Using PowerPoint and Office 365 to create a collaborative learning activity

In my last blog post, I explained a simplification of how Office 365 and One Drive (formerly known as SkyDrive) work together to make collaborative learning activities possible. In this post I will give an example of how and why PowerPoint can be used for such an activity.

One of the programmes that I provide training for is the ITQ for Accessible IT practice as part of this programme I have adapted an activity where the attendees collaboratively discover accessibility features of Microsoft Windows that many don’t know about. To create the activity I have set up a simple PowerPoint presentation as follows:

Example of a PowerPoint Template for a collaborative activity

Example of a PowerPoint Template for a collaborative activity

Basically I have a list of different accessibility features that I want the attendees to research, and for each one they have to summarise what the feature is and how it could be useful from an accessibility perspective. All I have done is created a simple slide within PowerPoint with 2 text boxes – 1 for each question. I then duplicate the slide numerous time and all I have to do is change the title of the slide to each of the accessibility features.

Looking at the left side of the image you will see 3 such slides of this nature, and you will notice that on this occasion I completed the first one as an example. All I have to do now is make a copy of this file (so that I have a clean master for next year) and to share this activity with my students (which I will explain later), allocate a topic (e.g. slide number) to each student and away we go. An old pack of cards is a useful way of randomly allocating a topic to each person.

The advantage of this activity for me is it is very quick to set up – once I have thought about what questions I am asking and how much space on the screen I want to allocate them, it is very easy to create the actual mechanism. When using this in class – all the attendees are editing the same document at the same time, so I can view that document and see what is going on – this means that I can see what people are doing, helping them if necessary, without having to walk around and look over their shoulders, it also means that if I had a student at home for example they could also partake in this activity either in real time or later on. If a student is doing something really good, I can pause the activity and show their slide on the screen and point out the key points, without having to mess with screen sharing, transferring files etc.

After a period of time I may stop the activity and ask people to then look at a different slide and edit what the previous person has done or to look at the points and identify the most important etc. At the end of the session, each person can take their own local copy of the file which may be useful to them as part of an assignment.

The beauty of this technique especially if using it at the start of a topic, is students get to see other students points of view – which can help when constructing an assignment to use other peoples opinions and not just ones own.

I mentioned earlier about sharing the file – there are different ways that I can do this, the easiest is to share a link as follows:

image showing how to share a link using Skydrive, Select Share, Get a Link, Shorten Link

Sharing a link using OneDrive

  1. On OneDrive, choose the ‘Share’ menu
  2. On the left you could invite people if you know who they are, or you can get a link
  3. There will be an option of whether they can ‘Edit’ or ‘View’ – choose ‘Edit’
  4. If using the get a link option, you can copy the link as is, and email it to students or add to the VLE. or you can shorten the link and put it onto the board for students to type in manually or convert to a QR code.
  5. At the end of the session I may revert the sharing settings back to view rather than edit, so students can view what has been completed but cannot continue editing it (in case they try to be funny and write rude things about me or other students in the document!).

In my next post I will give an example of how Excel can be used to create a collaborative activity.

Using Office 365 to create collaborative learning activities

Last week I was at the BETT show, working for The Tablet Academy who were running the interactive classroom on the Microsoft stand. We ran a series of 15 minutes interactive sessions, with one of my sessions being on the use of Office 365 to create collaborative activities. This session turned out to be very popular showing the interest from educators in this way of working.

The principle that I demonstrated wasn’t new – it was something that I have been doing for 8 or 9 years using the collaborative functionality of Google Drive (formerly known as Google Docs) which I have previously blogged about, however many education organisations are nervous about using Google Drive in this way, and the example that I used in my blog post, did involve the work being potentially visible to anyone in the World, which didn’t matter for what I was doing, but for other subjects would be an issue. If an organisation has adopted Google Apps for education then it could all be kept safely enclosed within the organisation, but most places don’t have this – but if they do have Microsoft, and now that Office 365 offers a real time collaborative functionality – I can easily set up similar activities in a way that the IT/Network manager will be happier with.

Before we progress we need to understand a bit about how Office 365 works in conjunction with OneDrive (Microsoft’s cloud storage option – formerly called SkyDrive). When a teacher creates a file using Word, PowerPoint Excel or similar – they can save this to their OneDrive – this will appear on their computer just like any other network drive, so behaviour wise it is very easy for staff. If they are offline, it doesn’t matter the work will save, and as soon as they are online again it will Synchronise with the OneDrive server.

The files are now stored on the computer but also in the cloud – this means that I can access them from any internet enabled computer by going to the OneDrive website and logging in as me.

Image showing the web view of Skydrive with the Words (Download, Share, Embed and Manage highlighted)

Example view of the OneDrive web interface

You will see in the  image that there are 4 options highlighted with the red rectangle:

  • Download – allows for a local copy of the file to be downloaded onto the computer.
  • Share – Is what we want here, as we can give students access to the file, without having to send them a copy.
  • Embed – allows for files to be embedded into something like a website, blog or VLE – this could be very useful for displaying a graph or chart following an experiment or survey.
  • Manage – allows options such as renaming, but also a version history – so if someone sabotages a collaborative file, you can roll back to an earlier version and find out who did the sabotaging.

These different options can be applied to individual files, multiple files or even folders. The folders options could be very useful, as you could set up sharing options with individual students at folder level once at the start of the year, then any file that is added into that folder will automatically be visible to the student – I can see lots of potential here for giving feedback after assessment, and an ability for students to make comments etc. on their feedback all with the same document. The history functionality gives me the data integrity that I need for assessment purposes which in the past caused us to produce lots of inefficient different files with no information moving between them.

If I were to set up a collaborative activity using these tools, there are 2 options for the students. They can either edit the file in the web app – this is great if accessing this activity via a device that doesn’t have Microsoft Office on it (e.g. an iPhone or iPad), and allows for real time synchronous editing (lots of people editing same document at same time) – but you don’t get the full Office functionality. Or students can access and edit the file in Office, which gives the full functionality and great for small scale non-synchronous collaboration.

The key to making any of this work, is changing the way that we behave with files – which will take time. Email although a great tool, has created a culture of sending files as attachments – which creates multiple copies of the same file in different location which then leads to problems. If a single file is stored in one place and a link to this file is shared then there is only 1 file and therefore less problems.

In the coming days I will release posts, giving examples of different collaborative activities using PowerPoint, Excel and Word.