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At the beginning of February, we've got a team of developers and trainers coming over to Sydney and Melbourne to run free Office DevCamps, for anybody who wants to develop apps for Office (Excel, Word, PowerPoint, SharePoint and the Office Web Apps) to get listed in the new Office Store. As the vast majority of computers in classrooms in Australia have Microsoft Office installed, then you've got a big market for apps you develop for education users.
There are some pretty high powered instructors, for example:
Donovan Folette is a Senior Technical Evangelist from Microsoft with over 25 years experience of developing enterprise business applications on a variety of platforms. He currently specialises in helping to enable developers in building integrated line-of-business (LOB) solutions with Microsoft Office and SharePoint.
You can see the rest of the course instructors here.
The training is free, and open to organisations or individual developers. It is designed to work even for developers who haven't ever developed specifically for Office before.
Make a date: Find out more, and register, for the Australian Office DevCamps
But, if you're wondering whether it's worth committing two days to training and development, then you're going to be interested in the webcast on Tuesday which will give you more detail about the DevCamp, and what's in it for you:
Attend a live Webinar on Tuesday, January 15 at 12pm AEST (Sydney/Melbourne time), presented by Dene Cleaver, Microsoft Senior Product Manager to find out more about how the Office DevCamp will help you to be one of the first developers to release apps in the new Office Store.
You can either join online using Lync, or the Lync web client, or call in over the phone:
Join online meeting via Lync/web
Join online meeting via Lync/web
Join by phone by dialling our local numbers at 12:00 on Tuesday. You can either join on the free phone number (+61 1800 553229) or from a mobile, call our Sydney number (02 9870 2923). You'll get asked for the conference ID to get started, which is 1960456785 On holiday in Vietnam? Well there's a local phone number there and in virtually every holiday destination on our Find a local number page.
Join by phone by dialling our local numbers at 12:00 on Tuesday. You can either join on the free phone number (+61 1800 553229) or from a mobile, call our Sydney number (02 9870 2923).
You'll get asked for the conference ID to get started, which is 1960456785
On holiday in Vietnam? Well there's a local phone number there and in virtually every holiday destination on our Find a local number page.
My colleague, James Marshall, is a whizz with Office 365 for education. And he regularly shares information on his UK Education Cloud Blog on how to use the Office 365 cloud services to support education organisations (from both an IT management and user perspective). I really recommend following his blog if you're after up to date information.
I've used some of the information from his blog post "Parent Access to SharePoint Online using PALs" to describe some scenarios where you can use Office 365 for education to improve your communications with parents. I've written this from a school perspective, but the same applies to TAFE or University where you want to securely communicate and interact with external users, including parents, business partners, researchers etc
There’s all sorts of information that schools need to provide to parents, and traditionally this has resulted in copious amounts of paper being given to students to put in their bag, often never to be seen again! This not only involves tonnes of paper, but also massive cost. Increasingly schools have turned to their websites, or social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, to distribute information but sometimes there are things schools need to distribute to a restricted audience (things you want parents to know, but not tell the world; or things that are only relevant to one particular group of parents only). The good news is that if you're using Office 365 for education (the free cloud-based office service that gives you email, SharePoint, Lync, and Office web apps as an online service) you can use the website, team collaboration and publishing services to make this whole process easier.
You can enable parent access to the SharePoint Online service in Office 365 for education using PALs (Partner Access Licence). And the good news is that the PALs are provided automatically as part of the Office 365 service.
What sort of information could you publish? Here’s a few examples:
Terminology There is a bunch of jargon here, so here’s a few definitions: PAL – partner access licence. Each SharePoint Online tenant in Office 365 for education gets 10,000 of these included. External User – another name for someone that doesn’t exist as a licenced user object in Office 365. Typically your staff and students will have SharePoint Online licences, but as parents can’t be given these licenses they are external users. External users are invited by email address. The email address can be from any domain, but must be associated with a Microsoft Account. Each External User consumes one PAL. External Contact – these represent people outside of your institution who can be displayed in the shared address book (GAL). They don’t have a mailbox in Exchange Online, and can’t sign in to your domain. They are also totally separate from External Users.
There is a bunch of jargon here, so here’s a few definitions:
Enabling this functionality can be done in three simple steps:
Considerations Keep in mind that once you invite external users to one part of your site, it is easy to grant them permission to other sites – which means if your staff get carried away, you may be sharing more than you first planned. So you should ensure that you know the identity of users who are invited through e-mail and consider confirming their identity before granting an external user access to content. An external user invitation can be accepted only one time. The invitation email can be forwarded to another recipient who can use the invitation to access the SharePoint site. However, after the e-mail invitation has been accepted, it expires. If you attempt to invite an external user to use your site when your school has set SharePoint Online to deny external users, you will see a note in the 'Share Site' box that that says, “Invitations to users outside your organization are currently disabled.” To use an email address, such as *.contoso.com, to log on to a SharePoint Online site, the email address must first be associated with a Microsoft account. You can register an email address with your Microsoft account by following the steps at this website.
Keep in mind that once you invite external users to one part of your site, it is easy to grant them permission to other sites – which means if your staff get carried away, you may be sharing more than you first planned. So you should ensure that you know the identity of users who are invited through e-mail and consider confirming their identity before granting an external user access to content.
An external user invitation can be accepted only one time. The invitation email can be forwarded to another recipient who can use the invitation to access the SharePoint site. However, after the e-mail invitation has been accepted, it expires.
If you attempt to invite an external user to use your site when your school has set SharePoint Online to deny external users, you will see a note in the 'Share Site' box that that says, “Invitations to users outside your organization are currently disabled.”
To use an email address, such as *.contoso.com, to log on to a SharePoint Online site, the email address must first be associated with a Microsoft account. You can register an email address with your Microsoft account by following the steps at this website.
You can read up on this topic in a few different places:
Office 365 for education is our free, cloud-based service, that gives you email through Exchange, collaboration with SharePoint, and document services with Office Web applications (Word, Excel, OneNote and PowerPoint - all running through your browser). You can use it for all kinds of things, from something simple like providing your school email servers, to complex scenarios like running your website and customising parental communications; or delivering courses across the internet using a combination of video and audio conferencing, collaboration in SharePoint and access for external users.
But as with many technology projects, sometimes you just need a little help to work out the best way to start (because sometimes, just going to the website and signing up for a free service isn't going to help you get the most benefit from it in the long-term). So here's some help:
Loryan Strant, who's a Microsoft MVP (Most Valuable Professional) for Office 365, is running a weekly webinar on Office 365 for education in Australia over the next couple of months (I'm guessing that material from his book on implementing Office 365 might help him prepare!).
Loryan runs Paradyne, who were a finalist for Microsoft Online Services Partner of the Year for the last two years, and was responsible for one of the first deployments of Office 365 for education in Australia, at Woodleigh School.
The free webinars are an hour long, and run at 10AM (AEST) every Tuesday between now and the end of March. Here's how Loryan describes the session:
Here is your opportunity to get the ins and outs of this fantastic program [Office 365 for education] that will benefit your school immensely. Imagine how wonderful it would be to offload non mission-critical mailboxes to Microsoft to run for you? Or for students and teachers to collaborate with video conferencing and sharing across campus, from home, or even across the world!
Make sure you attend this webinar to learn about Office 365, how schools are using it, and how you can become a school of the future.
The dates are 15, 22, 29 of January; 5, 12, 19, 26 February; and 5, 12, 19, 26 March. So you can either get in quick, and join one of the webinars before term starts; or finish off your projects, get the first couple of weeks behind you, and then join late Feb or early March.
Register here: Make a date with Loryan for the Office 365 for education webinar for schools
Remember Shift Happens, from five years ago? Of course, it spawned a lot of similar style presentations, and they're still rolling on today - many with the same soundtracks. Here's an interesting one that would wake up the start of a conference or meeting, from Erik Qualman (author of socialnomics), about the impact of social media on sharing of information. I thought it was worth sharing because I noticed lots of paid advertising for schools, universities and colleges over the last few months – and yet, according to Erik, social media is probably more important than all of that:
Do you like what they are saying about your brand? You better…
90% of consumers trust peer recommendations.
Only 14% trust advertisements.
Although I know that most education institutions in Australia have a social media presence, I wonder how many see it as an equal partner with conventional marketing? The quote above is just one of the stats from Erik's Social Media 2013 video:
There's no shortage of quotes in the video that I'm sure could be debated, like "The ROI of Social Media is Your Business Will Still Exist in 5 years", but if what your looking for is a rousing call to action for things to be different, then
Here's an interesting poster for your IT classroom walls, highlighted by Steve Clayton on the Next at Microsoft blog. Apparently it was created for the Microsoft careers team, to highlight some of the different career options linked to the many different technologies that we work with at Microsoft.
But to me it's an opportunity for a great classroom poster to show students how wide and varied technology is, and how many parts of our lives it intersects.
Download a high resolution PDF to put up on your classroom wall
Last week I wrote about Lucas Moffitt, an Australian developer of Windows 8 education apps. Well, his latest two apps have been released into the Windows Store 'Education' category, and they are both apps for teachers to use. They are designed around the idea of creating very simple apps that help teachers do an administration task that can be quicker and easier on a screen than on countless bits of paper – and all of them are currently free:
Link This application allows you to record feedback for a colleague or teaching student about their teaching practices based upon the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers:
You can pin evaluations to the dashboard, and export evaluations to Excel documents – which means that evaluators can dump all of those big binders of dead trees, and make their data more immediate and shareable (the current 'binder full of paper' method just leads to even more paper use as it's copied)
Link Class Seater allows you to create simple, detailed seating plans for your class or tutorial, and if needed export a Class List to Excel.
I love the fact that once you've created your class seating diagram, you can then pin that class to your start screen, so that you can quickly jump straight into the diagram from your Start screen.
I know that Lucas is looking for feedback from teachers on his apps, so once you've had a chance to download either of these and use them, drop Lucas a line and let him know what else you'd like to see (you can get his contact details from www.lucasmoffitt.com or from the Settings>Privacy page in any of his apps)
Read more about recommended Windows 8 Education apps
The new model for creating apps for Microsoft Office will mean that in the future teachers and lecturers will become familiar with simply downloading or buying small apps to improve the way they work with Office – and I believe it will lead to a burst of apps that will be written specifically to help make life easier for education users.
When I first wrote about developing apps for Office, and the new Office Store last year, the app ideas I discussed were things that would help teachers, lecturers and researchers to save time in their working life (eg automating cover booking for lessons/lectures; an institution-specific research assistant; or a resource booker for portable teaching resources), or improve the information flow between students and their teaching staff (eg an assignment submitter; or assignment/lesson plan publisher).
Since then the new Office has been fully released for education customers to upgrade to, and with the consumer launch ahead of us, I expect there will be a bit more focus on apps for Office, as more users start to upgrade to Word 2013, Excel 2013 and PowerPoint 2013 etc. And with the millions of Live@edu users migrating to Office 365 for education this year – and starting to use SharePoint in the cloud, there'll be even more opportunities for software developers to sell their apps through the public Office Store, or make them available through institutional downloads.
The tools that developers will use for creating Office apps - Microsoft Office Developer Tools for Visual Studio 2012 and Napa tools - have been available for a while, and are already on their second version. The Napa tools allow developers to create apps integrating web and cloud services within Office documents, emails, meetings etc. The latest version of the Napa tools have added the ability to develop apps for PowerPoint (how about an app that automatically publishes a PowerPoint into the right folder in your Office 365 for education setup, links to the right Moodle course, adds the correct metadata tags to make it searchable by others, and links to the assessment task?).
And the Apps for SharePoint model allows developers to easily turn an existing web project into a SharePoint app, making it easier to have data flowing between the web project and your SharePoint (even something as simple as avoiding users having to log-in twice is a real bonus).
The LightSwitch developer tools have also been updated, to make it easy to create touch-enabled, data-centric applications (download 'What is LightSwitch?') in HTML5. The update lets you create and deploy apps for the new SharePoint model – and makes it possible to publish apps that are in the public Office Store, or released just inside your organisation.
You can get a lot more detailed information on the latest release of the Office development tools over on the Office Apps blog
For more information on developing education apps for Office, and the free training courses in Australia in February 2013, search for blog posts with the tag "Developers" and "Office"
I've just finished reading a great article on PCWorld, titled "Meet Microsoft, the world's best kept R&D secret", about the hidden work going on in the Microsoft research and development labs – and some of the projects that are being delivered in return for the $9.6 billion being invested every year:
It all points to scenarios, like the ones from our Productivity Future Vision created last year, being with us sooner than we might imagine.
It will be fascinating to see how some of these innovations are applied in education - either in real or virtual classrooms
Read the original PCWorld article "Meet Microsoft, the world's best kept R&D secret"
It's always interesting to read about projects where IT costs have been reduced by the IT team of a university, and I've had this in my 'must share' list for a while.
As there's a full case study on the Microsoft website about the different activities undertaken by the Coventry University IT team to hit their cost saving targets, all I'll do is summarise the highlights:
The results meant that a number of different savings were made:
The flip side of the saving message is that the university were also able to improve the IT services provided to their users. For example, they've increased user uptime significantly, by increasing the server resilience and using failover clustering – automatically moving applications between server clusters when there are problems. They're also moving forward on improving their disaster recovery planning, to allow them to replicate their data in real-time, rather than with daily off-site backup and storage.
Read the full Coventry University case study on IT savings with Hyper-V here
Find the 50 other 'cost saving' articles on this blog
In December, I came across Lesson Coder, a Windows 8 educational app to help teachers record their own lesson observations, and check them against the NSW Quality Teaching Framework. It's a professional development tool for both experienced and trainee teachers, and it made a lot of sense to use on a touch-enabled Windows 8 device.
Over Christmas, I had the chance to catch up with Lucas Moffitt, the developer, to understand why he'd developed it, and what other projects he's got in the pipeline, and he's agreed to let me share the Question and Answer session:
Lucas has always been interested in programming, ever since as a Year 4 student a teacher showed him a programming tool he used to build education apps – and ever since then Lucas has been interested in both developing software and education. He went to the University of Newcastle and completed a double degree in teaching and design and technology. Since graduating he's carried on developing software and websites, now as a professional developer. As Lucas put it:
I think this came from a module in 'teaching and technology' that Lucas took in his last year of the teaching course. He was disappointed to realise that teachers were often having to make do with existing websites and software that had been created for other purposes, and that teachers were then adapting to use in teaching and learning. And that would then lead to gaps in the ways that it could support teachers and students. It was at that point that Lucas saw the opportunity to change the model and actually develop apps specifically for teachers.
His first app was WordFiller - a cloze test generator for interactive whiteboards, where students could drag words from a passage around on the whiteboard to match the text. Teachers can load a passage of text and then remove some words, and then the students would be picking up words and dropping them into the text using the interactivity of the whiteboard.
After realising that many teachers didn't have access to the an interactive whiteboard in their classroom, Lucas moved on to create an interface that worked with Windows Kinect, so that students could use hand-gestures and voice commands to complete the task. It meant that teachers could achieve the same thing with a $200 Kinect device rather than a $4,000 interactive whiteboard.
But if you're developing free software apps for teachers, how do you distribute it? Lucas answer was social media:
After creating it, Lucas learnt that although many teachers will assert that they are tech-savvy, often they lack the confidence or skills to try something completely new that's not quite as simple as downloading an app from an online store.
Lucas also had to learn about new programming languages for modern devices – in his case, C# – to make sure that he could get the software to fit the needs of teachers.
The next project for Lucas was to create the Teaching Resource Exchange – a website where teachers could share classroom resources.
I'd noticed that lots of teachers seem to act like hoarders (even myself) – they find great resources and put them away for future use. I felt that I could help other teachers by creating a place where teachers could store their resources, and at the same time share them with other teachers – not just single resources, but lesson plans etc. There are already similar sites that exist in other countries, but I wanted to create something more local to Australia – so that the experience of local teachers could create a more focused set of resources that support our classroom and curriculum.
Of course, after the initial enthusiasm, the challenge I discovered was that teachers will still keep their resources to themselves, unless there's a compelling reason to share. In fact, many teachers seem afraid to share their lesson resources, because they think that their content won't stand up to public scrutiny – afraid that they might find that the stuff they create is shot down by other 'experts'. Sadly, it's easier for them to simply not share. I thought I'd cracked that with Teaching Resource Exchange by allowing for reflection, feedback and an improvement loop for resources.
I've learnt a lot along the way, and so there was no effort wasted. The site still operates and the content that was submitted is still available for all teachers to see and use today.
It was only in the last six weeks that Lucas started to look at Windows 8, and realising the potential of creating touch-enabled apps for teachers. His first step was to buy a Samsung Series 7 slate (it's also my computer currently), and start to play with the possibilities. As he already had knowledge of C# from his earlier work, the additional bits that he had to learn were the XAML skills to be able to create a polished touch app. Of course, deciding to build a Windows 8 app doesn't necessarily mean writing Windows 8 education apps, so I asked why the focus stayed on education:
Lesson Coder was the first app Lucas released in the Windows Store. It uses the NSW Quality Teaching Framework to help teachers or observers to record and review their own professional practice during a lesson. They can quickly enter data about a lesson and review it later for professional development purposes. It's also a good tool for lesson observers during teaching prac. It was created after Lucas had seen this in classroom practice, where an assessor comes into the classroom with a big binder of paper, and is ticking boxes and assessing in real time and providing feedback. Then, if they want to keep that electronically, they have enter it into a computer, which creates more work still. The goal of Lesson Coder was to reduce the whole process to get the result more quickly, and in a more useful way for both the observer(s) and the teacher.
As soon as he'd announced it on Twitter, another teacher came along asking for a version based on Australian Teacher Professional Standards and so Lucas has now created that too, which will shortly appear in the Windows Store. The standards are used to assess a trainee teacher in order to graduate, so this will be really useful for anybody involved in teacher training - the plan is that an observer or a qualified teacher is able to record the teaching performance of a trainee (or peer-to-peer assessment) and provide detailed feedback against the standards. So if you were the teacher being assessed, you would be able to see how you were rated on each criteria, and importantly to see progress through time. And both apps can create a simple Excel spreadsheet with the results.
Lucas is now working on a few other Windows 8 education apps that can take advantage of the touch features of the latest devices. Class Seater is a way to create seating charts for different class groups. The idea came from realising that it was a great use for a touch interface, where it's especially useful for primary schools, where teachers often create and print charts. This way they are able to do it in real time, and move students around, without having to generate a new print out every time. And then he's turning his attention to his first app that will have both a free and paid-for version (all the others so far have been free):
Essay Marker is the big app that I'm working on right now – and it's taking almost all of my free time. It's a tool for teachers who have to create, distribute and mark essay-based assessments. You can create an assignment in the app, share it in Word with students via SkyDrive, and then teachers mark all of the assignments, whilst matching the assignment to the marking scheme, and rubric.
This will be a free app but I'll be able to create it with a limited number assignments, marking groups, and have advertising in it – and will then offer a low cost upgrade to a full version without the limits and adverts.
This is a way for me to help teachers, whilst also getting something back for the time I'm putting in.
Lucas uses Twitter to share his projects, and also to solicit feedback from teachers on his software and what improvements he can make.
Of course, I'm learning that the world of teaching that's taught in a university course is very different from the practical world of teaching. I'm trying to help bridge the gap between what teachers are able to do in the time they have available, by giving them tools that make it easier to integrate new professional practice in an easy way.
It's driven out of frustration – too many teachers I've met have been using technology because they are being forced to, not because they want to. So I'm looking at this saying 'what's the process I can make easier?', and then trying to do it in a way that helps teachers. Of course, I'd love nothing more than somebody giving me buckets of cash to sit down and write apps for teachers to help them – but that's not going to happen today, so until then I'm going to keep writing apps that help teachers, and see if I can find a model that allows me to develop apps that help teachers, and pays me to keep doing it.
At the end of our conversation, Lucas last thought was about what he wanted more of: feedback. He's keen to get quality feedback from somebody who's actually got the chance to use his software in the classroom and through their feedback can help him to improve it.
Read more about Lucas, and his projects, on his website