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Ray Fleming's take on what's interesting in Education IT in Australia

  • Education

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

    • 5 Comments

    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 Moodle.org 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

    Photo Story 3 - free software for teachers in February

    • 4 Comments

    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

    Homework is all about learning - yours and theirs

    • 4 Comments

    I think I’m a pretty dab hand at PowerPoint, but that hasn’t stopped my kids showing me some pretty impressive things I’ve learnt from. So, whilst the video below is an advert, I reckon it’s happening in real life in households all around Australia on a regular basis.

    Next time you’re preparing a presentation, maybe ask your kids for help - I bet you’ll both learn something.

    • You’ll learn something about PowerPoint
    • They’ll learn something about what you’re planning to talk about

    Win-Win

    And in related news…I can’t use Publisher. My 11 year-old uses it all the time (party invites last night). But fortunately she still needs my high-tech skills - because she can’t turn the wireless printer on - it’s on top of a cupboard Smile

  • Education

    More Moodle advice – The Moodle on SharePoint white paper

    • 4 Comments

    Following on from the Office Add-In for Moodle earlier in the week, there’s some further advice and support from the Education Labs team for Moodle that may be useful to you - Moodle on SharePoint. If you’re either using Moodle, or considering it, then you may want to consider how you set it up. Because Moodle is an open source product, it’s often assumed that it should be installed on an open source server – like a Linux box. But the challenge with doing that for many schools is that it doesn’t therefore easily integrate with their existing ICT systems – for example, managing users and files on your existing school file servers.

    However, there’s a more positive way to deploy Moodle, which is to install it on your existing infrastructure, rather than having to add additional complications. The most powerful bit of your infrastructure to add it to is your SharePoint – because Moodle on SharePoint fills in some of the gaps of a conventional Moodle system. First, it helps prevent data loss. For example, if a teacher deletes a file by mistake and wants to get it back, you’ll easily be able to go into SharePoint and restore it from the recycling bin – rather than it being lost forever. Secondly, you can take advantage of versioning in SharePoint. If a teacher or student overwrites a file by mistake, it can be restored to a previous version from SharePoint. Finally you can use SharePoint’s search capabilities to search across all of your content, whether it is in your SharePoint file storage, or in your Moodle system (currently there is no equivalent file search capability in Moodle). Perhaps most importantly, teachers can get these benefits while continuing to use the Moodle user interface they are accustomed to, meaning no new training.

    How do you install Moodle on SharePoint?

    So if it makes so much sense to run your Moodle on SharePoint, how do you do it? Well, we’ve published a white paper that explains how to set up SharePoint as the file system for Moodle. It doesn’t need any special code – if you have SharePoint and Moodle, it is a matter of configuration.

    You can download the full white paper here (click on the Read It link) which can help you plan your strategy.

    image  Quickly find all the other Moodle posts on this blog

  • Education

    How to get a Flash website working smoothly on Windows 8 and Windows RT

    • 4 Comments

    This blog post is for developers, designers, and content publishers who have created websites that use Flash Player, and want to know what the right steps to take are to get those sites running smoothly on Windows 8 devices. This is pretty important in education, where there have historically been lots of websites using Flash, that either don't work, or work poorly, on a wide range of mobile devices. And turning them into a more standards-based web format, such as HTML5, isn't an overnight job!

    However, with Windows 8 starting to appear in classrooms and homes, in the hands of students, there are some things that you can do to improve your users' experience.

    Here's an introduction to the background, and links to more detailed articles:

    Supporting Flash in Internet Explorer 10 on Windows 8

    IE logoInternet Explorer 10 is one web platform that provides two browsing experiences: the new Windows Internet Explorer in the new Windows 8 interface which is optimised for touch, and the traditional browsing experience of Internet Explorer for the desktop. As a Windows Store app, Internet Explorer 10 runs without plug-ins so that you have a clean, fast, and secure web browsing experience, though it does provide a native Flash player with support to play Flash content for sites listed in the Flash section of the Compatibility View (CV) list.

    By designing a web experience that doesn't require plug-ins for the browsers, users will benefit from better performance, longer battery life, as well as increased security, privacy and reliability. All of which are critically important to educational customers. Typically plug-ins are used for delivering video and graphics (Flash, QuickTime, Silverlight, Java applets) as well as offline storage an communication (Flash, Java applets, Google Gears). For all of these uses, there are equivalent web technologies that comply with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standards, in HTML5 video, audio and graphics; web storage, file and application APIs; and HTML5 Web Messaging standards.

    For developers, the benefit of developing web sites that don't need plug-ins is that using the W3C standards increases interoperability across browsers and devices, and increases forward-compatibility. Standards-based technologies, specified by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), like the ones comprising HTML5 offer similar capabilities to various plug-ins. These technologies have strong support across modern web browsers, making it possible for web developers to write the same markup and script that works across all modern browsers, without writing or maintaining any additional code that has third-party framework and runtime dependencies. (For more on this, read "Get ready for plug-in free browsing")

    On Windows 8, both modes of Internet Explorer 10 use the same integrated Flash Player, removing the need to download or install an additional player. Internet Explorer 10 for the desktop provides the same full Flash support as previous versions of Windows Internet Explorer that relied on the Flash Player plug-in from Adobe, and continues to support other third party plug-ins.

    What developers and publishers need to know to get Flash websites working with Windows 8

    There's a detailed article on MSDN, "Developer guidance for websites with content for Adobe Flash Player in Windows 8", which provides guidance and guidelines from Adobe and Microsoft for designers, developers, and content publishers. It provides some really simple tips that will allow you to ensure that your website always open in the desktop version of IE10. This means that as soon as a user opens the site, it will give them a prompt to open it in Internet Explorer on the desktop.

    It also describes the Compatibility View (CV) list to enable content for Flash Player to execute inside the Internet Explorer 10 browser, and the process for developers to submit sites to be considered for the CV list. The aim of this is to make sure that sites work well in this mode – for example, that they'll support a use of touch on a tablet device, and not requiring users to do things such as a mouse double-click.

    The article also provides advice to enable developers to test sites that require Flash Player in Internet Explorer 10 before they submit it to the CV list.

    Learn MoreRead more:
    Internet Explorer 10 on Windows 8 – the similarities and differences
    Get ready for plug-in free browsing
    Developer guidance for websites with content for Adobe Flash Player in Windows 8

  • Education

    Three steps to create talking books for students with Word

    • 4 Comments

    To improve accessibility for students, did you know that you can create talking books for students with visual and learning disabilities, using Microsoft Word? The system using a worldwide standard for creating accessible digital resources, called DAISY (the Digital Accessible Information System). And there are just three steps for you or teachers to easily create a talking book in DAISY format:

    Step One: Download the DAISY add-in for Microsoft Word

    Download and install the Save as DAISY add-in from Open XML to DAISY XML Translator (also known as DAISY Translator). The DAISY Translator folder is now in your Start menu, with the Instruction Manual and the Getting Started tutorial, and the Accessibility tab is on your Word 2010 ribbon. (Tutorial video on Step One is here)

    Step Two: Create a digital talking textbook

    imageAfter you have installed the DAISY Translator, you see a SaveAsDAISY option on the Accessibility tab in Word 2010. All you need to do is click on the option, and choose from one of the four DAISY formats. (Tutorial video on Step Two is here)

    Step Three: Listen to your new talking book

    To listen to a DAISY file, you need a DAISY-compatible software playback tool or software reader installed on your computer. You can find several tools, many of which are free, on the DAISY Consortium software playback tools website. (Step Three tutorial video here)

    Learn MoreSee the other blog posts about Accessibility in education

  • Education

    New lower prices for Office 365 for education

    • 3 Comments

    Yesterday Kirk Koenigsbauer, Corporate Vice President of the Microsoft Office Division product management group, made an announcement about some changes we’ve made to the pricing for Office 365 for enterprises, and Office 365 for education.

     

    As we rapidly add customers, the cost to run Office 365 becomes more efficient.  This is the beauty of the cloud where we can deliver economies of scale through our worldwide data centres and economies of skill with our engineers, administrators, and support teams operating the service.  

    With these efficiencies, we're able pass on savings to make it even more affordable for customers of all sizes to move to Office 365.

    In line with our longstanding commitment to education, we will make our "A2" service plan free to not only students, but also to faculty and staff.  A2 includes the core capabilities of Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync and the Office Web Applications.  Exchange Online and Lync Online are available today for academic institutions, and we'll launch the full Office 365 for education service starting this summer.   You can get more information on our Office 365 for education offering here.

     

    When Kirk said “this summer” he was thinking about the Northern Hemisphere.
    So you’ll need to translate that to “this winter” for Australia.

    The information on the new pricing for the various Office 365 for education options is available on the Office 365 for education webpage. Here’s the key table from that page:

    image

    The prices listed are the US prices currently
    I’ll provide an updated link as soon as Australian prices are available.

    Find out more

    You can sign up via email to get updates and to find out more information about Office 365 for education over at the product website.

    Oh, and if you want to know more about what Office 365 could do for you, there's always the free Microsoft Press digital book on Office 365 - grab it here

  • Education

    My current computer–why I've switched to a Samsung slate

    • 3 Comments

    Each working day I spend between 5 and 8 hours working with my current computer. And it was only last week I realised my setup was quite different to everybody else, as I looked around the meeting table. Almost everybody else was using a laptop, whereas I've made the leap from laptop PC to slate PC permanently. So I thought I'd share it with you:

    My regular computer: Samsung Series 7 slate PC

    Samsung Series 7 slateUp until May I was using an HP laptop – which I was very happy with. Good performance, nice graphics, and plenty of storage etc. And because I thought of myself as a power-user, I didn't think I'd be able to cope with a less powerful computer – and that seemed to include all the early slate PCs, which were good to demo with, but not something I'd considered as my every day PC.

    But then I got my hands on a Samsung Series 7 Slate PC with all the bells and whistles I needed, and I'm running it with the released version of Windows 8. The one I've got (the sexily named XE700T1A-A05AU) has all the key ingredients I wanted:

    • A touch display: You know, I never imagined I'd be making this the No. 1 requirement, but ever since I moved to Windows 8, it's a must have – especially when I'm sitting at home on the sofa, or taking it into meetings
    • A pen: just like touch, it's now a 'must have', as I take it to meetings and use it as a slate, and am using OneNote more and more for notes, as well as using handwriting recognition instead of an on-screen keyboard
    • Plenty of storage: this one's got a 128GB SSD drive
      I've found that for me 100GB is the minimum drive, because I cart a lot of videos and presentations around with me, and whilst I've got them backed up in the cloud, I have that synced to my computer so that I can always get to them when I'm offline.
    • Decent graphics: this one has got onboard Intel graphics which are good enough for me for everything but games.
    • TPM chip: which means my drive is fully encrypted, so that all of the professional and personal data is secure if I lose it or somebody else gets their hand on it
    • Plenty of RAM: this one's got 4GB of RAM, which I'm finding is more than enough with Windows 8
    • A small dock: Whenever I'm standing or sitting at a desk, then I plug it into a dock. Which gives turns it completely into a laptop – with keyboard, mouse, second monitor and wired network connection
    • It's light: weighing in at under a kilogram
    • It's got a SIM slot, for internet on the go: Although I haven't actually used it, as I tend to just use the Internet sharing of my Lumia 800 – it means I use the data included with my normal phone subscription, rather than to have a second mobile subscription for my computer. Which means I'm always using the WiFi connection, whether that's at the office, at home, or out and about.

    Here's my typical desktop setup, with a second monitor plugged into the docking station, and a normal desktop keyboard and mouse. So it means that whenever I'm at my desk, I've got the perfect setup with a big screen, and then I can just grab it from the docking station and walk to a meeting just carrying the PC and a pen, without all the other stuff. So my bag is a lot lighter than it used to be.

    Samsung Series 7 slate in a desktop setup

    With this setup, I've got something that works as a great desktop computer, and then is good for carrying to meetings. And if I'm using it at home in the evenings, then I tend to use it with touch and the new Windows 8 apps (for things like reading Twitter and blogs). The portability is a big bonus in our Sydney offices, where every desk is setup as a hot desk – I can sit at any desk in the building, and there's already a large monitor, keyboard and mouse ready to go.

  • Education

    Microsoft Bring Your Own Device in Schools whitepaper

    • 3 Comments

    BYOD in schools whitepaperThere's been a lot said about Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) in schools, and plenty of commentary on blogs and the Twittersphere. It's a fast-moving subject, almost like 'building airplanes in the sky' – it sometimes feels like BYOD strategies and vision are being created as we go along.

    And the debate has been joined by two pedagogical leaders who have produced a Microsoft BYOD whitepaper for schools. Bruce Dixon (from the Anytime, Anywhere Learning Foundation) and Sean Tierney (from the worldwide Microsoft Partners in Learning programme) have both been passionate advocates for 1:1 learning programmes for many years, and have just published their first 'Bring Your Own Device for schools' whitepaper. The aim is to examine the potential deployment models from teaching, learning and IT management perspectives.

    As their introduction says:

     

    The ongoing debate regarding the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) model in schools warrants deeper analysis to help educators and institutions understand this provisioning model and its potential benefits and pitfalls for learning. This discussion paper sets out to investigate the myths and understand which questions should be addressed when considering allowing students to bring their own devices, and which option might be best suited to a school or system’s culture. It is intended to stimulate discussion around what constitutes best practice 1-to-1 learning.

     

    As well as plenty of detailed analysis and debate within the white paper, there's also a handy table that helps to describe the different capabilities of the various devices that are available for a BYOD scenario:

    BYOD Capability Taxonomy - from page 5

    It's a great way to classify the differing capabilities across a range of current and future devices.

    I think that one of the best aspects of the white paper is that it talks about the alternative models – presenting five potential models, and discussed the benefits and considerations of each. It also goes into five key questions to ask to help you decide whether a BYOD model is right for your school. And then talks through consideration for planning and implementation procedures.

    The conclusion section starts:

     

    BYOD is a trend that needs to be carefully examined in an education context to ensure that the models we deploy are successful. At the heart of good 1-to-1 learning is equity to ensure that all students have equal access to technology-rich experiences, and simplicity to ensure that it is easy to manage and sustain.

     

    and finishes with an absolutely key point:

     

    Schools need to be vigilant and protective of the foundations of equity of access on which all of our education systems are firmly founded. With this in mind, all stakeholders – teachers, parents, students and principals – need to work through the tough decisions early to drive home the best outcomes for all students at all times.

     

    Learn MoreYou can either download the BYOD for schools whitepaper, or if you're in Australia, drop Richard Ryan an email and he'll pop a couple of printed copies in the post

    For more info on Bring Your Own Device, here's a link to related BYOD articles

  • Education

    Do you really need a Learning Management System?

    • 3 Comments

    I was reading a blog post from Jonathan Rees earlier – a Professor of History at Colorado State University – where he discusses briefly the usage of the Learning Management System (LMS) (‘An uncharacteristically subtle post for me’). It was accompanied by a chart showing the use of different components of their Learning Management System (I suspect this could be many LMSs, in many, many other institutions).

    LMS Usage

    The point I inferred from his blog post is that, most of the time, the data show that users are using their Learning Management System to do things that are basic features (like document sharing) and these are the things you don’t really need an LMS for, because you could achieve it on almost any web platform.

    So if your staff are using a Learning Management System as a place to share documents, make announcements, and publish student marks, would you actually be better off just using the standard platform your institution probably has in place already and linked to your existing IT systems and identity system (like SharePoint or Office 365), rather than having a completely separate IT system dedicated to it?

    Is this pattern created by a procurement mindset of “Let’s list all of the things we could possibly do, and they buy the thing that meets all of those needs”? The risk is that the focus becomes the delivery of the features, and not the use of them.

    In the example above, if only 1% of your users actually use wikis within their course, does that justify the need for everybody to have it?

    I believe that in the future we’re going to see people choosing systems that give them the core functionality as a platform to build on, and then adding the parts they need for specific groups of users; not specifying an all-singing, all-dancing system from day one which has absolutely everything you need built from the ground up before any users have started using the system and experimenting. We’re going to see the shift to more agile systems, and more agile developments to support the way that users use their enterprise-wide systems.

    So, does that mean you don’t need an LMS? And if not, what do you need?

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