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.

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Making PowerPoint active not passive

This is a 9th entry in a series on ‘putting the fun back into fundamental learning’.

A lot of people criticise PowerPoint because of the well known phenomenon of ‘Death by PowerPoint’, but it isn’t PowerPoint that is at fault but the people creating the presentations (or the people that haven’t trained and educated them) that are too blame. What is really sad is that many people know that they have produced an ineffective presentation but still use it anyway. The problem with bad PowerPoint presentations, is they tend become a very passive form of learning – the tutor puts the presentation on the screen, talks a bit (often just reading the words on the screen) in a hope that the students will absorb this information. It doesn’t help that we often have to darken the room by drawing blinds or curtains to make the presentation show up, but that just helps with the sleepy effect and the students will drift off….

So – if we don’t want to make the presentation passive then we need to make it active – in other words getting the students to do something. Over the years I have found many ideas for making presentations more active, and have shared templates with others through this blog and the PowerPoint resources section of my website

These examples include:-

Editable text boxes

The template that I use most within PowerPoint, is editable text boxes. These are really easy to use, they reduce the preparation time for the presentation significantly and make the learning more active, so a win all round situation!

I often use these at the end of a session to summarise what has been learned, or if doing a comparing activity (e.g. advantages v disadvantages of something). Basically – you add your editable text box into your presentation, the students suggest what goes in the, you type them in (or if you have a wireless keyboard, they can type them in) at the end of the session when you save your presentation all the contributions will be kept, so you can share the presentation with the students via the VLE or similar.

Countdown timers

If you set the students a task (which is a good way of making the learning active), then use a timer to keep time – this helps keep the tutor to schedule and helps focus the learners on the task and not to drift off into other distracting activities.

Score Ladders

Some people think that competition within education is a bad thing. My background is in the area of sport science, so I believe that competition (used appropriately) is a good thing. I would often split a class into teams for an activity and pitch them against each other as a way of focusing them and motivating them. Score ladders can be used to keep score within teams (up to 6) and can be used with verbal questions or any other non-technology related activity.

Top 6 activity

I once started a new topic with a simple activity to set the scene / break the ice, where the students (split into 2 teams) had to identify the top 6 something to do with that topic. The activity worked really well, and the template that I created to make this can be adapted very easily for other topics – as long as you have a list of top 6 somethings (or an ordered list).

An example activity can be found here.

And

(note to make the next link work, right click on the link and choose ‘save’ then open the file from where you have saved it- otherwise it may open in the Internet window rather than PowerPoint)

The blank template can be found here

The blank template includes instructions on how to use the resource within the notes section (often visible at the bottom of the screen)


The principle of all the above resources is that as long as a tutor has the ability to copy and paste then they can add these templates to existing or new presentations – make the learning more active and hopefully more engaging and effective.

All of the templates above are free for people working in education to use and to share (e.g. on their VLEs).