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As the interest in Windows 8 builds, with new Windows 8 devices being revealed weekly, and new education apps for Windows 8 appearing in the Windows Store, I'm having regular conversations with people about developing new apps for education users (typically teachers or students) for Windows 8. Often the conversation isn't about the technical detail of producing an app, but about the purpose of proposed app – especially about how it will help a student or teacher to do something. Often, when planning a Windows Store app, it makes sense to think less about what features should be included and more about the experience you want to provide your users. Of course, there's plenty of advice published already (like Making great Windows Store apps) but here's an extra set of thoughts about approaching the design of an education app for Windows 8.
This is good advice – it's much more meaningful to say "my app will help teachers track the learning progress of all of the students in their class for the year" than "I'm writing a markbook app" – you can imagine how the former will help you focus on solving a problem for a teacher, rather than just build an app
Think about the flow of activities that a user is going to need to do to achieve their goal. If their goal is to see progress, how do you help them see that? Sure, entering marks in a markbook is a step on the journey, but it isn't the goal. What do they need to see – progress of their class; progress of individual students; which areas the whole class is struggling with; which areas a single student or group of students need reinforcement on.
One of the lessons about building apps in Windows 8 is that a bunch of the features you might want to give your user is already provided by Windows 8 – which means that if you want to provide a way for a teacher to share information – for example to email a chart to a student, or email a parent – then you can use the built-in facilities in Windows 8 to do it, rather than creating a unique way (especially when you don't know what ways of sharing each teacher is going to prefer – the other apps installed will be able to add more sharing options on top of the core ones in Windows 8 – meaning that you don't have to go back and re-develop your software every time a new social network comes along!).
Although this is a whole subject in it's own right (Do you go for free, trial, paid apps? Do you use in-app advertising to allow you to give the app away for free?) there's plenty of advice on this at Plan for Monetization
There's tons of detail on this on the MSDN network, starting at Design Guidance for Windows Store apps, including some project design templates, as well as some great advice on touch interaction and navigation patterns.
In the app culture, it's amazing how quick and easy it is to install – and then un-install an app. In the early days of your app, you're unlikely to get thousands of users recommending it to their peers, so that app has to have an attractive experience – a splash screen that's attractive and fast, and a first-launch experience that helps users understand what they can do with the app. And don't forget too that most users will see your tile on the Windows Start screen more than the app itself – so having a tile that updates itself with status or information messages is a way of re-engaging users. In the case of a markbook app, how about having a tile that tells you when you're ahead of your target with your students – or a live tile that scrolls through the names of students that haven't had a mark updated for the last two weeks?
Advice on these areas, and others, is detailed over on the Windows Store apps Dev Centre, in the "Planning Windows Store apps" article
As a bonus, in the video below, David Chou, who's one of our developer evangelists, talks through some of the concepts of building well-designed apps that create a consistent experience for users – so that as they move between different apps from different publishers, students and teachers can have a familiar experience, without having to learn new techniques to navigate different apps. Although this might seem like an easy thing to do, it could be potentially frustrating for users and developers, especially when you consider your user might be using a touch-enabled slate without a keyboard, or a conventional laptop with keyboard and trackpad, or a huge monitor with a standard desktop computer with keyboard and mouse. The design advice published is there to help you build a single app that works across all of those different devices, rather than having to have multiple versions for different devices.
If you're not a developer, but a user or a teacher, the video is still interesting, as it helps you to understand how so many different apps doing so many different things, can still be easy to use.
It seems I'm on a bit of a roll with blog posts about Windows 8 apps for education (there's another one coming tomorrow, which in my head is titled 'Don't write code - design an experience'). But reading blog posts, and the technical info on the links isn't the same as actually hearing somebody talking about it. Our teams over in the US run a bunch of webinars about developing apps in Windows 8, but unfortunately most of them run in the morning on Pacific Standard Time – ie middle of the night in Australia. However, there's one that might be relevant – and is running at an Australia-friendly time.
I've heard from some partners that successfully getting apps into the Windows Store is easier than some of the other app stores, but there's still an important set of things to know. So the Windows 8 Technical Evangelist team are running a live webcast and Q&A on Friday morning:
So rather than getting up at 1am for the usual early morning US webcasts, you can attend this webcast in the relative luxury of Friday morning, and even have enough time to get your morning latte-mocha-frappacino before you tune in.
Make a date: Find out more, and register
> Find related blog posts for developers of education apps
Readify, a Microsoft partner, are at the forefront of building Windows 8 apps, and when they won Microsoft's global award for Software Development Partner of the Year, it wasn't a surprise. Not only is it at the leading edge, but it makes sure it stays there by filling the team with Microsoft MVPs and VTSPs (specialists closely connected within the Microsoft business). Their client list of public sector customers includes Queensland Department of Education and Training, St George School, The Queensland Department of Child Safety,the Victorian Electoral Commission, the Australia Post, and child welfare services provider Barnardos.
So when Readify decide to run a roadshow on developing modern apps for modern processes, and the charge is barely enough to cover the cost of breakfast, it struck me that education customers and partners should be interested, especially as we're starting to see the first wave of Windows 8 apps developed by and for education institutions.
So here's the details:
The IT world is in the throes of yet another seismic shift, this time very much led by the consumer. It has led to the rise of mobile and tablet computing, cloud based applications, corporations adopting the 'bring your own hardware' approach, touch based interfaces and the demand by users for rapid, if not continual updates to the applications and services they consume.
This consumer led revolution isn't just impacting developers writing software for the consumer market, it is also affecting the expectations and attitudes of the corporate market and raising the bar for what people are expecting from their internal systems.
In such a world the tools and approaches needed to develop modern applications also need to change.
With the launch of Visual Studio 2012, Microsoft is providing tooling that targets the new Windows 8 platform and HTML5 based web applications in addition to providing support for existing development platforms. Microsoft Visual Studio 2012 also delivers comprehensive tooling for a modern agile application lifecycle, supporting continual delivery and improvement.
Join us for breakfast in your local city and find out just how this can be done, and how a development team can build modern applications with great user experiences targeting the latest technology platforms.
There's an event in most of the state capitals, throughout November, so grab a space while they're still available. It's just $20 a ticket!
I thought this week I'd highlight three Windows 8 education apps that have been created by universities -
Windows Store link for DePaul University Windows 8 app The DePaul College of Computing and Digital Media Windows Store App enables students to keep up to date with CDM news & events, courses, professors, and computer lab availability. It contains information for searching for and contacting staff, finding computer labs and their availability, and information on each of the courses offered
Windows Store link for SSES Windows 8 app The Stockholm School of Entrepreneurship has created an app that acts as a shop front for their four member institutions, by making some of their content accessible to a wider audience. As well as a news feed, which comes from their existing official RSS feed on their website, there's also information on their staff and faculty, events and recordings of lectures and talks. It's the video section, enabled from their YouTube feed and favourites, that grabbed my attention, as one of the first set I saw was a series of talks from Hans Rosling (of TED talk fame), and that lost me a few hours as I listened to more of his wisdom.
Windows Store link for Stanford University Windows 8 app The Stanford University app is a well designed app, that looks very smooth, and contains tons of content, mainly in the form of recorded lectures and talks. They have a range of featured talks, with attention grabbing titles, including:
And then a series of topic-based sections:
For each of these topics, there's between five and 10 hours of content available.
Visit the "Windows 8 apps for Education" page - including my favourite apps
Yesterday I wrote about the new Lenovo Windows 8 tablets and touch laptops. Today, I've been sent details of workshops being run at Swinburne University of Technology on 24th October, with a chance to spend two and a half hours with a Lenovo Tablet PC and OneNote, learning how to use OneNote to support learning:
Lenovo, Microsoft and Swinburne have come together to deliver two practical, hands-on tours of Microsoft OneNote and how it can be used to improve teaching and learning.
Participants will be provided with a Lenovo Tablet PC for the day and will have the opportunity to explore the pedagogical potential provided by devices which allow multi-touch and digitised pen functionality in a Windows 8 environment.
Facilitated by experienced educators, each session will include a focus on how to use Microsoft OneNote to collaborate, research and create curricula. Participants will explore how to set up a collaborative space, use audio and video to provide more powerful feedback and assessment, and use OneNote as a tool for research and organising data. The consultants will provide practical classroom examples and ideas to assist teachers in applying new insights.
OneNote is part of Office, so you've probably already got it installed on your computer! This workshop will help you get the most from it to support teaching and learning
Find our more and register for the "Using Microsoft OneNote to Transform Learning" workshop on 24th Oct at Swinburne
Doug Thomas is in the part of the Office team that writes help content for Office on the Office.com website, and in the help pages of the software. And he's recently branched out to producing mini webinars to help you discover new parts of the Office suite. They're run every week, but unfortunately for Australia, they're run in the middle of the night
But wait, there's good news – he records all the webinars, and makes the recordings available online. And because they are only 15 minutes long, they make great learning snacks (and Doug's a very natural host and demonstrator, so they are very watchable).
You can access all of the recordings on this Office webinars page, and some of my recommendations are:
You can find all of Doug's videos on the Office Webinars channel on YouTube
View the full Office webinar schedule here (and ask for your favourite topic to be covered in the comments)
A month ago I wrote about a dozen new Windows 8 devices – laptops, tablets and All-In-Ones running Windows 8 and Windows RT – that were being previewed before the big day on 26th October when Windows 8 is officially released. It means that as a education user thinking about what devices teachers and students could be using for next academic year, there's a huge range of possible choices that are popping up. It means that you can choose your priorities based on each student groups' specific needs – for example, for younger students you might want tablets with great touch interfaces, and for older students you may want a traditional laptop design, and then for high-school and university students, perhaps you're looking for a convertible that's equally capable as both a touch tablet and a keyboard-driven laptop. And there's also choices available depending on what software choice you need for your users – for example, do you need to run all of your existing Windows software, or would your choice be to have a device that will only need to run the new Windows 8 software?
Well since last month the news has continued to trickle out from other manufacturers about what's coming, and overnight it was Lenovo's turn to take to the stage with panache.
They've announced a quartet of 'convertibles' – where the screens can flip around 360 degrees, so that you can run them in tablet mode, laptop mode, 'stand' mode and 'tent' mode. In a classroom, that would give lots of different ways of using them for individual students at a desk, on a table, or on their lap; collaborative learning tasks; or teaching small groups.
And the other big news for education users is that battery life has taken a big jump – up to 16 hours on some of these new devices!
The Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga has two different versions:
Yoga 13 - a 13.3" screen, with Intel i7 processors, and which runs full Windows 8. This has got a battery life of up to 8 hours.
Yoga 11 – an 11.6" screen, and an ARM-based processor, which runs Windows RT. The battery life on this one is up to 13 hours. And then there's the IdeaTab Lynx, which is a tablet and a laptop together – as a tablet, you have an 11.6" screen and an Intel processor, running full Windows 8. In this mode, you'd basically run in full touch mode. But if you add the keyboard dock, you've then got up to 16 hours battery life (because the dock contains an extra hidden battery) and a full keyboard – so you can run it as you would any normal laptop too.
You can read the Lenovo press release here, but for more product details, I'd recommend reading the product info on the Lenovo website, where they show the product features side-by-side, so that you can see all four models together on a single page.
Read more about other new Windows 8 devices, from my previous blog post
We're offering a series of technical training events for partners, focusing on the new Office and Office 365. They are coming up over the next few months – first in Melbourne in December, and then in Brisbane and Perth in early 2013 (What, 2013 already. Where's the year gone?).
The Exchange, Office and Office 365 Ignite workshop has been designed as deep technical training for IT implementers and Exchange administrators, who either develop, design or deploy for their organisations or customers.
The EXO Ignite workshop spans three days to ensure quality of coverage across all product associated workloads. Topics of the training range from new capabilities, design, deployment and management considerations for these technologies. The training content is a mix of presentations and hands-on labs that parallel real world experience delivered by Microsoft certified experts.
During the event, you will also have the opportunity to interact and learn from your industry peers and representatives from Microsoft.
The content provided throughout the course requires both a technical background and experience with prior versions of the product and/or service in order for the content to be valuable.
You can see the full agenda on the link below, but in a nutshell it breaks down into three significant chunks:
This means the agenda will address some of the hot topics in education use of Office too – like compliance and hybrid implementation of Office 365 (for example, where staff and researchers are run through an on-premise Exchange system and students are in the Office 365 for education cloud service)
There's a charge for the training – $150 – which is so minimal, I assume it's to make sure you actually turn up!
Find out more, and register, for the Australian Ignite Workshops
There's significantly less than two years to go before Windows XP is unsupported, and of course if you're still running Windows XP in your school, it's worth remembering that Windows XP was probably born before some or many of your students.
But for schools making the shift to Windows 8, there's still a need to plan carefully the migration, and this summer holiday will be one of the first opportunities for many of the classrooms around the country to be updated.
So this resource guide might be perfectly timed:
Basically, it steps you through focused documentation for the five key stages of rolling out Windows 8, and provides information that answers key questions:
The Resource Guide has links to over 70 detailed documents which will help you to understand what Windows 8 does, how to plan the deployment, and what tools are available to make it easier. For an education institution or partner, there are a number of documents which would be especially useful, including information on:
Download the Spring Resource Guide for Windows 8
Did you know that your students can use Skype to connect with a range of fabulous organisations that can broaden the classroom experience for your class – like NASA, museums, and expedition groups?
Last week the team from 'Skype in the classroom' announced an expansion of their programme to six more supporting organisations NASA's Digital Learning Network™, The National Museum of the Royal Navy and HMS Victory, British Council, Woodland Trust, VerbalizeIt, Action Aid, Education through Expedition and Choose2Matter. They join Penguin Group, New York Philharmonic, Peace One Day, Save the Children, and the Science Museum, London who were already part of the Skype in the classroom programme.
As one example of how these organisations will participate in Skype in the classroom, NASA's Digital Learning Centre will feature various projects where students can learn how to prepare a space vehicle for liftoff, help scientists and engineers to explore the basic principles of matter and design their own spacesuit mission patch. Participating classrooms will also discover what it is like to live and work in space as well as being introduced to basic robotics.
Today Skype in the classroom has 38,899 teachers working together on 2,2226 global educational projects, and they are sharing 767 learning resources – and it's all free for teachers to join.
Learn more about Skype in the classroom, and sign up here