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Ray Fleming's take on what's interesting in Education IT in Australia

  • Education

    Windows Live Movie Maker - free software for teachers in February

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    Find all 'Free Downloads' on this blog

    Some Free February Appy-ness with a new piece of free software for teachers from Microsoft every day in February. Many of these items are unknown heroes, but they all share two things in common: 1) They are useful for teachers or students and 2) they are free.

    Windows Live Movie Maker

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    Windows Live Movie Maker allows teachers to easily turn photos and videos from popular camera types into great-looking movies to share with students and teachers on the Internet, burn to a CD or DVD, or play on a PC or portable device.

    The AutoMovie feature lets teachers or students create a polished movie from their photos, video clips, and music in about one minute.

    Experienced moviemakers can create original movies with custom effects, unique transitions, and other rich features.

    The sights, sounds and action of a movie helps bring a subject to life. Windows Live Movie Maker has prompts to help you upload and share your movie on YouTube, or to burn a DVD for your class.

    Import and edit slide shows and videos

    Quickly add photos and footage from your PC or camera into Movie Maker. Then fine tune your movie just the way you want it. You can move things around, speed it up or slow it down—it’s up to you.

    Edit the soundtrack and add a theme

    Enhance your movie with audio and a theme. Movie Maker adds transitions and effects automatically so your movie looks polished and professional.

    Share your movie online

    Once your movie is ready, share it online on Facebook, YouTube or other social networking and video sharing sites. Send a link to your movie in an email to family and friends so they won’t miss it.

    Three classroom ideas for Movie Maker

    • Create a timeline that moves
      Present a succession of historical events in a photo slide show with music from that period.
    • Demonstrate things you can’t bring to class
      Videotape feeding time for lions at the zoo. Capture the physics at play in a local skate park.
    • Share the classics in a fresher way
      Shoot video of various students reciting a Shakespearean sentence or two. String them together in a movie, and suddenly all eyes are on the screen, and the class hangs on every famous word.

    Where can I find out how to use it?

    imageStart at the Microsoft Australia Education website, where there’s a getting started guide to Movie Maker in educationstep-by-step guide for Movie Maker, as well as video tutorials. The Windows Live Essentials Help Centre has a specific page for Movie Maker. There are also a series of short written tutorials including:

    If you prefer to watch a tutorial, then there’s hundreds of videos that step you through the process, if you search for Windows Live Movie Maker tutorials

    There’s also a support forum on the Windows Live Solution Centre for Movie Maker. This tends to be used by users who have a problem, to get support from the community and from the Microsoft team, so if you come across a query, then it’s a good place to go.

    And my personal hint is to look for the forums threads that have a green tick alongside them imageas they are the queries that have been answered.

    Where do I get Windows Live Movie Maker from?

    Windows Live Movie Maker is part of the Windows Live Essentials suite, which you can download from the live.com website here

  • Education

    Windows Live Messenger - free software for teachers in February

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    Find all 'Free Downloads' on this blog

    Some Free February Appy-ness with a new piece of free software for teachers from Microsoft every day in February. Many of these items are unknown heroes, but they all share two things in common: 1) They are useful for teachers or students and 2) they are free.

    Windows Live Messenger

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    Okay, so this definitely is not a new thing - let’s face it, students have been using it for ages at home - and so have many teachers. And it could be easy to take a ‘been there, seen it, done it’ attitude. But hold on, just before you go writing this idea off, consider some uses for it in teaching and learning:

    • Provide homework support outside of school hours
      One school I know of actually ran a ‘homework support’ rota for staff, when they had assigned times online in the evening, in return for time off during the day - giving staff a more flexible working day
    • Language learning
      Have students chat to each other, or with twinned schools, in other languages. Often, this will give the student more time to consider their language, and they’ll find it more engaging that translating phrases with pen and paper. And you can also move on from instant messenger (IM) conversations to video calls.
    • Peer-to-peer professional development and coaching with other teachers
      Because you can have an IM conversation at any time, and often while you’re doing other things too, it makes a good way to have an informal chat with a coach, mentor or trainer
    • Bring an outside expert into the classroom
      If you can’t always persuade people to come and spend time in your classroom - like an author/lawyer/doctor/astronaut/scientist - it may be much easier to persuade them to agree to a half-hour where they’ll answer questions on Messenger
    • Create conversations with historical characters
      Okay, so you can’t bring Ned Kelly into the classroom. But you could create a Live Messenger account for ‘Ned Kelly’, and get somebody outside the classroom to answer questions for him. How about setting up a swap with another teacher, and each agreeing to be a historical figure for each other’s classes?
      And on the same idea, how about giving a junior class a chance to have an Live Messenger conversation with ‘Father Christmas’? (I used to do this with video conferencing systems about 10 years ago, and it was always a fantastic hit)

    Where can I find out how to use it?

    The Learning.live.com websiteOn the learning.live.com you’ll find a Teachers Guide for Using Messenger for Learning, which was created a few years ago, but still contains good specific advice about saving conversations, and setting up separate IM accounts for teachers. There’s also some videos showing how one school used Windows Live Messenger to support learning outside of school hours.

    Where do I get Windows Live Messenger from?

    Windows Live Messenger is part of the Windows Live Essentials suite, which you can download from the live.com website here

  • Education

    Windows Live Mesh - free software for teachers in February

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    Find all 'Free Downloads' on this blog

    Some Free February Appy-ness with a new piece of free software for teachers from Microsoft every day in February. Many of these items are unknown heroes, but they all share two things in common: 1) They are useful for teachers or students and 2) they are free.

    Windows Live Mesh

    Live Mesh icon bar

    Access the stuff on your computers from almost anywhere. With Windows Live Mesh, you can finally stop emailing files to yourself, carrying them around on a USB drive, or worrying whether the version you have with you is the latest. This is especially useful for teachers, as they are often using multiple computers - perhaps a school laptop, a home computer, and then another computer connected to an interactive whiteboard.

    With Windows Live Mesh, you can keep up-to-date copies of documents, photos, and other files synced together on all of your computers, whether they are PCs or Macs. In addition, the system can sync your folders to the 5 GB of free storage space you get with SkyDrive (as well as across your computers) so that you can also work with your files on the web from any computer. You can even run programs and browse all the files on your PC from anywhere by connecting remotely. And keep your favorites in Internet Explorer and your Microsoft Office settings up to date on all of your PCs by syncing your programme settings.

    Sync folders between computers

    If you have two or more computers with Windows Live Mesh installed, you can sync folders between them (peer-to-peer). When you sync folders between computers, any changes you make on one computer will be made on the other whenever the computers are online at the same time. The contents of the synced folders are saved on all of the computers, so you can still work on them even when you're not connected to the Internet. All data transfers are encrypted between the computers.

    Sync folders to the Cloud

    You can choose to sync any of your folders to the Cloud too, which means you can then access them on any other computer. This would be handy when you’ve got files on your laptop, and you want to access them to a different computer plugged into an interactive whiteboard, or where you want to be able to access your files on a colleague’s computer.

    Connect to a computer remotely

    With the remote connections feature in Windows Live Mesh, you can work on your computer from a computer in another location. For example, you can connect from your school computer to your home computer and access all of your programs and files as if you were in front of your computer at home.

    Sync your Office and Internet Explorer settings

    If you regularly use two different computers (eg your school laptop and a home computer) you can set Windows Live Mesh to sync your Internet Explorer favourites between the two computers - that’s really handy if you’re preparing a lesson on your home computer, but then want the website list available on your school laptop the next day. The same idea works for Office settings (eg a customer dictionary or slide templates)

    Where can I find out how to use it?

    The Windows Live Mesh page has a step-by-step overview for each of the uses above. There are also a series of tutorials for Windows Live Mesh on 7tutorials.com, including:

    Where do I get Windows Live Mesh from?

    Windows Live Mesh is part of the Windows Live Essentials suite, which you can download from the live.com website here

  • Education

    Songsmith - free software for teachers in February

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    Find all 'Free Downloads' on this blog

    Some Free February Appy-ness with a new piece of free software for teachers from Microsoft every day in February. Many of these items are unknown heroes, but they all share two things in common: 1) They are useful for teachers or students and 2) they are free.

    Songsmith

    Songsmith

    Is it possible to teach your class how to sing? Yes. Is it possible to get them to sing well? Maybe. Songsmith is a good start.

    Songsmith is a great way to encourage students to be creative: many music teachers know that sometimes just helping their students “find their spark” is the hardest part of stimulating musical creativity.

    Furthermore, Songsmith can help you teach musical concepts that are sometimes difficult, particularly how chords are used in pop music and how melodies and chords fit together. Using tools like Songsmith to explore these concepts can help connect what students are learning in music class to the music they listen to at home.

    Outside of music classes, Songsmith is a great way to encourage creative approaches to learning. I’ve heard of teachers who got students to write songs about science concepts, and other examples of using it outside of the music curriculum.

    Want an idea of what it can do? Well, there’s 1,450 Songsmith videos on YouTube - including the Songsmith advert, that’s had over 1.5m views, and a case study of the use of Songsmith at the Philadelphia High School of the Future. And for a classroom idea for Songsmith in the history curriculum, take a look at the FDR speech about the Bombing of Pearl Harbour - in Songsmith!

    Where can I find out how to use it?

    The Songsmith site has a complete ‘Help & How-to’ section, which includes online help, a community forum and tutorial videos, along with some good ‘Tips and Tricks’ advice. There’s also a good short article by Stuart Ball on the UK Teachers blog, and he has also uploaded a ‘How to create a song in Songsmith’ tutorial onto YouTube.

    Where do I get Songsmith from?

    You can download the trial version of Songsmith from the Microsoft Research website, but the extra link you’ll want to know about is the ‘Songsmith For Teachers’ page, which lets you download Songsmith free for education use (by you and your students).

  • Education

    Search Commands - free software for teachers in February

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    Find all 'Free Downloads' on this blog

    Some Free February Appy-ness with a new piece of free software for teachers from Microsoft every day in February. Many of these items are unknown heroes, but they all share two things in common: 1) They are useful for teachers or students and 2) they are free.

    Search Commands

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    Search Commands is an Office Labs experiment designed to quickly find the commands you need in Microsoft Office 2007 and 2010 Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Just search with your own words and click on the command you need.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just type "mail merge" on the Office Ribbon and all mail merge options would appear? That’s exactly what the Search Commands Add-in does.

    I’d never used this, so I installed it today in order to see how it worked. And I now have that ‘Where have you been my whole life?’ moment!

    One of the things I’ve noticed is that in Windows these days, I almost never use the start menu to select a programme to run. Instead, I find it easier to click the Windows key, and start to type the name - and let the Search function find the programme for me. I find it is much more efficient for me, because I let Windows do all the searching, instead of having to look at a long list of installed applications.

    What this does for Office is the same - Instead of having to search for the menu option on the Ribbon, or click across multiple Ribbon tabs, all I do is go straight to the Search Commands tab, and then start to type what I’m looking for. In the example below, I typed ‘Print’, and it gave me all the menu options related to print. And the bonus I discovered is that the numbers in black circle means I just press the number key I want, and it is the same as clicking the icon (eg to get Print Preview, I just type Print5). No more mouse-keyboard-mouse jumping!

    The Search Commands tool bar

    The add-in that helps you find commands, options, wizards and galleries in Word, Excel and PowerPoint. It also includes Guided Help, which acts as a tour guide for specific tasks.

    This is probably most useful for users who have used Office 2003 for years, and are switching over (ie your staff, rather than your students), although it can be useful for students who want to explore more advanced features for apps like Excel.

    Where can I find out how to use it?

    Having used it for the first time this morning, I don’t think there actually any need for additional help - just install it, and try it out. The only things you need to know are:

    • You find it in extra ‘Search Commands’ Ribbon tab in Word, Excel and PowerPoint
    • The numbers in the black circle are the shortcut keys to launch that command (so when you have your search results, pressing 1 launches Quick Print)

    But, just in case you really want it (or want to watch a short video before deciding whether to download it), then there's a 1 minute Search Commands tutorial on the ClipTraining blog

    Where do I get Search Commands from?

    The free Search Commands download is on the Microsoft Downloads website

  • Education

    Something missing?

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    Although there’s no deep and meaningful education-specific point made in this video, it is still Valentine’s Day over in the US, so I feel okay sharing it Smile

  • Education

    Ribbon Hero 2 - free software for teachers in February

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    Find all 'Free Downloads' on this blog

    Some Free February Appy-ness with a new piece of free software for teachers from Microsoft every day in February. Many of these items are unknown heroes, but they all share two things in common: 1) They are useful for teachers or students and 2) they are free.

    Ribbon Hero 2 - bringing gaming and learning closer

    It seems that one of the key topics at education conferences these days is the combination of gaming and learning. Most of the time, it’s discussed in the context of the classroom or of students, but a few years ago we applied it to product training, in one of our experimental Office Labs releases, called Ribbon Hero. It was designed to test the effectiveness, feasibility and appeal of delivering Office training in a game-like setting. The heart of Ribbon Hero was a set of challenges that users play right in the Office applications. And to add the competitive element, Ribbon Hero integrates with Facebook so you can share your success (or in my case, failures) with your friends. Ribbon Hero offers to post an update to your Facebook profile when impressive point levels have been reached.

    Ribbon Hero 2

    The team behind Ribbon Hero have gone even further, with Ribbon Hero 2 - incorporating a completely new, cartoon style interface, and a new job for Clippy (the really annoying 'helpful' paperclip from Office 97-2003).

    Ribbon Hero

    Ribbon Hero is a free download, and has got to be a big step up from conventional training ideas and manuals. In the same way that students are engaged in earning points and badges in their favourite video game, the same behaviours are used here for application software training!

    Where can I find out how to use it?

    Ribbon Hero screenshotI could tell you more about it - but it is much easier for you to download it, and have a five-minute play, than for me to try and describe how good it is to use. And remind yourself as you're using it, that it's the equivalent of a long dull training course. Imagine how you'd have conventionally learnt what it's teaching. Next time somebody talks about gaming and learning, you can wisely point them towards an example they may not have seen!

    Where do I get Ribbon Hero from?

    You can get the free download for Ribbon Hero on this link

  • Education

    The NSW Science ESSA test - the background monitoring service

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    Yesterday I wrote “Why put assessment in the Cloud?” about the project last year for students in New South Wales in Australia to complete the statutory Science examinations online - replacing a paper-based system that had been used for years. As well as the time-saving and paper-saving, one of the other significant benefits was the ability to track activity on the test in real-time - how many schools were logged on, how many students etc.

    At the time it was pretty exciting - Janison, who’d created the ESSA testing programme with NSW DEC, had created a Windows Phone application, so that anybody could watch the data in real time wherever they were. I was down in Melbourne on the first test day, and it was great to be able to show people live information - “Look, there are now 15,000 students logged in!

    The only downside to the live metrics was that they were just that - live - so by the end of the week the charts were gone.

    But Janison have been even cleverer (is that a word?) by creating a website where you can see a snapshot of the day on 22nd November 2011. You can browse it just like we were able to in real-time during the test, and see exactly the same metrics.

    Link to the ESSA live testing metrics review website

    There are all kinds of interesting stats. I’ve kept some of the screenshots I took on the 22nd, to give you an idea of the live service. And the stats come from all of the service users, across public and private schools:

    The number of active students logged-in to the ESSA test

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    The number of students who had completed, or were still in progress

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    Technical information - in this case, the main Internet browsers used

    One of the surprises for me was that the minimum screen resolution was 1024x768, with 80% having a horizontal resolution of 1280+ pixels (not shown below, but you can see it on the site linked above)

    image

    Logon activity

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    Active students

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    Total number of cloud instances

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    This is a bit geeky - in essence, it shows how many virtual servers Janison deployed to run the testing. And it makes the point - This is why you use the Cloud - because you can just activate 200 servers in the Windows Azure cloud at 5 o’clock in the morning before the test, and then switch them back off afterwards. And only pay for what you use. That’s the beauty of using the Cloud for assessment - you only pay for what you use, and don’t need to build a dedicated server farm full of hardware to run a test.

    Learn More

    To find out more about this, read yesterday’s post  “Why put assessment in the Cloud?
  • Education

    pptPlex - free software for teachers in February

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    Find all 'Free Downloads' on this blog

    Some Free February Appy-ness with a new piece of free software for teachers from Microsoft every day in February. Many of these items are unknown heroes, but they all share two things in common: 1) They are useful for teachers or students and 2) they are free.

    pptPlex

    pptPlex logo

    pptPlex is an Office Labs experiment that uses Plex technology to give you the power to zoom in and out of slide sections and move directly between slides that are not sequential in your presentation. It’s good for teaching, as it allows you to move around your prepared presentation without having to go from slide 1 to slide 2 to slide 3 etc. So you can arrange your content into sections, and move between sections.

    The other thing that is important is that you can share your PowerPoint with people that aren’t using pptPlex - and they just see a normal PowerPoint presentation. This means it’s ideal for teachers who want to share it with students, but allow themselves more flexibility in classroom presentation. It’s ideal where your lesson doesn’t fit a straight sequential flow, as it’s a very different way to present/teach.

    Although Microsoft aren’t actively developing or supporting it any further, based on popular demand we’re keeping the download available for anyone who might have missed it. pptPlex is a research prototype developed as an exploration of an alternative method of presenting Microsoft Office PowerPoint slides. This plug-in allows you to arrange slides on a canvas then zoom between the slides during the presentation. You can move around the canvas and show groups of slides, individual slides, or even zoom in to show a particular section of a slide. You can use pptPlex can help you organize and present information in a non-linear fashion.

    Personally, I’ve found that although it is tricky to understand the concept to start with (because we’ve been conditioned to the idea that presentations start with slide 1 and finish at the end), it can be incredibly rewarding to use, especially if you tend to tell stories rather than deliver slides, and also if you have highly graphical content.

    Where can I find out how to use it?

    There’s an excellent video on YouTube from Alessio Bernardelli, who teaches in Cwmbran in South Wales, (see below) that shows you how to use it, from start to finish, in 4 minutes:

    Alessio has also written a blog post describing how he uses it in history teaching, on the Teachers blog.

    There are plenty of other demonstration/tutorial videos for pptPlex on YouTube - one of my favourites is this one, which shows you that you can embed live documents - Word, PDF and Excel spreadsheets - into your presentation.

    Where do I get pptPlex from?

    You can download the free pptPlex add-in from the Microsoft official Downloads website. It works with PowerPoint 2010 and 2007.

  • Education

    Why put assessment in the Cloud?

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    One of the often-quoted benefits of using Cloud computing is that you can provide for big bursts of activity by using the flexibility of massive datacentres being built around the world for this. And that if you want to use this service, you simply pay for the bit you use. It means that you can activate a few hundred, or a few thousand, servers in a remote data centre for a day, or a week, or even just a few hours. The kind of examples quoted outside of education include things like the demand for pizzas during the breaks on the Super Bowl Sunday - imagine if you suddenly needed to serve hundreds of thousands of data requests in a huge spike. Other examples that are easy to imagine are retail sites in the run-up to Christmas, or ticket agencies selling concert tickets. The common thread is that need to suddenly provide for a huge spike of interaction, which then drops back within hours or days.

    In education there are precise parallels - times of the year (or even of the day) when you need huge amounts of computer capacity, and times of the year when you need almost none:

    • In the summer holidays, computing demands go down to near zero for most education establishments
    • At the start of term, there’s a huge spike in the use of student data systems, for new enrolments
    • Attendance registration systems get a big spike in the morning around 9AM, and then tail off for the rest of the day
    • Reporting systems in schools get heavily used for about a month, while reports are prepared, and then go quiet
    • Formal student assessment systems may only be used for a few weeks in the year

    Before the cloud was here, one of the big costs of any of these systems was the infrastructure - the servers and the networking - needed to support them. It would have cost hundreds of thousands, or millions, to get enough computing to run massive scale student assessments before the cloud - hardware which would sit idle for most of the rest of the year.

    But last year in New South Wales, 65,000 students took the formal Science Assessment (called the ESSA test) - all in three days - using the cloud to provide the infrastructure. Instead of buying lots of servers, what they were able to do was to use ‘the Cloud’ - simply activating hundreds of cloud servers to deliver the tests to tens of thousands of students at the same time - over 40,000 by lunchtime the first day. All the students needed was a device with a web-browser. The team at Janison, who worked with the NSW Department of Education and Communities Assessment team, activated 400 servers in our Windows Azure cloud datacentre at 5AM on the day of the first test, and turned them off at 6PM on the last day. And reduced the cost of running the infrastructure from hundreds of thousands to around one thousand dollars.

    You can see the dramatic impact of this in the image below - what you’re looking at is a screenshot I took on the first day, from the live monitoring site that was created on the web (it was fascinating to watch the charts updating in real time on the day).

    ESSA testing from Janison - metrics chart showing the huge spike of students logging in first thing in the morningThe huge spike happened at 9 o’clock in the morning, as students logged in first thing in the morning to get their tests done.
    During the day I took a few other screenshots of the metrics as the tests were going, so what I’ll do is post them tomorrow, to give you more info on how the testing went.

    Learn MoreLearn more about the Janison CAFE Assessment System used for the ESSA tests

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