Using PowerPoint to manipulate images: Creating soft edges

This is the second tutorial in a series on ‘Using PowerPoint to manipulate images’. For people like me that doesn’t own nor has the graphical skills to use the high end graphics packages, PowerPoint is my primary image editing tool, even if the end location of the image is going to be somewhere else (Word, Excel, VLE etc.)

A lot of people when adding images to resources will find an image, and chuck it in without thinking about how the image looks, what size it is, what other images are visible alongside it etc. If I am using an image as a ‘decorative’ element designed to break up the text and to act as a ‘memory hook’ for the learner, then one technique that I sometimes use is to change the image to have soft edges. This (as the name suggests) softens its appearance, so it blends into the ‘page’ rather than having the harsh sharp edge that makes it stand out. If someone is going to be spending a lot of time viewing a particular screen, having soft edges can be easier on the eye than the harsh edge of a bordered image.

Here is an example of an image that I have used in a PowerPoint presentation:


Image of 2 carnival goes wearing skeleton masks and hats. The image is rectangular with a hard border.

Here is the same image that has been turned into an oval and had the edges softened (annoyingly the theme that I use for this blog, puts a grey border around the image that I don’t want!):

Image of 2 carnival goes wearing skeleton masks and hats. The image has soft edges and no border.
The following video shows how easy this is to achieve, note – it is possible to edit multiple images at the same time – if you hold a finger on the ctrl key whilst clicking on the images you can multiple select those images, and then any changes that you make is applied to them all consistently.

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Using PowerPoint to manipulate images: Circling a rectangle

I use images a lot in my work when creating learning resources, and that often requires various forms of editing and manipulating images. I don’t have access to the high end image editing software nor do I have the skill to use them, but I do have access to PowerPoint which can be a very effective tool for basic image manipulation.
In this example I will show how a rectangular image can be converted into a circular image. There a couple of reasons why you may want to do this;

  • It takes up less space on the resource, allowing more space for the other items around it.
  • It can be easier on the eye having circular images that have no corners compared to squares and rectangles with their hard corners.

This video goes through the steps to do this:

The ‘Great HE financial swindle’

HE finances in the UK have hit the headlines recently – with the disgusting fat cat approach to pay of senior leaders, the current strikes, where University lecturers are making huge personal sacrifices to try and protect the future of HE in the UK, and then Theresa May ironically calling for a review into university fees.

Image of a student in a libraryIt is the level of tuition fees that I want to focus on in this post, but the other two points are connected and cannot be separated. The title of this post is influenced by the “Great Rock ‘n’ Roll’ swindle” – of the punk revolution in the 1970s, a movement that challenged the then status quo (not the band itself) of the music industry, and I feel that HE needs a similar style of challenge to move forwards, and to break its own historical shackles.

Introduction

Tuition fees where introduced in 1998 under the labour Government, with institutions being able to charge £1,000 per year. Although unpopular at the time there was a reluctant recognition that the cost of HE should partly be funded by the people that directly benefit most from it, and £1,000 per year seems (on hindsight) a fair and reasonable amount to pay. Fees where then increased in 2004, when organisations could charge up to £3,000 – and then again in 2010 to £9,000, and currently sits at £9,250

There are various problems with this model:

Most institutions charge the same

The idea of the introduction of fees, is that organisations can charge up to the set limit – e.g. they have the choice to charge less, and should base the charge on the actual cost of delivery. In reality what happens is just about every single organisation charges the top amount for all courses. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to predict this would happen, which is why I think the current review is so ironic – creating a model that will predictably be abused, and then carry out a review when it is abused – to pretend you are doing something about it!

If organisations where charging based on the actual cost of delivery, then we have 3 options:

  1. They have managed to accurately predict student numbers, manage budgets etc, so every single course costs exactly £9,250 to run.
  2. Courses cost more than this, and they are making a loss on everything they do.
  3. Courses cost less than this,  and the students are subsidising other parts of the organisation – e.g. the fat cat salaries that increase at a significantly higher rate than the salaries of all the other workers.

I think that option 1 is highly unlikely, so if we disregard that, and focus on the other two; it is possible that some courses cost slightly more to run, and some slightly less, and it all balances out – but if that is the case, is it fair that students on the ‘cheaper’ courses are subsidising those on the more expensive courses?

I expect many organisations will argue that option 2, is predominant – and through their good will and generosity they are subsidising the learning from other parts of their activity. This may well be true for some places, and is how traditional universities often functioned, but there are many organisations (e.g. the teaching focused ones) that have limited alternate fund raising ability – they cannot be using this model.

And so the big question is – how many organisations are using option 3 – charging more for the courses, than they cost to run, and effectively profiteering from the students and the system? Having worked with many organisations over the years, I cannot say that I have seen a significant wholesale increase in quality over the last 20 years – there are many good courses, but mixed in with that, there are many courses or units within a course, that are badly delivered, badly run, and not providing good value for money for the students.

The payback methodology is set to fail

The idea that students take out a loan to cover these costs, and then pay this back if and when they are earning enough to justify this, seems on the surface to be a good idea – but charging extortionate interest rates (currently 6%) is simply disgusting, and creates the wrong mentality. If someone studies at HE level, they often do so believing that this will lead to better job opportunities and a better salary. If they believe that they will reach the threshold of having to pay back their loan, then they would be better suited not getting a student loan to cover the cost, but borrowing money some other way, with a lower rate of interest. So why do students take out the student loans? – Because they know that if they don’t reach that threshold then they don’t have to pay it back, or to phrase it differently, they are encouraging graduates to not fulfil their earning potential once they enter the world of work as they will be penalised financially when they do.

Tuition fees hide the additional living costs

Another problem with the excessively high tuition fees, is that it masks the real cost of studying – the cost of accommodation, food, books, sports/lab kit etc. is now often over looked in the media who quote the tuition costs, but miss off the other costs, and many families wanting their children to do well, encourage them to go to HE, without really grasping the size of the debt that they will have on graduation, or the impact that it will have on them for many years following.

It doesn’t represent good value for the tax payer

Possibly the biggest loser in all of this, is the honest, hard working, tax payer. If a student doesn’t pay back their loan (and various predictions suggest this will be significant numbers), then the bill is footed by the tax payer, which isn’t ideal to say the least – but the fact that a large part of that bill will be the unnecessarily high interest rates that are simply boosting the profits of the privately owned loan companies, is quite simply a swindle. It is widely reported and understood that a better educated population, makes a country more profitable, with better output, which benefits all, so we should go back to encouraging people to study not deterring them.

Conclusion

I was lucky enough to attend University when we were given grants to cover most of the costs, and I recognise that model isn’t fully sustainable, and to a certain extent isn’t completely fair – so I don’t have a problem with students making some contributions towards their studies, however the current model is clearly broken. The Lib Dems, made a huge mistake when part of the coalition Government – when they rescinded on their pre-election pledge not to increase tuition fees, yes it is possible that a future Labour Government may change things for the better – but if they do, what do you do with the current set of students that are paying fees? If a future Government does reduce or drop tuition fees, although I would welcome the move, it is a little unfair for the current batch that are saddled with debt – would they get some sort of rebate?

It saddens me, that when I was working at a University full time, I was proud to be part of a system (the UK’s HE provision) that is considered to be one of the best in the world, and highly sought after – and here we now, with a broken system, attracting negative press stories, and punishing the future generations for the current and previous generations, financial mistakes.

Creating a RAG system in Excel tutorial

It may sound a bit sad, but I love Excel – once you have mastered a few simple techniques, you can put these techniques together in different orders to create some very powerful effects, and for me one of the most powerful things that I can do in Excel, is analyse some data in a way that will visually highlight an issue to me, so that I can act upon that issue quickly. One such technique that I (and many others) use is using a RAG rating system. RAG stands for Red, Amber, Green – (based on traffic lights), where things that are on schedule and up to date are Green, things that are a possible concern are Amber, and things that are a significant concern are Red.

Image showing a simple RAG system created in Excel

This following set of videos, are designed as a tutorial to teach you the skills required to create an effective RAG system within your own Excel files.

If you like this tutorial, then please subscribe to my YouTube Channel at:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCWuDqvf7nO6-00JMMxm1lIw?view_as=subscriber


Introduction

The first video is an introduction, showing the end product of what will be created.


Using the Now() function

The Now() function is a very simple way to bring today’s date and time into a cell within the spreadsheet, which can then be used to compare against other dates within the spreadsheet, e.g. to see which are in the past or future.


Using a basic IF statement

The IF statement in Excel is one of the simplest and most powerful ways to carry out analysis of data in Excel.


Using a Vlookup function

The Vlookup function, seems a little confusing at first, but once used a few times is relatively straight forwards – and allows you to lookup a value in the left hand column in a table, and then return a value from a specified column in the same row of that table.


Using the Max and Min functions

The Max and Min function are very simple to use, and will tell you what the largest or smallest value is in a list.


Using Conditional formatting to create horizontal bars

Conditional formatting is where the appearance of a cell changes based on values (either the value of that cell, or different cells). This video looks at creating horizontal bars that move further right as the value increases.


Using Conditional formatting to create icons

Another option when applying conditional formatting is to add small icons to cells, for example up and down arrows, traffic lights, warning flags etc.


Putting this altogether to create the RAG system

The final video shows how the skills covered above can be put together to create the desired RAG effect.


I hope that this tutorial has proved to be useful.

If organisations want training providing in things like using Excel more effectively, then please get in touch via http://www.a6training.co.uk/contact.php

Template to quickly create a 2 Circle drag and drop activity in Moodle

On Monday I released a template that I have created allowing people to easily create a 3 circle Venn diagram activity in Moodle. Today I have created and released a similar template for a 2 circle Venn diagram activity.

The template is PowerPoint based, and allows the teacher, to quickly and easily create the Venn diagram with the correct dimensions, and then the required coordinates that Moodle uses to identify the different zones are provided for you, so it is possible to create such an activity in a matter of minutes rather than hours.

The following image shows how the activity looks in Moodle, in this case I have used a chemistry example – the beauty of this type of activity, is that it can be used in any subject area (not just maths).

Image showing the example activity

The template file for this, can be downloaded directly via:

http://www.a6training.co.uk/resources/2CircleVennDiagramActivityForMoodle.pptx

And a video explaining how to use this is:

I will be adding more similar templates to this collection in the coming days and weeks, and they will be available at:

http://www.a6training.co.uk/resources_Moodle.php

If you want to keep up to date with similar videos, then subscribe to my YouTube channel via:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCWuDqvf7nO6-00JMMxm1lIw?view_as=subscriber

 

Easily create a Venn diagram drag and drop activity in Moodle

There is an excellent plugin for the Moodle VLE called ‘Drag and Drop Markers‘ which allows someone to create quiz questions, where the learners have to drag and drop markers onto an uploaded image. This can be used to name parts of an image (e.g. bones in the skeleton, or geological features of a glacier), or to create effective categorisation questions. One of my favourite question types, is where the learners take pieces of information, and categorise these by placing them in the correct position on a Venn diagram.

To create this from scratch, would be extremely time consuming, so to make my life easier, I have used PowerPoint to create templates for myself, meaning that I can now create these questions in a matter of minutes, rather than hours, and I will release these to the wider community over the coming days and weeks (as I get time to tidy them up etc.) The first such template for release, is for a 3 circle Venn diagram categorisation activity.

The basic principle is:

  1. Name the 3 circles with the correct titles.
  2. Save the slide as an image.
  3. Upload this to the Moodle quiz question.
  4. Identify what markers you want to use.
  5. Identify which of the 8 possible drop zones is correct for each marker.
  6. Copy and paste the coordinates for each dropzone into Moodle.

This takes a matter of minutes to do, and allows someone to create challenging and more effective questions, as part of the formative assessment process.

The template file for this, can be downloaded directly via:

http://www.a6training.co.uk/resources/3CircleVennDiagramActivityForMoodle.pptx

And a video explaining how to use this is as follows:

I will be adding more similar templates to this collection in the coming days and weeks, and they will be available at:

http://www.a6training.co.uk/resources_Moodle.php

If you want to keep up to date with similar videos, then subscribe to my YouTube channel via:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCWuDqvf7nO6-00JMMxm1lIw?view_as=subscriber

 

 

Fit for purpose is in the eye of the beholder

Last week I was talking to someone from an organisation, who sadly are in a bit of a mess at the moment, because they have invested a lot of time and money into a tool, that is totally inappropriate for what they need.

So the question is, how did they end up with this tool? which to me (and most other people) is obviously not designed for their needs, and doesn’t have a chance of working.

The answer to this question is that a senior manager, had used this same tool at his previous employment, where it had been a huge success, so he assumed that it would be a huge success everywhere. The difference is, that his previous employment was a University, with predominately full time learners, studying higher level programmes, whereas his current employment is a smaller provider working with lots of part time tutors and learners on short programmes, for people with low IT skills and confidence.

So how can someone think that something that isn’t fit for purpose, would be suitable? – The answer lies in the old phrase that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ – what one person thinks is beautiful, another person will find repulsive, and here – what one person thinks is ideal, another person thinks is rubbish.

Image of a wrist watchThis reminds me of a similar situation that I am in with my mother. When my father died, she insisted that I took ownership of his wrist watch. This isn’t an expensive watch (as the picture confirms), it isn’t an heirloom, but for my father it was an excellent watch – because he had gnarled, clumsy fingers, which had a Midas touch in reverse of breaking anything they touched. But this watch was tough – and survived the rigours of his fingers, and had never been to the menders, even though he had owned it for over 15 years. So my mother expected that I would adopt and start using this excellent watch with thanks, but I didn’t – not because I have a perfectly good watch – but because the watch doesn’t keep accurate time. Over the course of a day, it could gain or lose up to 5 minutes, which for someone like me that catches trains regularly and works professionally is of no use whatsoever. The time inaccuracy for my father wasn’t a problem – as long as he knew roughly when to make his ‘elevensies’ coffee, or when to turn the TV on for Country File he was fine. Even though I have tried to explain to my mother, that a watch that doesn’t tell me the time is no use to me, she is still clearly disappointed to see me wearing my watch and not his. So she thinks the watch is excellent, I think it is useless.

So what is the moral of this story? Although I am not a big fan of pointless committees, and designing something by committee is usually a bad idea – having the opposite (one person making decisions without consultation) can be a very bad idea, as that one person could easily choose something that isn’t fit for purpose. If I go back to the organisation at the start of the story, what is worse for them, is rather than doing the sensible thing of accepting the mistake and scrapping what they are doing, they are being forced into trying to use this inappropriate tool to try and make it work, which is having a very negative effect overall for them.

But to prove that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, I did eventually use my father’s watch – when one of the pins broke in the strap of my watch, I could use one out of his watch for the repair!