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  • Microsoft Teacher's Blog

    FREE download of Microsoft AutoCollage for Educators on the ITN


    part You may not have realised it, but some of the cool pictures that Stuart and I have been posting on this blog (well, ok, mostly Stuart) have been created with Microsoft AutoCollage. AutoCollage was brought to us by the amazing minds at Microsoft Research, who have taken advanced digital tapestry and facial recognition technologies to create a piece of software that automatically creates a collage of your digital photos.

    Stuart and I have been talking to teachers about AutoCollage for some time already, and we’ve begun to see the creative ways that this tool is being used to aid in storytelling exercises, portfolios of student work, and presenting new ideas, to name a few. The only problem to date has been that AutoCollage was only available free for 30 days, and after that required you to purchase a copy for every PC you wished to use it on.

    That is…until now.

    (Drum roll, please…)AutoCollage_AutoCollage_11_Images

    That’s right, the full product version of AutoCollage is now available ABSOLUTELY FREE for use in education from the Innovative Teachers Network. Our ITN is the only location in the entire world from which you can download AutoCollage for free. Now you and your students can download copies of the software and begin using it right away to create images like this one, which I created from photos of the Vienna Innovative Teachers Forum.

    It couldn’t be easier for you to download the software. Just go to the ITN and log in. (If you still haven’t registered, you’ll need to register – for free – to create a username and password, and then you can log in.)



    You’ll see the announcement for free downloads of AutoCollage right on the front page of the site. Just click the link more details and download instructions to get to the download page. After that you’ve only a few more clicks to go before you have your very own, free copy of AutoCollage.

    Once the software is installed, it’s equally easy to use. (I installed the software and created the image above in less than five minutes, while sitting in our Edinburgh office.)

    You first need to assemble the photos you want in the collage into their own folder.Capture

    When you open AutoCollage, it will be pointing to photos in the root of your Pictures folder. Just navigate to the folder  with the photos you assembled and select it in the Image Browser area of the screen.

    You can use the sliding bar to set the number of photos you want to appear in the collage. AutoCollage will pick the best ones to include. Your photos will then appear on the screen, as mine did at right.

    You can select special options for the collage using the Options button, or you can just click Create, and watch as AutoCollage does its magic.

    All of your collages are saved in an AutoCollage folder within your Pictures folder, making them easier to find later.

    Stuart and I are very excited to be able to offer this tool to you for free. We’re extremely grateful to the good folks at Microsoft Research for letting us give this to you and your students. We hope you’ll head straight to the Innovative Teachers Network to download your free copy of AutoCollage today!

  • Microsoft Teacher's Blog

    Ever had that bloated feeling?


    Have you seen those yoghurts that contain an unpronounceable micro-organism that has a beneficial effect on the well being of your digestive system? Stay with me here and j0430792[1]you will see where this is going. A recent experience -- not with yoghurt I hasten to add, but with digital images -- got me thinking that as technology consumers we may be in need of a similar product for our digital systems. Let me explain.

    I have been working on some projects for the classroom using Deep Zoom, which I thought would be worth showing in a workshop session at the Innovative Teachers Forum in Vienna. After a brief demo of Deep Zoom, the groups of teachers undertook their various projects. Problems started when a few groups attempted to submit their Deep Zoom projects. They had managed to create some great compositions using Deep Zoom composer, but they ran into problems when they tried to publish their projects.

    I have to admit, I had not come across this before. Every time I used the software it had worked perfectly. So what was going on? I checked the usual suspects: had they installed the correct version of SilverLight? Had Deep Zoom Composer been updated? Were they using the correct image format? Was it their computers? All of these investigations drew a blank, and a search online and an email to the developers could shed no further light on the cause of the issue.

    By this time I was getting really frustrated, and trying to explain the problem to a group of Croatian teachers wasn’t helping. So I did what I always do in these situations, which is turn the computer off and walk away. But I couldn't let the issue go unsolved; when I returned to my computer later  I was determined to find out what was going on. (In fact, I think that is how I have taught myself most everything I know about ICT; if computers worked perfectly, I would know nothing!).

    With my mind refreshed, it struck me that the teachers were using images with resolutions of 3000x3000 pixels, forcing this simple application to process images with over 4 billion pixels! The Deep Zoom processor just could not cope. A thought occurred to me: digital cameras have now such high resolutions so that we can create professional-quality images at home. However, is this functionality necessary for the work we do in the classroom?

    If we think about what we use digital images for in school, setting cameras to the highest resolution is possibly a hindrance rather than an advantage. Students are creating PowerPoint presentations of huge file sizes. Networks are strained as bandwidth is choked with documents containing photos, and internet connections grind to a standstill as high-resolution images are uploaded. You may not immediately view this as problem in these days of high capacity storage, but in schools it can cause all sorts of unforeseen problems. (Using up allocated network disk space, creating files that exceed the email file size limit, or even trying to find a large enough USB stick to transfer the file -- to name a few!) Such events can be real roadblocks to successful lessons and can cause much consternation amongst students and teachers.

    If your students require a high resolution photograph (and if they can find a printer that will make the best use of the resolution), then by all means use the highest setting on the camera. But if they are uploading the photo to a website or blog or just using it in a presentation or document, why not have them make an informed decision on the camera settings they are using, determining the best and most efficient resolution? They could even change the image settings after they have taken the photos by using a tool like this or use Windows Live gallery.

    I am suggesting a campaign ‘to reduce our obese file sizes’. Think about it this way: Should your students realise the implications of the size of the files they are producing? Should they take more control over the devices they are using? Should they be taught how and why they should do this? I certainly think so. To put it another way, it takes energy to store and transfer files. (Does anybody have a figure of how much energy its takes to transmit a megabyte of data?) Smaller file sizes mean less energy wasted. Together, we can save the planet and avoid being digitally constipated at the same time.

    Does anyone feel the same or am I secretly longing for the days of the 1.44MB floppy disk? Your comments would be welcome.

  • Microsoft Teacher's Blog

    The Death of PowerPoint?

    Is it really the fault of Powerpoint?

    Recently, I've had a number of requests from schools for ‘something else for teachers to use other than PowerPoint’. It seems that this mainstay of ICT in education could be labouring under a perception that ‘it's had its day’ and ‘we need to move on’.

    Why such a change of heart for what was once the ‘darling’ application of teachers everywhere? Let’s not forget that PowerPoint probably introduced many teachers and students to multimedia. It introduced the idea of animation to many who felt that being able to move and control objects for the first time was a joy. Do you remember the thrill of your first ‘flying’ animated title (with sound, of course)? It paved the way for data projectors and Interactive whiteboards in the classroom. So why is PowerPoint being frowned upon in some circles?

    Well, this video may provide some insight. It's really quite funny, but sadly, it rings true. How many times have we all sat through presentations that show these features? Worse still, how many times have we seen them in lessons where teachers think that they are ‘enriching’ learning?

    In response to this, I have collected some great resources that I think show the real value and flexibility of PowerPoint.

    During an Innovative Teachers event in Helsinki, I was listening to a presentation that was really interesting. Despite this my concentration span started to drift and my eyelids started to get heavy. Then suddenly, I was alert and wide awake. I realised that the  background colours on the presentation had changed. Then I remembered the work of the presenter I was listening to, Dr Ole Lauridsen, who has produced research around the use of PowerPoint and learning styles. Part of that research involves how the human mind perceives colour. Did you realise that we see RED in the foreground and BLUE in the background? Also, imagecolour has an effect on attention span. In order to maximise an audience’s attention span, the main colours of a presentation should change with the mind’s natural levels of attention, changing from blue and red, to yellow and orange, through to red and green. Admittedly this makes the presentation look strange, but it works. Why not try it with your students?

    The Microsoft Office and Learning Styles community on the Innovative Teachers Network  has a template to download with slides in the relevant colours. You can also download Dr Ole Lauridsen’s guide on ‘Learning Styles and PowerPoint’ from this community.

    One of the criticisms of the use of PowerPoint it seems, is the sequential direction that a presenter must use to take the audience through a presentation. Plex for PowerPoint can change that. This simple plug-in for Office 2007 allows you navigate as though they were on a large canvas. You can move from slide to slide in any direction you want and zoom in and out of slides. This gives you a lot more flexibility in how you respond and deliver information to an audience. You can download Plex for Powerpoint free HERE . Check out how Ollie Bray, our Innovative Teacher from Scotland has begun to use Plex in the classroom on his blog

    Many teachers want to include Flash-type features and automation in their presentations. We often forget that as part of the Office suite, PowerPoint is programmable through VBA and macros. I found a great book that shows how you can use visual basic for applications to create highly interactive presentations for your students. Powerful Powerpoint for Educators by D. Marcovitz’ is well worth a look if you are interested in expanding your skills, have a look at the book’s companion website. Some teachers have always wanted to create drag-and-drop like activities in PowerPoint, in order to make interactive activities for whiteboards. This can be achieved through the use of a simple macro. In the shared documents area of the Microsoft Office and Learning Styles Community you can find two drag-and-drop example files that explain how to achieve this.


    Currently, most of my engagement with PowerPoint is through supporting Teachers in creating Virtual Classroom Tours (VCTs). This uses PowerPoint slides not to present, but to hold and store information. The slides in a VCT contain embedded documents that guide teachers to reflect, share and record their use of ICT in the classroom. Teachers can then further embed documents and resources, to create a final document that is a comprehensive portfolio of work that supports their professional development. Using PowerPoint to create a digital or e-portfolio in this way can be easily adapted for a wide range of scenarios in a school, such as training materials, revision guides and coursework.


    Finally, lets not forget that PowerPoint can make our presentations look great. You can download some great templates that will really allow you and your students to create some visually stunning presentations. With these templates amongst others, you can create animated picture effects and produce 3D text that looks like glass, so there are no longer excuses for unattractive slides.


    Despite all these resources, any PowerPoint presentation is only as good as the skills of the presenter. I think that perhaps we shouldn't be looking for an alternative to PowerPoint, but rather for ways of ensuring that students are able to fully utilise their speaking and listening skills by learning how to present to an audience. We seem to have given them all the ICT skills, but left out essential elements, such as appreciation of audience and the communication of ideas.

    Is anybody doing anything to address this with their students? As for teachers, being able to present a lesson with PowerPoint should be an essential skill that all newly qualified teachers enter the profession with. For the rest of us, perhaps we should spend some time reflecting on our use of PowerPoint and begin livening up and refreshing those slide decks, and thinking about how our students view us presenting. If you are brave enough, try videoing yourself presenting, it will be scary stuff, but could make a huge difference to your teaching. Finally, we are long way from seeing PowerPoint disappear from our schools so lets ‘love it ‘ a little and maximise its full potential.

  • Microsoft Teacher's Blog

    The dreaded software upgrade


    Don’t you hate it when you finally get comfortable with a piece of software and some genius makes you upgrade to a newer and “better” version? You’ve just reached the point at which you can use the tools efficiently to do your work, you know where all your favourite features are located, and then you have to essentially start over, taking weeks to familiarise yourself with the changes. Why, you wonder, do companies continue to add new features to software anyway, when people only use 15% of the features that exist in the first place?

    We hear these kinds of comments a lot at Microsoft. We hear them from teachers, from schools and from customers when we’re talking to them about upgrading. I think upgrades are especially daunting in education, when many teachers can be pretty insecure about using the software they have already. Schools and local authorities are then required to plan and pay for additional CPD just around the new software in order to make any upgrade decision worthwhile.Capture

    A colleague recently pointed me to some great interactive tools that help with the transition from Microsoft Office 2003 to 2007. They’re little Flash demos that can be easily installed on any computer. (We’ve created a SkyDrive HERE and have posted them for you.)

    Here’s an example of the PowerPoint tool in action. When you launch the interactive tool, you get the instruction box at the right, which is truly all the instruction you need.

    Once you click Start, you’re taken to the main window of PowerPoint 2003. All you need to do is hover the mouse over any menu or button and you’ll see where it exists in PowerPoint 2007, as shown below.


    Think of how much time, money and training these little applications can save your schools. If you can’t find something you’re looking for in Office 2007, just open up the demo, point to where you know the command exists in Office 2003, and find the new location in a matter of seconds. It will only take one or two tries before you start to remember the new locations and don’t need these tools at all anymore.

    And, believe it or not, you may even start to prefer the new version of Office. Personally, I have no idea how I ever created a PowerPoint presentation without Office 2007’s SmartArt feature. (Actually, I know exactly how I did it. I spent hours painstakingly drawing, shading and grouping individual graphics, creating something that ended up looking as unprofessional as it was…)

    These interactive tools exist for PowerPoint 2007, Excel 2007, Outlook 2007 and Word 2007. Check them out, share them with your teachers, and let us know what you think.

  • Microsoft Teacher's Blog

    It could be you next year!


    This is our final post about Innovative Teachers Forum in Vienna. This event has been the most successful yet for UK Teachers and the UK Innovative Teachers team. It follows on from our most successful UK Innovative Teachers Forum ever. We are expecting this success to continue with bigger and better events next year as the programme develops and expands. So if you have been inspired and would like to be part of or create your own innovative teachers network, why not join the Innovative Teachers Network at

    The site contains a wealth of Virtual Classroom Tours created by teachers exploring how to teach using technology in a 21st century curriculum. There are over a hundred communities representing Innovative Teachers Networks throughout the UK and the world. These features along with resources such as a Peer Coaching Curriculum and the Enquiring Minds Programme from Futurelab, form a site that can be a comprehensive focal point for professional development.

    If you would like to know more of what the Innovative Teachers Network can do for you then please contact me at or Kristen at You never know - next year it could be you we are blogging about!

    In the meantime I would like to leave you all with some more images of what was a fantastic event.

  • Microsoft Teacher's Blog

    Free DreamSpark software downloads for school students


    DreamSpark logo

    This is one of those “Are you sure? Really sure?” blog posts. Where somebody tells you something, and you ask “Are you sure? Really sure?”

    We have announced that the DreamSpark programme is now open for school students. DreamSpark allows students to download, for free, a big pile of developer tools – which they can use for educational purposes.

    Here’s the software, straight from the DreamSpark home page:

    DreamSpark eligible products



    There’s quite a few products, but I think some of the most popular will be Expression Studio, Visual Studio Professional, XNA Game Studio and the Robotics Developer Studio.

    Read the FAQ web page which contains a good summary of the programme, and how to activate it for your school. Basically, somebody in the school registers, and they receive product keys to distribute to students. But students just download the software they want directly from the website – you don’t need to get involved in distribution.

    Free training on Dreamspark There’s also free training courses and materials available for students – including free books, “learning snacks” for Silverlight, Virtualisation, Web 2.0 development, Windows Server, and the free Microsoft IT Academy Student Pass. And there’s even free certification – students can claim a voucher for a free “Microsoft Technical Specialist” exam.

    The free exam offer is especially good if you’ve got any IT students leaving this summer – they can get a head start on students from other schools!

    The free software is good for everyone of your IT students, whatever year they’re in.

  • Microsoft Teacher's Blog

    Reflecting on Vienna


    From our recent posts you will know that last week we attended the European Innovative Teachers Forum in Vienna. I thought I would spend a little time reflecting on what was a great event. This time last week I was presenting part of a keynote with the team from FutureLab, Sarah Payton and Professor Lizbeth Goodman. Their keynote and workshop described the Enquiring Minds project. Enquiring Minds is a joint project between Futurelab and Microsoft, you can find out more about it in this post.

    Sarah did all the hard work in creating not only a great workshop, but managing a large group of European teachers. What is it imageabout teachers and getting them into groups? This was a difficult task and one Sarah achieved admirably, despite the Scandinavians all ending up in the same group, with only a lone Scot, our award winning teacher Ollie Bray, for company.

    Sarah give an outline of the concepts behind Enquiring Minds and took the 200 or so delegates through the 4-stage enquiry process. One of the activities she guided groups through involved drawing a picture of a 21st century learner. Almost all the pictures the various groups produced had the learner at the centre of a digital world, where the teacher was a facilitator of learning rather than the deliverer.

    The groups were then challenged to create their own piece of learning, incorporating a theme centred around the city of Vienna. This required them to look at the city from a different point of view. It's also where I stepped in to the workshop, to give them ideas of other ways in which they might use digital media to present their end product.

    My first task was to support the group in generating ideas for their projects. I discovered a great tool to do this in the classroom, created by John Davitt and available on his website His Learning Events Generators create random scenarios that can be used as a basis for a project. These generators are easily customisable, and as such can be adapted for any subject or situation. They are available in formats for the iPhone, Twitter (@raggler), online and the version I used - in Excel. The Event Generators create a "DO" and an "AS" from a list. For example, you might get, DO the Solar System AS a rock opera. I easily edited the list of DOs to cover the features of Vienna. So an activity suggested might be DO the Hofburg Palace AS a silent movie. Using this generator, the teachers had an almost infinite supply of ideas.


    We also wanted to challenge them on the applications they could use to present their ideas. The application of choice at these events is often a video created in Windows MovieMaker. I suggested through some brief demos, that they could also consider Photosynth, Deep Zoom Composer and even my new-found favourite application, SongSmith.

    SongSmith lets you sing and record a song to any tune and then cleverly adds chords and percussion. This is great if you are a not musician (as I am not) but still  secretly want to be a rock star. It also makes it a creative application to use in any subject as a way of recording students' learning. Just imagine maths students recording the features of triangles as a song. The possibilities are endless.

    Armed with their ideas, digital camera and a guide book, the delegates were set loose on the unsuspecting population of Vienna. The following morning the groups had time to refine their projects and submit them to the UK Innovative Teachers Network. Many groups produced videos, like the group in the example above, which also also showcases the group’s use of Photosynth and a custom-recorded song. Others tried out Deep Zoom and a few went for good old PowerPoint. You can see the final projects by joining this community on the UK ITN. I have to ‘judge’ these projects in order to award a prize to the best one, so if any of you have an outright favourite, let me know before I make the announcement next week.

    Finally, the whole Innovative Teachers Forum was recorded in a way that I have never seen before. Deirdre Crowley, recorded the whole event graphically on large charts that were displayed around the rooms. How she managed to do this, I have no idea; I just watched in awe as she extracted key points from each talk and presented them in such a unique way. The image below is her recording of the Futurelab presentation. That little bit on the far right…that’s me.

    You can explore a Deep Zoom of this image at



  • Microsoft Teacher's Blog

    UK teachers win big at European Innovative Teachers Forum


    It’s Monday morning, we’re all back at work, and the gala dinner on Thursday evening in the rooftop of the Hofburg in Vienna seems like a distant memory. Stuart and I were so proud of all the teachers we brought with us to Vienna – Chris, James, Mandeep and Ollie had some of the most innovative projects at the event and were perfect representatives of the great work that is happening in UK classrooms every day.

    However, there were over 150 attendees at the Innovative Teachers Forum, and there could only be 12 winners. We’re thrilled to announce that Mandeep Atwal and Ollie Bray were two of the 12. Mandeep

    Mandeep, from Shirelands Collegiate Academy in England, was awarded third place in the Innovation in Community category for her VCT “Young Voices” (which you can access on the Innovative Teachers Network by clicking THIS LINK).

    Ollie Ollie, from Musselburgh Grammar School in Scotland, received first prize in the Innovation in Community category for his VCT “Thinking out of the Xbox” (accessible at THIS LINK).

    As award-winners, both Mandeep and Ollie will accompany Stuart and me to the Worldwide Innovative Teachers Forum in Brazil, where they will be able to collaborate with teachers from over 100 countries around the world.

    Stuart and I will be writing more about this event in the next few days, but you can see additional information about the event and the winners on Merlin John’s blog, Teachers TV, today’s issue of The Scotsman and Ollie’s blog. The Teachers TV footage includes in interview with Ollie and other teachers, as well as shots from within the event itself. (It’s almost like you’re there…except without the wienerschnitzel.)

    Join us in offering congratulations not only to Mandeep and Ollie, but also to Chris and James, all of whom are making amazing use of technology to improve the learning experience for UK students.

  • Microsoft Teacher's Blog

    These are a few of our favourite things…


    As usually happens at these Innovative Teachers Forums, Stuart and I arrive with big plans to blog every day and become so caught up in the event, the workshops, and checking out the work of teachers from all over the world, that we never end up with enough time to write. Stuart has been Tweeting (look for him at innovativeteach on Twitter) and we promise to post a full report in the coming weeks, but for now, I’ll give you a quick run-down on what we’ve been up to so far.Stuart4blog

    On Tuesday, we arrived at our venue early to help our teachers set up their Virtual Classroom Tours. The venue is worth noting, as it’s the famous Hofburg palace in the centre of the city. The grand ballroom in which the event is being held is only 50 metres from the Austrian President’s office in the same building, and has been host to presidents, prime ministers, movie stars, and other global dignitaries since its construction. You can get an idea of the grandeur of the space in this photo of our own Stuart, presenting on stage.

    We heard some amazing keynotes on Tuesday afternoon, including one from Austrian education consultant Franz Kuehmayer on the Future of Education, which I will definitely blog about next week.

    TheArt The UK has had quite a presence at this event so far; most of Wednesday was dedicated to an interactive Enquiring Minds workshop given by Futurelab representatives Sarah Payton and Lizbeth Goodman. (I wrote about Enquiring Minds in January HERE.) Stuart’s presentation was a part of this workshop as well. Innovative teachers were divided into groups, told about Enquiring Minds, taken through the 4-stage enquiry process, and then worked together on activities to get them thinking about the concept of student-centred learning.

    At left you can get an idea of content in the Futurelab workshop in the art created by the graphic notetaker we have at this event. Isn’t it beautiful?

    After the workshop, teachers were set loose in Vienna for the afternoon with maps and free transportation passes, in order to create some sort of multimedia end product based on the theme. The groups of teachers will submit their end products and the best will win a prize. All of the projects will be up on the Innovative Teachers Network, so we’ll tell you when they’re available for you to look at.

    And of course, we’re eating our fill of the best crisp apple strudel and schnitzel with noodles that Vienna has to offer. Today we have another full day of workshops and presentations and tonight is the famous gala dinner and awards ceremony. We’re pretty confident that the UK will be represented among the award winners – wish our teachers luck!

  • Microsoft Teacher's Blog

    Innovative Teachers Forum in Vienna


    IMG_2743 I can’t believe that its been a year since the last Innovative Teachers Forum in Zagreb. That is where I first met Dan Roberts, whose journey as an Innovative Teacher we have posted in detail on this blog. In Zagreb , Dan presented his ‘Recharge the Battery’ Virtual Classroom Tour . Here in Vienna, he will be presenting again, but this time as a keynote speaker, in front of over 200 delegates, as an example of innovative best practice in teaching and learning.

    But who knows what the year will hold for this group of UK Innovative Teachers:-  James, Chris, Mandeep and Ollie. After registration and putting up posters of their Virtual Classroom Tours, they will have a heavy day of presentations. These include keynotes speeches from the Director for ICT at the Austrian Ministry of Education and a look at the Future of Education from Franz Kuehmayer. In between times, they will be meeting the 200 other Innovative Teachers from all over Europe. If that is not enough, other highlights will be the buffet lunch and the great cakes at coffee time. Well, for me and Kristen anyway! But the real highlight of the day will be of course? What is in the ‘goody’ bag?

    We will be posting daily reports from the event. Find out on Friday, how the UK Teachers have done, and if like Dan, they have won an award, which could take them to the Worldwide Innovative Teachers Event to be hosted in, as yet some unannounced location in the world!

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