The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) had the foresight to capture critical information from
their experienced employees. They used a technique called MASK (Method for Analyzing and Structuring
Knowledge) creating knowledge books for bituminous, concrete repair, and the engineering of bridges.
The end result of MASK is a PowerPoint organizing the text, images, and videos in a single, very large
file. Historically MASK has been used for very proprietary information such as the French Atomic Energy
Commission and the formulas and processes for KRAFT Foods. So, the size of the file was not as critical.
However, the MnDOT wanted to make their knowledge available to the inspectors and local engineers out in
the field as well as on the MnDOT website. Each Knowledge Book averaged 300 slides and took up almost one
gig of space. The PowerPoint files couldn’t be conveniently viewed on a phone or tablet and they weren’t
accessible to people with disabilities.
We decided to convert the PowerPoint slides into a web-based presentation using Articulate Storyline 360.
This not only met MnDOT’s requirements but added features such as interactivity and basic animations.
Here is a screen shot from the original Concrete Repair Knowledge Book:
Here is the same information using Articulate 360.
Notice how the dense PowerPoint text was converted by chunking the content into two hot tabs, focusing
the reader’s attention. Information common to both hot tabs is continually displayed as well.
Benefits of the Converted Knowledge Books
Here is a list of some of the benefits we’ve gained using Articulate Storyline:
- Content is completely interactive and can be published on the web.
- Published Storyline files are encrypted so changes cannot be maliciously made to the presentation.
- Content is responsive. It can be viewed on a smart phone, tablet, or desktop computer.
- Content is accessible. Videos include closed captioning and graphics include alternative text for
- Animation can be used to demonstrate key principles.
As each knowledge book was being converted we used Review 360 (part of the Storyline suite) to
communicate any changes or modifications to each page. Content experts at MnDOT could view the current
version of the knowledge book, using a hidden URL. Review 360 automatically made a screenshot of the page
they were viewing. Even people who aren’t comfortable using new software found Review 360 easy to use.
There are two main screens in Review 360. Here is the main Review view:
This is the Feedback view showing the discussion thread for each edit. Notice how Articulate included a
screenshot of each page the reviewer was working with.
Review 360 made the editing process smooth and efficient for both the content experts and the developer.
Newsline February 2019 includes an article describing the knowledge books at MnDOT.
Mindful In Janesville
The announcement read, “Winter Retreat – A New Year with a New Beginning with Life”. In the past,
three days to meditation my mind would tell me it just didn’t “fit in my schedule”. However, this retreat
caught my attention and I thought it might be a great way to start the New Year. I also invited my son to
fly in from Tennessee to join me.
I wasn’t sure what to expect. I attend meditation classes most Monday nights and have been practicing
meditation off and on for many years but this would be my first retreat experience.
The retreat was held at the Metta Meditation Center, twenty minutes from Mankato, in Janesville, Minnesota.
The Center was originally run by Catholic nuns and was purchased in 2017 by Buddhist comunity. It faces
west, looking across Lake Elysian, showcasing some amazing sunsets.
Sunset taken at Metta Meditation Center
After picking my son up at the airport, we arrived at the Center on Thursday night. My first surprise was
the solar-powered Christmas lights blinking around the round stone entrance sign off of East Elysian Road. I
might have missed the turn-off otherwise. Approaching the parking area a huge concrete cross glowed against
the night sky. When I asked the residence they mentioned that people from all faiths still use the Center,
and they keep the cross as a welcoming symbol.
Leaving our shoes at the door, a Buddhist custom, we quickly registered and hauled our stuff up to our
rooms. The Center has several meeting rooms, a kitchen, a large dining area on one end and sleeping rooms on
the other. Instead of room numbers, each room has a name. I stayed in Patience and my son stayed in
Self-Esteem. The women in the group stayed in the rooms on the ground floor and the men upstairs.
That evening Sathi, one of the teachers who maintain the Center, outlined what we would be doing. The
retreat focused on three main activities; sitting meditation, walking meditation, and mindful eating. In
between were teachings and guided discussions. Sathi asked us to observe silence as much as possible and
emphasized how the retreat was designed to give us a chance to explore and improve ourselves and learn how
our mind works.
Afterward, we moved to the large meditation room and began the retreat with a 45-minute breathing
meditation. Most of us used the large cushions, while others used the chairs. Then, off to bed at the early
hour of 9:30 pm.
I woke hearing the sound of a Tibetan Singing Bowl. A quick glance at my phone told me it was 5:45am! I
hadn’t seen that time of day in a long time. A bit groggy, I headed for the meditation room wondering how
the day would fare.
First activity: Mindful Yoga. Sathi walked us through several basic exercises that residents use to keep
their body fit for long hours of sitting meditation. With each pose we would take in a deep breath, hold it
as we struck the pose, and then, let go (often with a strong ‘humpppfff’) as we released our breath. This
was immediately followed by taking in another deep breath, holding it as we repeated the stretch. It was a
great way to start the day; not too strenuous, just great stretches and lots of lung expansion. After this
physical warmup, we began one of several sitting meditations for the day focusing on our breath.
Breathing meditation is simple. All you have to do is focus on your breath. Breath in. (Notice the pause.)
Breath out (Notice the pause). Sounds easy, right? The problem is our mind is a trickster. It sets up a
constant chatter, distracting us with thoughts, emotions, and stories. After only a few breaths I catch my
mind talking about something, making me completely lose the attention to my breathing. I wander off into the
story my mind is telling, mesmerized. Suddenly, I become aware of my drifting and like a tightrope walker
losing balance, a catch myself and start again. Breathe in. (Notice the pause.) Breathe out (Notice the
pause). Breathe in. (Notice the pause.) Breathe out (Notice the pause).
When I first started meditating, I would be good for 2-3 breaths before I got distracted. Now, after much
practice, I have a much better attention span (maybe… 10-15 breaths?). This directly translates into my
daily life, keeping me much more focused and less distracted no matter what I am doing.
Sixty minutes later, with the soft ringing of the singing bowl, I open my eyes (mindfully), stretch my legs,
and carefully stand. It is time for breakfast! We serve ourselves and sit at the table in silence waiting
patiently as each person dishes up their plate.
Normally our teachers chants an ancient prayer in Pali (the language that Buddha used for his teachings)
before they eat.
However, for the retreat, we read an English translation of this prayer as a group, and then dove head first
into our first meal. Well, dove isn’t really the right word. it was more of easing into the first meal, and
being greeted by vibrant flavors. Following Sathi’s breakfast introduction, we ate our meal mindfully, in
silence, focusing on each bite. As my mother will tell you, I am a very fast eater. I had to teach myself to
eat one bite at a time, not taking another bite until I had completely finished the first. I found it helped
to set my fork down in between bites and close my eyes while chewing. Breakfast was vegan and absolutely
delicious, probably more so because I was eating mindfully.
This is an amazing exercise, especially when eating with a dozen other people. We weren’t focused on each
other, or conversation; only our food, one bite at a time. If people ate this mindfully when I cooked a meal
I can only imagine how much better my meals would taste.
Walking path at Metta Meditation Center
After breakfast, we learned about walking meditation. The key is to walk slowly, focusing on each step. This
can be done inside or out and is a great calming exercise. My feet wanted to race ahead until I noticed the
other, more experienced participants, walking in slow motion. I reminded ‘myself’ (my mind) that I didn’t
have anywhere to go, to just to focus on the walking.
Walking mindfully really makes me aware of my surroundings. When I drive 70 mph on a freeway, I hardly
notice the countryside flashing past. This is great when I need to get somewhere fast. But, I’ve found that
if I later cover some of those miles on a bicycle I notice a lot more details. Hiking that same route I
notice even more. And, when I do walking meditation, even though I do not cover much distance, I not only
discover details of my surroundings but have time to observe my mind and can patiently work to calm its
When I was ready, I mindfully walked toward the meditation room and sat down on the soft cushions for yet
another quiet, peaceful breathing meditation session. Oh wait, I forgot to mention the roofers. A few months
earlier a tornado had torn through the Center, bringing down 100-year-old trees. One of those trees
collapsed the roof over one of the meeting rooms. With the warmer temperatures, the contractor was anxious
to finish the roofing and they were making quite a bit of noise. But, I reasoned, this was a great
opportunity to practice my focus despite real-life distractions. As I began my meditation the hammering
began to have sort of a rhythm. Nice. That is until they dropped another bundle of shingles, seemingly right
over the top of my head. My whole body would jump in alarm. “Okay,” I’d tell my mind, “let’s start again”.
That was the longest but most interesting meditation of the entire retreat! It’s like the workmen knew when
my mind began to wander, dropping a block of shingles at just the right instant giving me focus.
After a delicious vegan lunch with lots of variety and options, Sathi led a discussion on mindful eating,
asking for our personal observations and adding commentary based on Buddha’s teachings.
That afternoon, with the sun streaming into the windows, Gina Gafford led us through an attention-getting
yoga session. As we stretched and did our downward-dogs the sun began setting. By the end of the session,
the room was dim and quiet in the twilight. With the group paying attention in silence, it was magical.
For the last meditation of the day, we did a Metta Meditation. Instead of a breathing meditation as we had
been doing, Sathi guided us with the following intentions “May all living beings be well, be happy, be
skillful, and peaceful.” Metta in Pali means loving-kindness, friendliness, goodwill, and active interest in
others. This is where the Metta Meditation Center gets its name.
What did I gain from these three days? A lot. The first full day was tough. During the hour of free time, I
called my wife who asked me if I had any “aha” moments. “No nothing,” I responded, “I don’t know what I’m
doing here.” But, by Sunday, when it was time to leave, things had come together, and I wasn’t really ready
This was not a religious retreat. Although Sathi referred to Buddha’s teachings, the lessons were life
lessons and fit well with most religions that I am familiar with. These lessons gave me a new way to think
about things such as developing my own self-confidence, having compassion for others, and understanding how
my mind works to gain greater attention and focus. Oh yes, and on mindful eating.
The retreat really helped calm the racing chatter in my mind. I find I focus better on whatever I am doing.
I am more observant before I speak, and I feel calmer and more relaxed. After returning home I took my dog
out for our customary walk. Instead of just walking the dog I now make a point to walk mindfully. It is a
whole new and delightful experience for both me and my dog.
In the past, my meditation sittings never went longer than 25 minutes. I’ve now shown myself that I can sit,
focusing on my breath, for much longer. I’ve also started practicing meditation each morning which is really
a great way to start the day.
Right now as I write this I’m in a busy waiting room with the background music playing over the top of a
loud daytime TV show. Before attending the retreat, these things would have distracted me beyond irritation.
But, since attending the retreat, I can now observe these things and just let them go, focusing on my
writing. This is very cool.
How did my son do? As I took him to the airport we made up for our few days of near silence, reflecting on
our weekend together and how this experience translates into our own day to day routines. Since his return
home I notice that his approach to himself, his family, and his business has shifted slightly. I see him
using the tools we learned approaching problems and issues with a clear mind, not getting caught up in the
emotions of the moment. We are both very glad that we took advantage of this opportunity together.
This article was published in The Edge – April 2019 – The magazine for holistic living and the Mankato Magazine - May 2019