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January, 2013 - Education - Site Home - MSDN Blogs
The Australian Education Blog
Ray Fleming's take on what's interesting in Education IT in Australia

January, 2013

  • Education

    29th Jan Webinar - Office 365 for education with Microsoft MVP Loryan Strant

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    Office 365 for education webinar with Loryan Strant

    As I've mentioned before, Loryan Strant's running weekly Office 365 for education webinars for schools in Australia (Office 365 for education is our free, cloud-based service, that gives you Exchange email, SharePoint collaboration, Lync communications, and the browser-based Office Web apps - Word, Excel, OneNote and PowerPoint). The first one is Tuesday 29th Jan at 10-11AM AEST (Sydney/Melbourne time).

    Loryan's , who runs Paradyne, writes a lot about Office 365 in his role as a Microsoft MVP, and you can see from his 'Top 3 reasons' list I've included below, he's a big fan of Office 365 for education:

     

    Top 3 reasons schools choose Office 365 for education over Google Apps

    1. With Office 365, educators can improve outcomes, by providing students with resources and tools that reinforce how they learn best.
    Educators can personalise learning with Microsoft’s tools, addressing a variety of learning styles. In fact, learning is interactive and engaging with Office 365. For example, students can use an online whiteboard, unavailable with Google Apps, to share ideas with others.

    One student takes notes in all of her classes and organises her notes, assignments and schedule in a single, digital notebook. Another organises his work in the way that best suits him. When schools choose Google Apps, students take notes with no ability to tag, catalogue or search within them. The school might turn to investigating unsupported, third party tools.

    Not only that, while Google earns poor grades in accessibility for its tools, students can excel when using Microsoft’s accessible technologies in Office 365 for education.

     

    2. Teachers and students work and learn without boundaries, online and offline, in and outside of the classroom with Office 365.
    Both educators and students are productive when offline. On a class field trip to a history museum, using a SharePoint Workspace while offline, a teacher easily accesses the lesson plan she created earlier, and reviews the history of the period with her students. Returning to school by bus without Web access, the student begins her assignment using Word. However, teachers and students using Google Apps cannot create Google Docs offline, and are unproductive.

    Today, with Office 365 teachers can record lessons and make them available for students to access outside of the classroom when they need to grasp difficult material, catch up on missed work, or reinforce learning in studying for a test. Google provides no capability for students or teachers to make recordings. Once again, schools must investigate unsupported, third party tools.

    3. Office 365 helps teachers prepare students for the workforce, building skills in using familiar Office tools, in ways people work today.
    With Office 365, both teachers and students use familiar, Office tools and the latest technologies. When it comes time for students to enter the workforce they are better-prepared than students using Google Apps. Displaying writing skills using Word and analytical skills using Excel is essential compared to having skills with tools like Google Apps and Google Docs, where needs are negligible in the workplace.

    Today, people work in social groups. Educators use SharePoint in Office 365 to interact with colleagues, collecting ideas and feedback, and students use Office 365’s presence information to locate fellow students online, initiating chats and video chats when working on group projects. Google Apps has nothing close to the capabilities available through Office 365’s Lync Online and SharePoint Online.

     

     

    The first webinar is on Tuesday 29th January, but if you can't make that there are plenty of other dates throughout the next few months -  5 February; and 5, 12, 19, 26 March. So you can either get in quick, and join the first webinar before term starts; or finish off your projects, get the first couple of weeks behind you, and then join Feb or during March.

    Make a dateRegister here: Make a date with Loryan for the Office 365 for education webinar for schools

  • Education

    Building an engaging Windows 8 education app for students

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    Earlier I wrote about building a Windows 8 education app for teachers, and here's part  two - building an interactive, engaging Windows 8 education app for students. We pick up where I left off earlier – where teachers have assigned an assignment to a group of students.

    Creating an immersive Windows 8 education app – the student experience

    The first thing to know is that the live tiles and notification system of Windows 8 means that students don't need to be running the app to interact with it – so if a teacher assigns work to a student then they'll receive a notification without having to dip into the app (and that notification can contain more than just a 'You have mail…' type of message)

    Sample Windows 8 education app for studentsIn our scenario, Steve the student is working on his Microsoft PowerPoint presentation when he receives a toast notification about a new assignment.
    This is regardless of whether he's running the app, so students don't need to run your app to 'just check' whether there's work waiting for them. You can use toast notifications for reminders, work assignments etc.

     

    Student assignment screen in the sample Windows 8 education appAs Steve taps the toast notification, the app launches and goes straight to the assignment page. The assignment page lists chapters from a textbook and a web article, along with the members of his group.
    A typical 'snapped view' scenario in Windows 8 education apps

    Steve views the assignment using snapped view and clicks on the web links provided.
    This mode of working is perfect for students, where they can run two apps side by side eg for notetaking.
    And for those students who (think they) can't work without background music, they can keep their music library on-screen at the same time as doing their homework.

     

    imageSteve views the web site while taking notes in the app in snap view.
    This is especially critical when curriculum resources include e-textbooks, as they'll often need to see their textbook alongside their other materials or the assignment notes.

     

    Using the Share Charm in Windows 8 education appsAfter reviewing his notes in full screen view, Steve swipes in the Share charm and sends the notes to his group members.
    The Share mechanism works by identifying which apps can share information through the Windows 8 contracts. What this means is that developers don't need to know about all the different ways to share information – the other apps that can share information provide the mechanism to do it. So if somebody invents the new Facebook tomorrow, your users will be able to use the Share charm without you needing to re-write your app.
    What the design ideas above show is that you can create a much more interactive experience for students on a Windows 8 touch device than you might on other tablets – and the app you create would run on any Windows 8 device – whether that's a non-touch laptop, or a Windows slate like Surface, or a home PC. Steve the student has a very different experience when using a Windows 8 education app because of the added interactivity provided through using things like:

    • Snap mode for running multiple apps
    • Toast notifications to draw the student back to the app (and to help teachers to connect with students)
    • Using the Share charm to make it easy for users to share information, without having to recode your software every time there's a new social network/LMS/cloud service

    Where to find out more about developing Windows 8 education apps

    Hopefully, this article has given you some ideas that you want to follow up on, so here's really useful links for you to continue on your journey.

    The first place to go is the Windows Store app development section on MSDN (and specifically this page for the advice on Windows 8 Education apps), and if you prefer your info offline, then download the Windows 8 Product Guide for Developers.

    There's also a clear set of design guidelines for the user experience in "Make great Windows Store apps"

    Learn MoreFinally, take a look at all of the other articles on this blog about developing Windows 8 apps for education

  • Education

    Update 9–Windows 8 education apps from Australia

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    I've written before about Lucas Moffitt, an independent developer who's writing Windows 8 apps to help teachers.  He's turning them out pretty quickly – Australian Teacher Professional Standards Evaluator, Class Seater and Lesson Coder – and he's just had his most ambitious project published in the Windows Store.

    image 

    Essay Marker

    Link
    Essay Marker is a new way for teachers to create, collect and mark student essays, with Windows 8. Essay marker is built with the quality teaching framework in mind, by enabling the teacher to provide quality customised feedback for each student.

    The software allows teachers to create and share Assessment tasks, and collect & evaluate/mark student assessments. Once you've finished marking, you can see visual representations of your evaluation averages, and then export assessment results in MS Office formats.

    Essay Marker on Windows 8 - screenshot

    Essay Marker radial menuThe screenshot above gives you a good idea of how it works – basically, with a touch device, or a normal mouse and keyboard, you can highlight a bit of text, and the radial menu (right) pops up offering you the ability to comment on grammar or spelling, or make a comment under four categories – negative, positive, general or 'irrelevant'. You select the type of comment, and can then add it.
    Rather than me trying to describe how it works, the best bet would be to watch the Essay Marker overview video that Lucas has created:

    Unlike many of the Windows 8 apps, which assume that you can use it without support, Lucas has made the wise decision to include a Getting Started page on the home screen, which gives you a guide to get going. And the video above is definitely something to watch to understand what the capabilities are.

    As this software is significantly more capable than the smaller apps that Lucas has released so far for Windows 8, there's a new model for paying for it. The basic version is free – and includes advertising within it – and then if you want the advanced features (such as export) then you'll need to pay a small fee (about $5) to buy the upgrade to the full version. I think this is a good way to do it, because it means teachers can get a very clear idea of the software before having to commit money to it! Although other software uses the 'trial' version option from Windows Store, this way is better, as it means you don't just have a couple of weeks to give it a go.

    Learn MoreLearn more about other Windows 8 Education apps here

  • Education

    Getting started with building a sophisticated student support app for Windows 8

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    The Education section of the Windows 8 store is packed with new apps, as people are busy developing Windows 8 education apps. One of the things I've noticed is that many of them are intended to do just one job well – they're not really creating a whole learning journey for a student, but enabling specific activities. Yet one of the advantages of a Windows device over other tablets is that you can connect everything a student does together, and connect the data and experiences of their learning journey, instead of having to hop into separate apps for each part of their learning.

    Microsoft Learning Companion app screenshotTo demonstrate what's possible, and to make it easier for Windows 8 education app developers to create this experience for students, Microsoft have developed a sample Windows 8 app for institutions who are using Office 365 for education and Windows 8.

    The Contoso Learning Companion app for Windows 8 allows students and teachers to access their SharePoint/Office 365 for education learning environments directly from a Windows 8 device. This sample application is designed to be customised by our partners and customers, who can then release their own versions of it.

    • A partner or software developer can take the code from the Contoso Learning Companion, and continue to develop it to provide specific versions for their market - eg popular learning management systems, and/or their customer configurations of Office 365 for education.
      Under the licence partners can create what are called 'derivative works' from the sample app, and can distribute them free or for sale.
    • An education institution could create their own custom Windows 8 education app (or get a partner to develop it for them), based on the sample app and release it under their own name.
      For example, there could be a Learning Companion app for a specific university or school that has their full branding, and can be linked to their cloud services, their specific Learning Management System, and contains news feeds and information specifically for that university or school.

    Features of the Learning Companion App

    • Aggregated view of current events, classes, and study groups in SharePoint/Office 365 for education
    • Access to class and study group sites, and their respective, events, materials, and related features in SharePoint
    • OneNote integration for consumption and management of lessons and assignments via a class notebook

    Developers can customise the look and feel with institution branding or by integrating imagery as a background. They can also extend the UI by adding additional components, such as news feeds and other institutional data sources.

    Why develop an app, when there's a website already?

    The benefit of creating specific apps, rather than simply pointing your students, parents and staff to an Office 365 website, is that you can create a seamless integrated experience. Most education institutions have websites that are designed to do everything from recruit new students, to publishing official data, to connecting with alumni. And somewhere in there are the resources to support current students. Whereas with an app focused on providing support for current students, you can make it a much better (and more mobile) experience – for example, by keeping your users permanently 'logged in' to their data, and enabling offline use with OneNote so that the students can work when and where they need to, not just when they are within reach of a wifi signal.

    The other significant benefit is that the Learning Companion for Windows 8 provides a touch-friendly interface to support Office 365 for education (and potentially your LMS). It provides users with an aggregated experience that would otherwise require the user to access multiple sites via the browser.

    As the sample app also integrates into OneNote, the powerful learning support app that is part of Microsoft Office. Within OneNote, sections are created for the teacher to input the required lessons and assignments for students to access. Private groups are also created for each student—visible only to that student and the teacher—where they can keep their notes, work on assignments, and collaboratively work on assignments with teacher input. By using OneNote as the repository, the teacher is able to manage all student submissions at a glance.

    How to turn the Learning Companion sample app into a real app

    Once you've downloaded the sample code, you'll be able to change, extend and compile your own Windows 8 education app yourself. You'll need Windows 8 and a Visual Studio for Windows 8 application development, as well as a SharePoint or Office 365 setup (you can get an Office 365 trial account here). And, of course, your programming skills Smile

    Find MoreYou can download the source code for the Learning Companion free here

  • Education

    Helping their university save over $1m–Coventry's IT team

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    It's always interesting to read about projects where IT costs have been reduced by the IT team of a university, and I've had this in my 'must share' list for a while.

    Coventry University saves £1m/$1.5m with virtualised network and management tools

    Coventy University campusAs there's a full case study on the Microsoft website about the different activities undertaken by the Coventry University IT team to hit their cost saving targets, all I'll do is summarise the highlights:

    • The university IT department were given a target of making $1.5m savings across the campus.
    • The project revisited their virtualisation and cloud technologies, to see how they could move forward to save costs
    • The university team had originally been using VMware for virtualisation, but had a piecemeal implementation because of the high direct costs of licensing it.
    • They reviewed their virtualisation across three competing technologies – Microsoft's Hyper-V, Citrix VirtualBox and VMware.
    • After deciding on using Hyper-V in Windows Server, they were able to complete a campus-wide roll out of infrastructure, and supporting management tools.

    Where were the savings from?

    The results meant that a number of different savings were made:

    • Saving in software licences (of over $150,000)
    • Reduced infrastructure management costs
    • Reduced IT staff headcount  (gulp)
    • Reduced power and cooling costs by over $40,000 a year, by reducing the number of physical servers and floor space
    • 20% lower carbon footprint

    And the benefits?

    The flip side of the saving message is that the university were also able to improve the IT services provided to their users. For example, they've increased user uptime significantly, by increasing the server resilience and using failover clustering – automatically moving applications between server clusters when there are problems. They're also moving forward on improving their disaster recovery planning, to allow them to replicate their data in real-time, rather than with daily off-site backup and storage.

    Learn MoreRead the full Coventry University case study on IT savings with Hyper-V here

    Find the 50 other 'cost saving' articles on this blog

  • Education

    Popular topics on this blog

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    Yesterday's list of the most read Education Blog posts that I've published this year prompted me to look a little further at the content. Having written 600 blog posts in the last two years, I thought it would be interesting to see the key topics. It was easy to do, because I use a series of 'tags' on each blog post (almost every single one is tagged with 'education', and then I add further tags like 'cloud', 'students', 'classroom resources' or 'free download').

    You can see the tags when you click on an individual article, and then use the tags to find related blog posts quickly.

    So here's the top 10 most popular subjects for articles over the last two years, based on the number of articles published:

    1. Events (108)
      Either Microsoft-run education events, or run by our partners
    2. Case Study (91)
      Always popular – a look into what other people are doing with their projects
    3. Free Download (90)
      Yep, that magic word 'free' leads to 90 different articles
    4. Announcements (83)
      Well, that says I'm not breaking news every day
    5. Students (62)
      Surprisingly, many education technology blogs don't write much about students
    6. Partner Training (59)
      As my job is fundamentally about helping our key education partners, this subject isn't a big surprise
    7. Higher Education (58)
      To be honest, this has been a big focus area for me as I grow my knowledge too – and the act of blogging is also an act of learning
    8. Cost Saving (47)
      A couple of years ago, in the UK I was writing at least once a week about cost saving, but here in Australia, there's not been the same agenda on the minds of education IT customers
    9. Business Intelligence (38)
      Both the topics (above and below) point towards the same agenda – using data to help improve education – being important and fast-moving.
    10. BI in Education (35)

    Learn MoreSee the index all topic subjects/tags used on the blog

  • Education

    Where the Microsoft research and development budget goes

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    Read the original PCWorld articleI've just finished reading a great article on PCWorld, titled "Meet Microsoft, the world's best kept R&D secret", about the hidden work going on in the Microsoft research and development labs – and some of the projects that are being delivered in return for the $9.6 billion being invested every year:

    • Blending touch and touchscreens
      Using cameras and personal projectors to transform normal objects into touchscreen computer surfaces – from cereal boxes, to room walls, to body parts becoming touchscreens.
    • Kinect
      Kinect, originally for the Xbox, is all about movement, rather than touch, and there's a bunch of projects that are using it in interfaces, games, new interfaces, and even robotics – like this project from Disney

      The added bonus with Kinect is that there's a publicly available Software Development Kit (SDK) that you can use to build your own projects.
    • Holodeck
      Taking the idea of home entertainment to a completely different level by turning a whole room into an interactive experience – creating a 360-degree screen and interactivity.
    • Foveated Rendering
      As displays get bigger, the computing power needed to display them gets massive – and if you want to draw a life-size rendering of a scene on a room-size display, you'll need more computing power than you can currently get from a home computer. Unless… you use foveated rendering…

    It all points to scenarios, like the ones from our Productivity Future Vision created last year, being with us sooner than we might imagine.

    It will be fascinating to see how some of these innovations are applied in education - either in real or virtual classrooms

    Learn MoreRead the original PCWorld article "Meet Microsoft, the world's best kept R&D secret"

  • Education

    How Deloitte made learning a game–Harvard Business Review

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    Gamification of learning continues to be a hot topic for education (and as with most things within the education system, there's plenty of divided opinion on how it could be used in the classroom with students). But it's not limited to conventional education systems – we're also seeing gamification being used in the world of corporate learning too.

    I'm lucky to work closely with the team at Janison Learning Systems, in Coffs Harbour, who have used the techniques of gamification to enhance the Deloitte Leadership Academy, which has just been featured in the Harvard Business Review site. When you look at the line-up of logos along the bottom of the website, you can see the exalted company that Janison keep these days:

    Deloitte Leadership Academy - website footer

    Deloitte has seen it's Deloitte Leadership Academy grow through the inclusion of gamification techniques – missions, badges, leaderboards, online connections to widen the participatory group – and that's resulted in a 37% increase in the number of users returning to the site each week. There's a really good overview of it on the Harvard Business Review site, and a small tick list of three questions to ask before getting started with using gamification for learning and development, that I think is immediately applicable in education too:

    • What are your (business) goals?
    • Who is your audience?
    • How will you track success?

    There's a really important point right at the bottom of the article, which is important to keep at the front of your mind when thinking about gamification:

      The goal is not to "game" or manipulate target audiences, but rather to mesh behavioural science with social technologies to increase collaboration and engagement levels among your users.  

    It's that key phrase "mesh behavioural science with social technologies" that hits me – it's important to remember that it's about intrinsically rewarding the behaviours, and avoid the problems some gamification projects have had when they have veered off into rewarding the processes, not the goals.

    Learn MoreRead 'How Deloitte Made Learning a Game' on the HBR Blog Network

    This project is just one of hundreds that Janison have built – which might explain why their client list on their website runs to five pages – including a number of education projects like the NSW ESSA Online Science Assessment and the ACMA Online Cybersafety project.

  • Education

    Developing education apps for Office? Download the updated Office Developer Tools

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    Header - Apps for Office and SharePoint

    The new model for creating apps for Microsoft Office will mean that in the future teachers and lecturers will become familiar with simply downloading or buying small apps to improve the way they work with Office – and I believe it will lead to a burst of apps that will be written specifically to help make life easier for education users.

    When I first wrote about developing apps for Office, and the new Office Store last year, the app ideas I discussed were things that would help teachers, lecturers and researchers to save time in their working life (eg automating cover booking for lessons/lectures; an institution-specific research assistant; or a resource booker for portable teaching resources), or improve the information flow between students and their teaching staff (eg an assignment submitter; or assignment/lesson plan publisher).

    Since then the new Office has been fully released for education customers to upgrade to, and with the consumer launch ahead of us, I expect there will be a bit more focus on apps for Office, as more users start to upgrade to Word 2013, Excel 2013 and PowerPoint 2013 etc. And with the millions of Live@edu users migrating to Office 365 for education this year – and starting to use SharePoint in the cloud, there'll be even more opportunities for software developers to sell their apps through the public Office Store, or make them available through institutional downloads.

    The latest release of Office Developer Tools

    The tools that developers will use for creating Office apps - Microsoft Office Developer Tools for Visual Studio 2012 and Napa tools - have been available for a while, and are already on their second version. The Napa tools allow developers to create apps integrating web and cloud services within Office documents, emails, meetings etc. The latest version of the Napa tools have added the ability to develop apps for PowerPoint (how about an app that automatically publishes a PowerPoint into the right folder in your Office 365 for education setup, links to the right Moodle course, adds the correct metadata tags to make it searchable by others, and links to the assessment task?).

    And the Apps for SharePoint model allows developers to easily turn an existing web project into a SharePoint app, making it easier to have data flowing between the web project and your SharePoint (even something as simple as avoiding users having to log-in twice is a real bonus).

    The LightSwitch developer tools have also been updated, to make it easy to create touch-enabled, data-centric applications (download 'What is LightSwitch?') in HTML5. The update lets you create and deploy apps for the new SharePoint model – and makes it possible to publish apps that are in the public Office Store, or released just inside your organisation.

     

    Find MoreYou can get a lot more detailed information on the latest release of the Office development tools over on the Office Apps blog

    For more information on developing education apps for Office, and the free training courses in Australia in February 2013, search for blog posts with the tag "Developers" and "Office"

  • Education

    Developing Windows 8 education apps–How Lucas Moffitt does it

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    Lucas Moffitt - Windows 8 developerIn December, I came across Lesson Coder, a Windows 8 educational app to help teachers record their own lesson observations, and check them against the NSW Quality Teaching Framework. It's a professional development tool for both experienced and trainee teachers, and it made a lot of sense to use on a touch-enabled Windows 8 device.

    Over Christmas, I had the chance to catch up with Lucas Moffitt, the developer, to understand why he'd developed it, and what other projects he's got in the pipeline, and he's agreed to let me share the Question and Answer session:

    Lucas Moffitt – developing Windows 8 apps to help teachers

    Lucas has always been interested in programming, ever since as a Year 4 student a teacher showed him a programming tool he used to build education apps – and ever since then Lucas has been interested in both developing software and education. He went to the University of Newcastle and completed a double degree in teaching and design and technology. Since graduating he's carried on developing software and websites, now as a professional developer. As Lucas put it:

      I've got a real interest in the future of educational technology and using the experience learnt from my teaching course to help with developing apps for teachers and students.  

    I think this came from a module in 'teaching and technology' that Lucas took in his last year of the teaching course. He was disappointed to realise that teachers were often having to make do with existing websites and software that had been created for other purposes, and that teachers were then adapting to use in teaching and learning. And that would then lead to gaps in the ways that it could support teachers and students. It was at that point that Lucas saw the opportunity to change the model and actually develop apps specifically for teachers.

    Creating WordFiller

    His first app was WordFiller - a cloze test generator for interactive whiteboards, where students could drag words from a passage around on the whiteboard to match the text. Teachers can load a passage of text and then remove some words, and then the students would be picking up words and dropping them into the text using the interactivity of the whiteboard.

    After realising that many teachers didn't have access to the an interactive whiteboard in their classroom, Lucas moved on to create an interface that worked with Windows Kinect, so that students could use hand-gestures and voice commands to complete the task. It meant that teachers could achieve the same thing with a $200 Kinect device rather than a $4,000 interactive whiteboard.

    But if you're developing free software apps for teachers, how do you distribute it? Lucas answer was social media:

      In addition to my personal connections, and other trainee teachers on my course, I was sharing it with teachers across Australia through my Twitter account. I released the software on GitHub as a way to make it freely available – by releasing it on an Open Source licence, it meant that other people could see what I have done, and then either use the software as it is, or improve it.  

    After creating it, Lucas learnt that although many teachers will assert that they are tech-savvy, often they lack the confidence or skills to try something completely new that's not quite as simple as downloading an app from an online store.

    Lucas also had to learn about new programming languages for modern devices – in his case, C# – to make sure that he could get the software to fit the needs of teachers.

      The big difference was in spotting what teachers needed, and building an app for that, rather than trying to work out workarounds for existing software. Feedback from other teachers on the gaps in existing software was useful.  

    The next project for Lucas was to create the Teaching Resource Exchange –  a website where teachers could share classroom resources.

     

    I'd noticed that lots of teachers seem to act like hoarders (even myself) – they find great resources and put them away for future use. I felt that I could help other teachers by creating a place where teachers could store their resources, and at the same time share them with other teachers – not just single resources, but lesson plans etc. There are already similar sites that exist in other countries, but I wanted to create something more local to Australia – so that the experience of local teachers could create a more focused set of resources that support our classroom and curriculum.

    Of course, after the initial enthusiasm, the challenge I discovered was that teachers will still keep their resources to themselves, unless there's a compelling reason to share. In fact, many teachers seem afraid to share their lesson resources, because they think that their content won't stand up to public scrutiny – afraid that they might find that the stuff they create is shot down by other 'experts'. Sadly, it's easier for them to simply not share. I thought I'd cracked that with Teaching Resource Exchange by allowing for reflection, feedback and an improvement loop for resources.

    I've learnt a lot along the way, and so there was no effort wasted.  The site still operates and the content that was submitted is still available for all teachers to see and use today.

     

    The  first step in building Windows 8 education apps

    It was only in the last six weeks that Lucas started to look at Windows 8, and realising the potential of creating touch-enabled apps for teachers. His first step was to buy a Samsung Series 7 slate (it's also my computer currently), and start to play with the possibilities. As he already had knowledge of C# from his earlier work, the additional bits that he had to learn were the XAML skills to be able to create a polished touch app. Of course, deciding to build a Windows 8 app doesn't necessarily mean writing Windows 8 education apps, so I asked why the focus stayed on education:

      Of course, I looked at creating games, but the reality is that there are thousands of games apps out there for mobile devices. Whereas there aren't that many tools out there for teachers. Well, there's plenty of learning apps for a model where every student has a device, and the teacher can install individual apps for each student. But there are significantly less apps that are about helping a teacher do their job more effectively and efficiently using their own personal device.  

    Lesson Coder was the first app Lucas released in the Windows Store. It uses the NSW Quality Teaching Framework to help teachers or observers to record and review their own professional practice during a lesson. They can quickly enter data about a lesson and review it later for professional development purposes. It's also a good tool for lesson observers during teaching prac. It was created after Lucas had seen this in classroom practice, where an assessor comes into the classroom with a big binder of paper, and is ticking boxes and assessing in real time and providing feedback. Then, if they want to keep that electronically, they have enter it into a computer, which creates more work still. The goal of Lesson Coder was to reduce the whole process to get the result more quickly, and in a more useful way for both the observer(s) and the teacher.

    As soon as he'd announced it on Twitter, another teacher came along asking for a version based on Australian Teacher Professional Standards and so Lucas has now created that too, which will shortly appear in the Windows Store. The standards are used to assess a trainee teacher in order to graduate, so this will be really useful for anybody involved in teacher training - the plan is that an observer or a qualified teacher is able to record the teaching performance of a trainee (or peer-to-peer assessment) and provide detailed feedback against the standards. So if you were the teacher being assessed, you would be able to see how you were rated on each criteria, and importantly to see progress through time. And both apps can create a simple Excel spreadsheet with the results.

    What's the next Windows 8 education app?

    Lucas is now working on a few other Windows 8 education apps that can take advantage of the touch features of the latest devices. Class Seater is a way to create seating charts for different class groups. The idea came from realising that it was a great use for a touch interface, where it's especially useful for primary schools, where teachers often create and print charts. This way they are able to do it in real time, and move students around, without having to generate a new print out every time. And then he's turning his attention to his first app that will have both a free and paid-for version (all the others so far have been free):

     

    Essay Marker is the big app that I'm working on right now – and it's taking almost all of my free time. It's a tool for teachers who have to create, distribute and mark essay-based assessments. You can create an assignment in the app, share it in Word with students via SkyDrive, and then teachers mark all of the assignments, whilst matching the assignment to the marking scheme, and rubric.

    This will be a free app but I'll be able to create it with a limited number assignments, marking groups, and have advertising in it – and will then offer a low cost upgrade to a full version without the limits and adverts.

    This is a way for me to help teachers, whilst also getting something back for the time I'm putting in.

     

    Lucas uses Twitter to share his projects, and also to solicit feedback from teachers on his software and what improvements he can make.

     

    Of course, I'm learning that the world of teaching that's taught in a university course is very different from the practical world of teaching. I'm trying to help bridge the gap between what teachers are able to do in the time they have available, by giving them tools that make it easier to integrate new professional practice in an easy way.

    It's driven out of frustration – too many teachers I've met have been using technology because they are being forced to, not because they want to. So I'm looking at this saying 'what's the process I can make easier?', and then trying to do it in a way that helps teachers. Of course, I'd love nothing more than somebody giving me buckets of cash to sit down and write apps for teachers to help them – but that's not going to happen today, so until then I'm going to keep writing apps that help teachers, and see if I can find a model that allows me to develop apps that help teachers, and pays me to keep doing it.

     

    At the end of our conversation, Lucas last thought was about what he wanted more of: feedback. He's keen to get quality feedback from somebody who's actually got the chance to use his software in the classroom and through their feedback can help him to improve it.

    Learn MoreRead more about Lucas, and his projects, on his website

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