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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

    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

    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

    image

    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

    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

  • Education

    Photosynth - 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.

    Photosynth

    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

    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

    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

    ZoomIt - 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.

    ZoomIt

    ZoomIt icon

    ZoomIt is a brilliant little accessory, written by a Microsoft colleague, Mark Russinovich, to allow you to focus and highlight on areas of your computer screen. Mark originally wrote it for technical presentations, such as demonstrations of applications, and to highlight parts of the screen, but I’ve found it to be really useful on an interactive whiteboard, where you need to enlarge part of your screen so that pupils at the back of the class can see it. And you can also annotate onto the screen, using pen input from your whiteboard or a tablet PC.

    You can zoom to an area on the screen so that you can show students where to click in an application, or to zoom onto a particular image. The other handy feature for teachers is the ability to set a timer on a blank screen with one key click (brilliant for the “You have 5 minutes to…" times).

    ZoomIt works on all versions of Windows from Windows XP onwards.

    Where can I find out how to use it?

    There’s a ZoomIt video on YouTube, but not much else - a reflection of how simple it is to use. An easy way to try it is to run it temporarily without installing it (see the Run ZoomIt option on the page below), and then just click Ctrl and the 1 key to activate it.

    Where do I get ZoomIt from?

    ZoomIt is a free download from TechNet here

  • Education

    Windows Phone Starter Kit for Schools - 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 Phone Starter Kit for Schools

    Windows Phone Starter Kit for SchoolsLet me start by saying that today’s freebie isn’t for your average teacher! It requires a fair amount of technical skills, because it’s actually a starter kit to create a Windows Phone application for your school. It allows you to add a school news feed, contacts database, links to school-connected websites, as well as information feeds for clubs and groups within the school.

    This Starter Kit provides a template for building Windows Phone applications, where content is configured through XML files, and is completely customizable and themable.

    Where can I find out how to use it?

    There’s details, and a discussion page, on the MSDN network

    Where do I get the Windows Phone Starter Kit for Schools from?

    You can download all of the source code from the MSDN website

  • Education

    Windows Phone Starter Kit for RSS- 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 Phone Starter Kit for RSS

    imageAfter yesterday’s techie Windows Phone Starter Kit for Schools, I thought I’d continue with another techie one for Windows Phone. This time it’s a starter kit for RSS - to help you create a Windows Phone app which consists of news feeds from the web.

    Yet again, today’s freebie isn’t for your average teacher! It requires a fair amount of technical skills, because it’s actually a starter kit to create a Windows Phone application which allows you to link to web-based news feeds in RSS format.

    Why do I think this is useful to schools?

    So far this month my children’s school has sent me 29 emails, and seven paper-based letters. That’s 34 different notices in just 25 days. And some of those emails contained over 20 different news items. That is simply too much for me to cope with (and I regularly miss stuff in that deluge). How about if the school just had a series of newsfeeds that were related to what I needed to know, and they were available on my phone. So instead of seeing tens of emails a month in my (already too overloaded) mailbox, I could quickly just scan for the latest news on my phone when I want to? (Okay, that’s only part of the problem solved - it would still require somebody at the school to take an editorial role and reduce the volume of communications to be more appropriate Smile)

    Where can I find out how to use it?

    There’s details, and a discussion page, on the MSDN network

    Where do I get the Windows Phone Starter Kit for Schools from?

    You can download all of the source code from the MSDN website

    Bonus: There’s also a Windows Phone Starter Kit for Podcasts if that’s more your style…

  • Education

    Learning Suite - 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.

    Learning Suite

    This month I’ve shared Free February Appy-ness, with a new free application from Microsoft for teachers every day. Any other year, I’d have saved the best until last, and the 28th Feb would have been the day to share it. But, darn it, this is a leap year, so there’s one more day to find an app for. Somehow, I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.

    So for my penultimate moment of February Freebies, I’ve come up with something very useful - a way to get some of the 27 apps that I’ve already listed onto your classroom computers easily!

    For every piece of software I’ve listed this month I’ve given you a download link, so that you can pop off and get them. But what if you want to install a bunch of them onto all of your student and teacher laptops? That’s where Learning Suite comes in…

    Learning SuiteThe Learning Suite is a collection of many of your favourite free Microsoft applications in a simple download application. It allows users/IT managers to select the applications you wish install and tells you which ones you already have.

    It doesn’t have all of the apps I’ve listed, but it does have some extra ones - like Community Clips - that I haven’t listed!

    Another useful feature is that as we add resources to the Learning Suite in the future, it will automatically update itself every time you run it. Enabling you, your colleagues and your students to have access to the latest free resources from Microsoft as and when they appear.

    Where do I get the Learning Suite from?

    You can download the Learning Suite directly from the Partners in Learning website

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