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.

Using Word and Office 365 to streamline assessment feedback

In my last few posts I have been explaining some uses of Office 365 to create collaborative activities using PowerPoint or Excel. In this post, I am going to look at Microsoft Word. Word could be used to create a collaborative learning activity in a similar way to the PowerPoint example, but it is set so that only one person can edit one paragraph at a time – therefore careful consideration is required when designing such an activity. In this example I am going to look at the mechanism of student feedback following assessment and h the collaborative nature can be very useful.

If I look at what might happen in colleges, universities and some schools at the present:

  1. Teacher produces an assignment brief and gives this to the learner.
  2. Learner completes assignment and hands it in.
  3. Teacher marks the work and fills in a feedback sheet, hands work and feedback sheet back to learner.
  4. Learner fills in the box on feedback sheet where they reflect on the assignment and their action plan to solve any updates required.
  5. At end of term, teacher realises learner hasn’t updated their assignment – contacts learner.
  6. Learner has lost feedback sheet so has forgotten what needs doing.
  7. Teacher re-issues feedback sheet (luckily they have a copy).
  8. Student does updates, hands work back in.
  9. Teacher remarks work, fills in anew feedback sheet with the additional feedback and final grade.

Although the above may sound like a tedious drawn out exaggeration, I am sure that many will see similarities with current practices  – and whatever ones system, whether paper and pen or electronic there is almost always a significant amount of files moving from place to another and there is seldom an efficient loop where the students use the tutors feedback to help them with their updates or future assignments.

So here is one suggestion. We create a single Word document that is going to contain all of the information relating to that assignment – and this will be used by both tutor and student. This will contain the brief for the assessment, the list of criteria being covered/assessed, and area for the student to reflect on the assignment, areas for the teacher to give feedback, and space for them to add additional information if the work is referred and needs to be upgraded.

Once this document has been created – all the tutor has to do is to share this with the learner through OneDrive (the new name for SkyDrive). The learner and the tutor are now accessing the same document. If the tutor wants to have a situation where all of the students marked work is returned at the same time, rather than piecemeal – they can quickly remove the students sharing rights, mark all of the work and then re-share it.

Image showing the history settings within OneDrive

Image showing the history settings within OneDrive

One of the key reasons why this technique hasn’t worked in the past, is the verification process needs to see the different versions of the work and the feedback given – which in turn lead to the notion of creating lots of different documents. The beauty of using Office 365 and OneDrive is there is a built in history and version mechanism.

With this you can see any previous versions including who made the changes and you can restore or download any of the versions at a later date if required by an IV or EV.

Image showing the history options for a file including the ability to restore, download and who made the changes and when

Image showing the option to restore or download a previous version of the same file.

Having one file to deal with rather than lots of files is easier for the tutor and the student to manage. There are less chances of error due to people using the wrong version of those files, and from a teaching and learning perspective having all of the information in one place for the student is far more likely for them to reflect on the feedback and change their behaviour as a result.

I hope that as organisations start to use Office 365 more and more, there is a real effort for people to think about what they are doing and why – and how these technical advancements can make a huge difference to our overall efficiency and effectiveness.

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.

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 screen tips to an image in Microsoft Word or PowerPoint

If you have a word document that contains images – there is a simple way to add an element of interactivity to it, without having to alter the appearance of the document in any way.

The basic principle is to have an image (e.g. a photo) and as the learner moves their mouse over the image – it provides a screen tip which could name or describe that part of the image. This is a very basic form of interactivity, but it is very easy to do and is a good starting point for someone if they have existing Words based resources.

This technique can be used to improve the accessibility of a resource, (in that you are providing additional information to the learning – without cluttering the screen with too much information) or to add an element of differentiation (the learner that is struggling to understand the image, can hover their mouse to get more information).

This technique is part of the JISC TechDis accessibility essential series – and can be found at http://www.jisctechdis.ac.uk/AccessibilityEssentials/2007/AE2/modules/authoring%20accessible%20docs/use%20of%20screen%20tips.html

The following video shows how to do this.

In this video, the hyperlink points to the top of the document as that is where the image was. If you are using an image part way down the document, you can either insert a bookmark next to the image to link to, or give the image a heading (and use the styles to make sure it is a heading) and link to that.

You can also use this technique in PowerPoint by just linking to the slide that you are on, as shown in this video.

Using Compfight to locate creative commons images

Compfight is an excellent little website, for locating images on flickr that have been released under a creative commons licence which means that we can use the images in resources etc, without having to gain explicit permission from the image owner.

I have posted about Compfight before at https://davefoord.wordpress.com/2010/05/18/finding-and-using-creative-commons-images/ and https://davefoord.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/finding-images-without-breaking-copyright/  but the interface has changed slightly, so I thought it was time to create a new screencast for this service.

Having located and used an image this way, I then use another service called ImageStamper which then records which images I have used and when, and most importantly what the licence agreement was at the time (in case someone on Flickr changes their licence agreement at a later date).

Using Xpert to find images and insert them into a PowerPoint

I use images a lot in my work – most of my PowerPoint presentations, are very image based, and the place that I use most to locate these images is a site called Xpert. This site has been created by the University of Nottingham, to compliment the Xerte tool that they have developed for creating content, but I use it mainly for finding images for my PowerPoint and Word based resources. The thing that I really like is the way that under each image that I locate on Xpert, it adds a black bar containing the licence information and the reference, showing that I have the right to use this image and it references it correctly, and the black bar will always follow the image around.

I have posted about this service before at https://davefoord.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/finding-images-without-breaking-copyright/ but I thought it was time to update the video showing how to do this.