortium (ICCOC), and a classroom/hands-on lab environment.  Students can enter the course at any given time throughout the year and instructors are available every day and night to help the students with their lab work. This unique approach allows students to complete the courses around their own schedules, but also get the personal face-to-face contact with instructors that is often lacking in fully online courses.

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The engineer technology website offers over 150 engineering simulations and is free to use and distribute.

LearnDash WordPress LMS

Screen Shot 2013-01-23 at 9.00.08 AMThings are heating up on the WordPress LMS front.  LearnDash just announced a January 28 launch date for their WordPress LMS. This just days after the release of the Sensei LMS by (see my previous blog review of Sensei here).

Where Sensei may be lacking, LearnDash may pick up the slack.  Here are the features we are looking forward to most.  We’ll also review LearnDash when it comes out so be sure to check back.

  • SCORM Tin-Can API integration.  I’m very curious how they have this implemented.  This alone would put LearnDash ahead of the crowd.  It seems they have done work for the government in the past, so my inclination is that they needed to develop a solution for SCORM and now they are rolling it out to the masses.  Very cool!
  • Certificate creation:  Upon passing score of quizzes, users can download a certificate on the spot.  We like this for training courses so that workers can download a certificate to present on job sites.
  • User Management:  Any LMS needs this.  Apparently users will be allowed to sign up manually or the administrator can add them.  This is a key feature to any serious LMS.
  • Reports: LearnDash is signaling a Reports feature which will be a great addition to the LMS.  It is unclear if it is for SCORM files or for all activities in the course.
  • Pre-Set Course and Lesson Scheduling: Allowing users to access portions of the course based on a set schedule is a great feature.  We think this is a cool thing any LMS should have.

I’m curious to know if there are Roles for Teachers, Students, Administrators, etc.  Different LMS management access is key to giving certain permissions to certain people.  I think this could also be done with other WordPress plugins like Members.  We’ll have to wait and see.

We are looking forward to the release of the LearnDash WordPress LMS.  Do you use WordPress for delivering e-learning?  If so, tell us about it below.


Sensei V1 WordPress LMS Review

As stated in my previous post, I’ll give an unabashed review of’s new WordPress plugin known as Sensei LMS.  As a pre-cursor, it should be known that this is the very first version released.  There is no doubt that they will improve upon the blueprint they have here, but we’ll review it in it’s current form.

Overview of Sensei LMS

First impression:  Simple, fresh, cool.

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  • The plugin adds a “Lessons” menu on your administrative side that has some basic functions such as Courses and Lessons.
  • You can add a “Course” and then add a “Lesson” inside of the course.
  • You can see a simple Analysis screen of the Users and their Scores in the Course.
  • The Settings link offers some simple interface and set up options for the courses and lessons and some Woocommerce options if you wanted to sell your courses.

Adding a Course

  • Adding a course is as easy as making a new post in WordPress.  The problem is that there is no category structure.  How do I organize my courses into categories?  You can’t.
  • You can add Course Prerequisites (must complete Course 1 to access Course 2), Feature the course on your courses page, add video, etc.  Basically it’s a post.
  • Simple, save and done.

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 Adding a Lesson

  • The Add Lesson screen is very similar to the Add Courses screen.
  • There are a few differences such as Lesson Length, Lesson Prerequisites, Lesson Complexity dropdown, and Lesson Quiz.
    • The Lesson has the ability to assign a pre-requisite lesson prior to being allowed into the next lesson.  So you must complete Lesson 1 to be able to open and take Lesson 2.
    • Lessons also have a Quiz (which is very simple)  See next section.
    • There are no other forms of assessment.  Quiz only.

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  • The Lessons require you to have a quiz.  If you do not have a quiz in your lesson, a warning message will be shown to the student unless you make some template file changes.  Yeah, really.
  • Quizzes offer only one type of question type:  Multiple Choice.
  • You can’t add additional answers, or much more than what you see here.

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Woocommerce Integration

  • You can integrate Woocommerce (shopping cart) into the so called LMS, to sell courses. Basically, you’ll create a product and then in the Courses area, you’ll select the product that corresponds to the course you want to sell. That will create the button to buy the course.  It’s a cool feature.

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Analysis Screen

  • The Analysis screen shows an overview of your courses and users inside of the course.  It also shows you who completed it and what their score is.

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What is looks like on the front end

  • Love the progress bars that show the student how much they need to do prior to completing the course.

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The LMS Breakdown

What We Liked

  • Simple interface, easy to set up a course, easy to associated a lesson to a course, and content creation seemed to be fairly straight-forward.
  • The integration with Woocommerce – Cool. Selling courses is attractive and if you can use Woocommerce with all of it’s built in credit card processors to do it – then it’s a bonus.
  • Beautiful front-end interface.  All of the WordPress goodness and easy customization comes along with this light-weight plugin.
  • Woothemes advertises that other plugins will integrate nicely here so if your favorite plugins shouldn’t have any problems playing nice with Sensei.

What We Didn’t Like

On its surface, we know it’s Version 1.  Fine, we get it.  There needs to be more work done.  However, to charge for this plugin in its current state is preposterous.

  • It’s buggy.  Flat out.  It seems their testing was not thorough at all.  I downloaded, installed, and played around with this plugin for 2 hours before I found multiple issues ranging from bugs, to layout issues, to theme compatibility problems.  I do not recommend this version for any kind of production environment.
  • Assessments:  The LMS offers 1 type of assessment in the form of a MC quiz.  It’s not 1995 anymore 🙂   E-learning training and Online learning requires more options for assessment than a quiz. Assignments, Uploads, Discussions, etc.  It just isn’t here.
  • Groups: There are no group options in this version.
  • SCORM: No support for SCORM, however I did talk with SCORM Cloud yesterday and was really impressed with their products. So if you really needed SCORM support in WordPress, you’d want to look at their pricing.  I do not see this as something Woothemes will take on because of it’s complexity.  Perhaps they can form a partnership of some sort but for now it’s just not there.
  • Reporting: Reports are weak.  There should be ways to break down courses, lessons, users, etc.  You should be able to see export options, charts, etc.  It’s not there.
  • User Management/Grading: One of the biggest things that shows as a red flag is the ability to manage users in the courses.  You cannot enroll or unenroll students into courses. The only way is to have the student register themself.  You cannot change grades, you cannot give a student credit manually, etc.  There is no backend control.
  • Student Dashboard: It’s the WordPress Dashboard.  There should be a more refined dashboard for students to see the courses they are in, what their scores are, etc.  Or just lock them out of the dashboard altogether and have everything handled on the front end.  Yes, we know this can be done with some custom WP work, but for the average user and wide adoption of this plugin, it should be done for them.

The talk around LMS’s in WordPress lately appear to come from the overly bloated and overly expensive LMS systems on the market.  This looks like a good start, but there is much more to do to be taken seriously in any large marketplace.  At this point, it’s too simple.  Your thoughts?

LMS for WordPress Released (Sensei)

Well it’s finally here.  A new Learning Management System (LMS) plugin for WordPress made by  There is a demo there that you can play around with as the role of “student.”  It looks a bit jumbled right now, but before we pre-judge Sensei, we’ll be buying it and testing it out – We’ll report the results back here after some thorough testing.




Face value from we see now is that it’s cool – really cool.  I especially like how it is integrated with the shopping cart plugin WooCommerce so you can sell courses that you develop.  As with all V1 releases, it needs to be refined based on user feedback.  I would also assume that will open up the floodgates to developers who can offer additional functionality to the LMS.

Definitely one to keep an eye on.  The next thing we need to look at is server load testing which we will also be reporting back here.

WordPress LMS

WordPress LMS is releasing a WordPress LMS known as Sensei in January 2013 and if it is anything like the simplicity of their WordPress Shopping Cart Woocommerce, it will be a winner.

If I were a betting man (which I am!), I’d put my chips on the table for this one.  The developers at know their stuff when it comes to simplifying.  I’ve seen it first hand when they took the complexity of e-commerce shopping carts (which if you used Magento you would know what I mean) and simplified it into an intuitive interface that integrates with the most widely used content management system and blogging platform- WordPress.


Learning Management System

So what to expect?

  • Easy installation (as easy as installing WordPress and a theme)
  • Minimal server requirements (unless you plan on a big scale project)
  • Integration with Woocommerce (to take payments for online courses)
  • Deep integration with existing themes and compatibility with other WordPress themes.
  • Simple interface for adding courses, quizzes, discussions.
  • Social media integration and WordPress rich interfaces.
  • An open marketplace where developers can write LMS extensions for this platform.
  • Issues, fixes, and many updates.
  • Good usage for smaller scale projects (at least initially)

What not to expect out of the gate:

  • SCORM support (it’s been well documented that this will not be happening in the early versions of Sensei WordPress LMS)
  • Large scale compatibility (Don’t expect to convince your school or organization that it’s time to ditch your existing LMS for this.  It’s going to take time before the grease is on the wheels and the bugs are worked out so that scalability can be reliable).
  • Compatibility with ERP systems (Most LMS systems have some compatibility with ERP systems that allow their LMS’s to communicate to the organizations Human Resources systems or in the case of education- an Admissions/Records Office) This I think will come soon in the form of an extension.

It’s something to be excited about.  If you look at’s track record – it’s been good and solid.  When Woocommerce was opened up to the marketplace for developers to create extensions – it made Woocommerce that much more viable and it moved the product forward. The same I suspect will happen with the Sensei WordPress LMS.

Your comments? Thoughts?

How to Create a Rubric

How to Create a Rubric

Creating a rubric can set proper expectations for your students. This short tutorial will show you the basics.

  1. Competency (Objective)
  2. Performance Tasks (Range)
  3. Criteria (Degree)

You’ll want to start with the competency, then you will find that your rubric will just flow right together with the performance tasks, and the criteria.

Competency or Objective:

What is the ultimate goal of this project. What is it that the student will have learned when the instruction is complete? This is the area where you will state the ultimate goal or objective. For example:

Competency: “Learners will be able to effectively teach online using Blackboard. ”

Performance Tasks or Range:

This component of the rubric defines the process or product that will provide evidence of learning the competency from above.

Performance Task: “Create an online course using Blackboard”

Criteria or Degree:

This is where you will list the criteria, or specific characteristics that will tell you that the learner has met expectations for the performance task above.


  • Student is able to navigate effectively inside of Blackboard.
  • Student will be able to scan at least two images to post inside of their class.
  • Student will be able to create and edit discussion board items inside of Blackboard.
  • Student will be able to create quizzes and exams inside of Blackboard.
  • etc. etc. etc.

After you have the 3 sections above complete, you can plug it into any kind of rubric template and give it to your students and use it as your grading tool. Students will now know what is expected of them and you can justify your grade through the rubric.


Online Teaching 101


Learners will be able to effectively teach online using Blackboard.

Performance Task Description:

Create an online course using Blackboard





Yes, But

No, But






Able to navigate to 8 out of 10 given areas of Blackboard. Able to navigate to 6-7 out of 10 given areas of Blackboard. Able to navigate to 4-5 out of 10 given areas of Blackboard. Able to navigate to 3 or less out of 10 given areas of Blackboard.
Able to use the available “tools” to add and setup 6 or more course components. Able to use the available “tools” to add and setup 5 or more course components. Able to use the available “tools” to add and setup 4 or more course components. Able to use the available “tools” to add and setup 3 or less course components.
etc. etc. etc. etc.


Grading Criteria:
15-16 — 4.0
13-14 — 3.0
11-12 — 2.0
9-10 — 1.0
8 or below — 0.0