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Changing behaviour with Office 365 and Tablet Devices

Over the last week I have produced 4 posts around ideas of using Office 365 in education:

  1. Using Office 365 to create collaborative learning activities.
  2. Using PowerPoint and Office 365 to create a collaborative learning activity.
  3. Using Excel and Office 365 to create learning activities.
  4. Using Word and Office 365 to streamline assessment feedback.

The idea that I am trying to get across, is that Office 365 isn’t just a slightly newer version of the Office Suite, instead it works in a fundamentally different way, but to get the benefit from these improvements, requires people to behave differently, and with the arrival and (I predict) rapidly increasing number of Microsoft tablets within the education system – and the mobility that these devices offer – getting Office 365 to work properly is going to be key.

The main behaviour change, is reducing the number of different versions of the same file that exist in different.

For example: If I create a Word Document, and save it to ‘My Documents’ on my computer. There is one version of the file. I then email this to a colleague. There is now the version in My Documents, a copy in my sent items, and one in my colleagues inbox – so thats 3 versions. My colleague downloads the file (4 versions) and then makes some edits, saving the file to their network drive (5 versions) they email this back to me (Their sent items and my inbox gives 7 in total) – I Download this (8 versions), and save a copy (with a new name) back to my Documents (9 versions).

So – the very simple example above with me asking 1 colleague to proof read and edit a document has created 9 files without me thinking about it. If I had collaborated with more people this number could quickly run into the hundreds – which makes no sense, there is a risk of ‘old’ versions re-appearing a later date, and the total memory used up on the system (especially if a large file) costs money and slows everything else down.

If I use Office 365 and OneDrive (the new name for SkyDrive) the behaviour would be as follows:

I create a file, and save it to my OneDrive. There is now a version on my computer and a synchronised version ‘in the cloud’, I email a link to this file to my colleague, they edit this via the web interface in the cloud, and let me know when complete. I can check their edits, and if unhappy with them I can use the history option to roll back to an earlier version or discard the changes. Ultimately though – we still have the same file on my Computer and a synchronised version ‘in the cloud’. There are no extra versions loitering in mail systems or download folders.

One of the reasons why this becomes so important with tablet devices, is they rely on files being transferred via wireless – so we need to make the whole process of file management more streamlined. If I am working with a class and I want them all to access an image rich  PowerPoint file for example – for me to ‘push’ that file over the slightly ropey wifi in that classroom to 30 different devices could take 10 minutes or more, which isn’t realistic. For me to use the file sharing mechanism within OneDrive and  the students to access this via the web interface will effectively stream the content, as the students view it, rather than pushing the whole file out up front.

In the previous posts I talked about the collaborative teaching and learning opportunities this brings, and with the extra mobility and battery potential of tablets over laptops or desktops, means we can use these devices in any environment including the sports hall, kitchen, on field trips etc.

As with many of my blog posts – the key to changing these behaviours is an investment in staff development. Because Office has been around for so long, Office training is far less common – there is an assumption (which is an incorrect one) that people don’t need to be taught basic office skills. With Office 365 – there is a huge need to reinvest in training in this area, otherwise its potential will not be unlocked.

At the moment I am working with a company called The Tablet Academy who provide training and consultancy around the use of tablet devices (Apple, Android and Microsoft) in education. If any Schools or Colleges in the UK (including Scotland) purchase 20 or more Microsoft tablets (including ones made by other companies) they are entitled to free training, provided by someone from the Tablet Academy (only downside is the current offer is only for training that is delivered before the 31st March 2014). If you work for a school or college in the UK and have purchased such device recently and your reseller hasn’t mentioned the free training offer then contact the Tablet Academy who will chase this up for you.


Adding files to Moodle in multiple formats

In my previous 2 posts I have talked about:

Wordpress icon Adding a file into a content area in Moodle 2

Wordpress icon Adding file type icons to Moodle

Another consideration when using files within any VLE system, is there is now a strong case to upload content in more than one format to take account of the fact that there are many different systems out there, and not all file types will be accessible from all computers or mobile devices.

e.g. a word document if opened on something like an iPhone or iPad although it will open, the layout and formatting may be changed and may make it unusable. If the word document is only ever going to be read and not interacted with by the learner, then the sensible thing is to save the file as a PDF – which will work on any device and will appear exactly as you want it. If I want the learner to edit the document – then I upload in both Word format and PDF format.

Again PowerPoint does not always work well on a non-microsoft device. If the presentation is very static with no animations or enhancements, then I will save this as a PDF and upload in that format instead. If the PowerPoint does have things like animations then I will upload this as a PowerPoint show – so that those with PowerPoint have the benefit of this functionality, but I will also upload a PDF version immediately below it – the animations won’t work, but they will be able to read the content on the screen – and if the presentation is well designed then they will still be able to access all of the information. Hyperlinks within PowerPoint will still work when exported as a PDF – although is complex hyperlinks have been created from non-rectangular shapes, then these will be converted to rectangles which may reduce the functionality.

This is where using the Adding file type icons to Moodle technique really comes in as it becomes clear to the user which file they want to download.

I have tested this method on various projects and the feedback from the learners has always been really positive.

In my next post, I will talk about another way to add links to files within Moodle.

Adding file type icons to Moodle

In my previous post on ‘Adding files into a Moodle 2 content area’ I described how files can be added into the middle of text, so that they appear as links with a narration around them.

One downside of this, is that sometimes the links aren’t as obvious as they could be (depending on the theme being used and any personalisations to the CSS) – and also the student doesn’t know what type of file they are downloading – which when accessing on things like mobile devices, can be a useful piece of information.

Screenshot showing how icons are added before the hyperlinks to denote the file type So what I often do to make the links to files stand out , and to give the user an idea of what sort of file it is that they are downloading – I add the hyperlink on a separate line and add an icon before it to identify the file type. This improves the layout of the page, works really well on mobile devices and increases the usability considerably.

There are various sources of icons, your Moodle administrator should be able to locate the icons used by your system, so that they match – or I often use the following website, which helps search for creative commons icons:

Internet icon https://www.iconfinder.com/

Once you have your icons, you can keep adding the icon the same way that you add any other image, or another option which I have used with a few projects is to upload the icons to an area of webspace, then add this once to Moodle by adding an image by URL. I then set the ALT text (e.g. set this to “PowerPoint icon”, or “PDF icon”. I then go into the html view, and copy the piece of code that relates to that icon – and I paste this into a word document or similar. Then in the future when I want to re-use the icon, I can just go into the word document, copy the code for the desired icon, and paste this into the html editor in Moodle.

e.g. the code that I use to keep re-using the internet icon above looks something like:

Screen shot showing an example of the code can be added for each icon



This may sound a little complicated but it is actually a much quicker way of doing this, and you will know that everytime you add an icon, it will have the correct ALT text associated with it, which is really good for consistency and makes it a lot easier for a visually impaired learner to navigate around the area.

Adding a file into a Moodle 2 content area

Many people that use Moodle will know how to add files directly into a Moodle course, which works fine for some situations, but there is a risk that one ends up with a long list of files appearing on the course page, without guidance to the learners as to what to do with them.

Personally I hate seeing Moodle (or any other VLE system) courses that look like this, as it doesn’t make for good teaching and learning (we don’t usually go into a teaching session, give the students 3 or 4 handouts, and then let them get on with it – we usually explain and talk to the learners what we want them to do with the resources).

So – rather than uploading files in a long list – what I like to do is to add a narration around the files, explaining to the learners what I want them to do with each of the files or resources that I am sharing with them. For this I need to choose a Moodle resource or activity type. If it is a very simple topic, I may add a ‘page’, other times I add a ‘book’ (which allows me to have multiple pages within the resource), or I could use a discussion ‘forum’, ‘lesson’, ‘Quiz’, or ‘assignment’. As long as whatever I choose gives me the WYSIWYG editor (the row of icons that looks a bit like a word processor), then I can use this technique.

The following video will take you through the process:

Part of the beauty of this technique, is it becomes very easy to move content around within the Moodle course – in that if I want to re-arrange my teaching order, I may have 1 link for the topic (which itself links to 4 or 5 other files) – I only have to move this one link and the files go with it, rather than having to move the 4 or 5 files in turn.

Another place where I use this technique a lot is with the assignment tool. If I want students to submit work through Moodle, and I am giving them an assignment brief (e.g. in the form of a word document) I can create an assignment within Moodle. Add the link to the assignment brief and any other required documents into the description, and then the learners are accessing the brief in the same place that they will be submitting their work – which is much neater than putting the briefs in one place and them submitting their work in another.