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February, 2012 - Education - Site Home - MSDN Blogs
The Australian Education Blog
Ray Fleming's take on what's interesting in Education IT in Australia

February, 2012

  • Education

    pptPlex - free software for teachers in February


    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 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?


    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

  • Education

    Photosynth - free software for teachers in February


    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.


    Photosynth logo

    Photosynth takes your photos, mashes them together and recreates a 3D scene out of them that anyone can view and move around in. Different to static photos and video, Photosynth allows you to explore details of places, objects, and events unlike any other media. You can’t stop video, move around and zoom in to check out the smallest details, but with Photosynth you can. And you can’t look at a photo gallery and immediately see the spatial relation between the photos, but with Photosynth you can!

    Create a collage quickly and easily

    For an idea of how it can be used in the classroom, take a look at some of the best:

    Or you can explore the world’s 250,000 Photosynths from a map - with the Bing Photosynth map, including over 5,000 of Australia alone.

    One of my personal favourite ideas is the Photosynth produced for Wootton Bassett School’s art exhibition. Ts is a great use for Photosynth - taking a 3 day school art expo, and making it permanently available to everybody.

    Where can I find out how to use it?

    There are easy step-by-step instructions to create your first Photosynth on the website, and there’s some good tips in the Photosynth tutorial on the Photoprosumer website.

    My personal tip to make a fascinating, immersive Photosynth is to keep changing your camera perspective - move around the thing you are photographing - rather than simply making it a flat panorama.

    Where do I get Photosynth from?

    imageGo to the Photosynth website and click on the ‘Create your Synth’ link at the bottom of the page

  • Education

    Photo Story 3 - free software for teachers in February


    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.

    Microsoft Photo Story 3

    Photo Story 3If you remember Photo Story from the Windows XP days, well you’ll be glad to know it's back and working with Windows 7 (as well as Windows XP). If you don’t know, then you’re in a for a surprise when you give this a try!
    imageYou can quickly create slideshows using your digital photos. With a single click, you can touch-up, crop, or rotate pictures. Add animations and special effects, soundtracks, and your own voice narration to your photo stories. Then, personalise them with titles and captions. The whole thing is then wrapped up into a ‘photo story’ - a video with a small file size that makes it easy to send your photo stories in an e-mail. Watch them on your interactive whiteboard, TV, your computer, or your smartphone!

    For an example of the results, watch the video "Remember the Ladies” from the Department of Classics at Furman University.

    It’s difficult to describe how easy it is to use, without stepping it through with you step-by-step, but it is so simple to use that the easiest way to see it is to try it!

    It’s a great way for students to create a piece of work, and makes a fantastic break from the usual PowerPoint presentations that they produce - and introduces a whole new set of skills for students to think about.

    Where can I find out how to use it?

    You may not need much help, as the software is easy to use. However, Pat Pecoy at the Department of Classics at Furman University has created a series of Photo Story 3 tutorials here.

    Where do I get Picture Story 3 from?

    Like every other piece of software in the ‘February Freebies’ list, it’s free. You can download it directly from this Microsoft Downloads link for Photo Story 3. (BTW although it says it’s only for Windows XP, this link contains the updated version that works on Windows 7 too)

  • Education

    The Office Add-in for Moodle - free software for teachers in February


    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.

    Free Microsoft Office Add-in for Moodle

    Office Add-In for Moodle banner

    If you use Moodle, you may be familiar with grumbles from staff about the number of steps involved in creating documents and getting them onto your Moodle site. Teachers often create their teaching materials, and student materials, in Word, Excel and PowerPoint. And then they have to save it somewhere, then log into Moodle, find where they want to put it onto Moodle and then upload it. So why shouldn’t it be as easy as saving the file to your desktop, or your SharePoint?

    That’s exactly what the Office Add-In for Moodle does - adds a “Save to Moodle” and “Open from Moodle'” button to all of your Office applications.

    Uploading files to Moodle has never been easier. The Office Add-in for Moodle is an add-in for Office 2003, 2007 and 2010, that allows teachers to open and save Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents to a Moodle website. Today, teachers who use Office and Moodle have to switch back and forth between their web browser and Office applications. With the Add-In, teachers can create, open, edit, and save Moodle documents from within the Office applications. You no longer need to use your web browser when working with Office documents stored in Moodle.

    Office Add-In for Moodle - screen shotIt doesn’t require anything to be installed on the Moodle server. Anyone who is the teacher or owner of a Moodle course can install the Add-in and access their documents. Once installed, there are two menu items ‘Open from Moodle’ and ‘Save to Moodle’ (see right) under:

    • the File menu in Office 2003
    • the Office Button in Office 2007
    • the File tab in Office 2010

    In order to browse course files on your Moodle you will need to first tell the Add-in the address of your Moodle and the credentials you use to log in. Once added you can view the list of courses you are enrolled in. Naturally, students and others can access the content directly from Moodle as they normally would.

    We focused on teachers and content specialists first, since we know most documents posted to Moodle come from teachers.

    Where can I find out how to use it?

    Step-by-step instructions to help setup the system, as well as how users will use it, are on the website.

    Where do I get Office Add-In for Moodle from?

    Either go to the Office Add-In for Moodle page on Education Labs, or download directly from this link

  • Education

    I’m Out of Office - and so is my email inbox


    This week, I’m actually in the States at our Global Education Partner Conference in Seattle (right up on the left hand side of the US map). As usual, I tried to be a little creative with my Out Of Office Reply:


    Oops! Looks like I’m not here, keep reading…

    I'm over in the States from 6th February until Tuesday 14th February at the Microsoft Global Education Partner Summit. During this time, I'll be able to check my emails during the night Sydney-time, but will be attending business meetings all of the working day, so will be slow and limited in how I can respond (and let's face it, after flying back overnight, I'll probably be slow and limited on the 14th too!)

    I will be fully online again on Wednesday 15th February.

    If there is anything absolutely desperate that you'd need to escalate, the Education team and the Enterprise Partner Team are still around.




    But I discovered that I have some much more creative colleagues (but not in the sarcastic way of some of the Best Out of Office replies from Dave Duarte). Jason Trump is a colleague from our APAC team, and his out of office reply is awesome:


    Where am I?

    This one is an easy one!  The Starbucks empire of more than 17,000 stores in 55 countries started here from a modest store located directly across the road from Pike Place Market.

    The world’s largest online bookstore is also headquartered in this city.  Boeing assembles several of their commercial aircraft in several plants around the city including the Dreamliner 787 which is assembled at the Everett Factory.

    You probably guessed that I’m in Seattle, Washington State, USA.

    This business trip is for partner events related to the Global Education Partner Summit (GEPS).  Held annually at the Executive Briefing Centre building at Microsoft’s Redmond campus, GEPS is a 4 day event especially for our top education partners. I’m also attending a pre-meeting and additional side-meetings during the course of the week.

    I will have regular email access throughout the day so there shouldn’t be a significant delay in responding to urgent messages, except for the time difference.

    Please try to refrain from calling my mobile as the timezone will likely mean you’ll be calling me at an hour when I should be sleeping (but probably won’t be thanks to jetlag!). If it’s urgent though, go ahead +xxxxx.

    Kind regards,



    When I got it, it made me smile, and I learnt something from the links. How often do you get an Out Of Office reply that makes you smile?

    When was the last time your Out of Office will have made somebody smile?

    What would be the education equivalent of an Out of Office that would make the receiver smile and educate them? (This is what Comment boxes were created for on blog sites Smile)

  • Education

    Mouse Mischief - free software for teachers in February


    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.

    Mouse Mischief

    Mouse Mischief Banner

    A simple idea: Let your students interact with your PowerPoint presentation, and use that to be able to draw them deeper into their learning, and for testing their understanding of it.

    Mouse Mischief integrates into Microsoft PowerPoint 2010 and Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2007, letting you insert questions, polls, and drawing activity slides into your lessons. Students can actively participate in these lessons by using their own mice to click, circle, cross out, or draw answers on the screen.

    Three reasons to use Mouse Mischief in your classroom

    • Actively engaging students and supporting collaborative learning
      With Mouse Mischief you can spark student curiosity by incorporating interactive technology into the curriculum. Students have fun learning while seeing visual representations of their answers on a shared screen while using colourful mouse pointers (like a robot, snowflake, guitar, and many more shapes). You can enable collaborative learning when using Mouse Mischief in Team mode; in Team mode, all members of a team need to work together to agree on an answer before it can be selected.

      • Improving classroom management and overall student participation
        With Mouse Mischief you no longer need to wait for raised hands; you can immediately see your students' answers on the screen. Mouse Mischief helps make it easy for all students even those who are often quiet in class to participate regularly without the fear of saying the wrong answer. This can allow you to have better visibility into the progress and comprehension of your entire class so you can adjust your lessons on the spot.

          • It’s familiar to use and easy on the classroom budget
            Because Mouse Mischief integrates into familiar PowerPoint technology, you do not have to spend time learning new skills to use it. Additionally, you can set up your classrooms to play Mouse Mischief lessons without purchasing expensive hardware; many schools already have mice, and both mice and USB hubs are available at many stores where computer accessories are sold.

          Where can I find out how to use it?

          From the Mouse Mischief website, there are a ton of helpful links to use. There’s a video guide to setting up and using Mouse Mischief, along with videos for using the student participation features, and for creating multiple choice and Yes/No question slides. If you prefer to read documents, then there’s the Quick Start Guide.

          Once you’ve got the basics, it’s worth looking at all of the Mouse Mischief lesson templates, to see if there’s something there that will get you started.

          There are also Mouse Mischief articles on the Microsoft Knowledge Base

          Where do I get Mouse Mischief from?

          It’s best to download from the link on the Mouse Mischief website, but if you want one less click, then download it directly here.

        • Education

          Work experience 'cuts dropout rate' according to the BBC


          According to some research for the UK Education and Employers Taskforce reported by BBC News in the UK at the weekend, work ‘experience’ cuts the likelihood of students dropping out from education. That doesn’t have to be in the conventional way of formal work experience - it can be smaller things like hearing from an employer at a school event, or having a business guest invited to a lesson, or a visit to another workplace. According to the BBC report:


          The more young people come into contact with employers while they are at school, the less likely they are to go on to be unemployed, research suggests.
          Pupils who took part in four or more activities with employers were five times less likely to drop out of school or training, it says.
          Those who had no such contact were most likely to be not in education, employment or training.
          Activities included work experience, visits and enterprise competition.


          I know that many Australian schools have activities which involve businesses. And equally I know that many find it difficult to organise activities, because businesses can be difficult to contact. And it can be equally difficult for the business to organise activities for large groups of students (I remember the massive orchestration that was required for ‘work experience’ week in the UK, when around 100 High School students joined Microsoft for five days).

          So perhaps next time you’re asking a business for support, you should send them this BBC story to help your case!

          What I can do is also offer to try and help schools if they are looking for a business person to come along and talk to a group of students. In the past, when I’ve done those sessions, I’ve always walked away having learnt a lot, and having answered some tricky questions!

          I’m based in Sydney, but I have colleagues around the country, and connections to business people working in partners around the country too. There are programmers, marketing people, sales people, entrepreneurs running their own businesses - I just might know somebody that could be the person you’re looking for.

          If I can help, my email address is

        • Education

          Microsoft Mathematics - free software for teachers in February


          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.

          Microsoft Mathematics 4.0

          Example chart created by Microsoft Math 4.0

          Universally, mathematics is a major source of frustration for students. Teachers often find it challenging to keep all their students at the same pace when learning new maths concepts. Microsoft Mathematics can help students visualise problems and provide extra help when they are reviewing maths concepts on their own.

          From basic maths to precalculus, it can help you visualise mathematical concepts in a new way. It’s a free downloadable tool which includes step-by-step instructions and explains fundamental concepts. The wide range of tools to help students with complex mathematics includes a full-featured graphing calculator that’s designed to work just like a hand-held calculator and ink handwriting support to recognise hand-written problems.

          Includes a sophisticated graphing calculator

          Microsoft Mathematics Graphic CalculatorThe average cost of a graphing calculator is $90+. This one is free and works on your PC.

          Personal whinge from me on this - my daughters’ school gives every student their own laptop - and then insists that every parent spends an extra $250 on a graphing calculator. Grrr.

          Microsoft Mathematics has a powerful graphing calculator built in. That saves each student the cost of buying a graphing calculator and assures that they all have access to the same necessary tools.

          Microsoft Mathematics uses a Computer Algebra System (CAS) to help teachers share and solve more complex equations and functions. It’s capable of handling subjects including pre-algebra, algebra, trigonometry, calculus, physics and chemistry.

          Helps students by stepping through problems

          With its step-by-step approach to problem solving, Microsoft Mathematics shows the journey to the maths solution, not just the end point. For teachers, it’s like having a maths tutor available to their students when they get stuck on a problem. The step-by-step feature can help students improve their understanding of formulas and concepts as they do their homework.

          It’s useful for subjects such as pre-algebra, algebra, trigonometry, calculus, physics and chemistry.

          Where can I find out how to use it?

          There’s a full Microsoft Mathematics Teachers Guide, as well as a Step-by-step Guide that talks you through the whole software.

          Where do I get Microsoft Mathematics from?

          Like all the other software I’ve mentioned in this Free February list, it’s free, and you can download Microsoft Mathematics from here.

          Just realised I've done three days in a trot of software for maths teachers. That's enough! Tomorrow we'll go for something useful for everybody...

        • Education

          Maths Worksheet Generator - free software for teachers in February


          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.

          Maths Worksheet Generator

          Maths Worksheet Generator header

          Another bit of free software for Maths teachers  - and what better way than giving them something to save time. Maths Worksheet Generator creates anything from one to 1,000 equations on a worksheet from a single sample equation you enter. And it also generates the teacher answer sheet too.

          Do you spend a lot of time searching for worksheets with practice problems to give your students? Now you can easily create your own in just a few seconds with the Math Worksheet Generator. This is a tool that generates multiple math problems based on a sample, and then creates a worksheet that you can distribute. By analysing the math problem you provide, or one of the built-in samples, the generator determines the structure of the expression and provides similar problems.

          Create quick maths worksheets in Word

          The Math Worksheet Generator works best with Word 2007 and 2010. If you have that, then the tool creates a Word document and the expressions are editable. If you have an older version of Word, it still creates a document, but the expressions are small images that aren't editable. (This is because Word 2007 and higher has more built-in support for inserting Math equations.) If you don't have Word at all, the tool will create HTML versions of the worksheet and answer sheet.

          The tool supports everything from basic arithmetic through algebra.

          Where can I find out how to use it?

          Here’s a demo of the Maths Worksheet Generator in use, which shows how easy it is to use (download the video here):

          Where do I get the free Maths Worksheet Generator from?

          The free Maths Worksheet Generator download available from the ‘Try It’ link on this page

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