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

  • Education

    Maths Worksheet Generator - 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.

    Maths Worksheet Generator

    Maths Worksheet Generator header

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

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

    Create quick maths worksheets in Word

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

    The tool supports everything from basic arithmetic through algebra.

    Where can I find out how to use it?

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

    Where do I get the free Maths Worksheet Generator from?

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

  • Education

    More Moodle advice – The Moodle on SharePoint white paper

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    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

    Lock a Windows 8 computer to one app for controlled assessments or information screens

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    Do you ever need to be able to limit users to a single application reliably and securely? Or you have a display computer which you want to limit to a single application (eg an information booth PC)? One of the features of Windows 8 that will be useful for education customers is Kiosk, or Assigned Access, mode.

    In education, two typical examples would be to lock a computer to a single application:

    • During a controlled assessment, run an assessment app, and stop students using other applications, or going off to Internet websites to look up answers.
    • Setup an information screen in reception/elsewhere, locked to a institution information app, an interactive campus map, or timetable app

    To setup a Windows 8 computer in Assigned Access mode, what you do is setup a dedicated user profile, login and install the app, change the user settings to ‘Assigned Access’, and then choose the app they can run. Then, whenever the machine is logged in with that user, it will go straight into the app – with no option to run anything else. If you’re running an information kiosk, it’s the same idea, with the machine always logged in.

    I want to setup a Windows 8 computer locked to an assessment app

    imageLet’s say I want to run the SolveIT app (see the screenshot on the right), which tests students’ 21st Century skills, such as their ability to problem solve using communication and collaboration with other users.

    The SolveIT app provides a mechanism for students to communicate and chat within the test, and is able to use the logs from the conversation to assess the students’ collaboration level. So we don’t want to allow students to have a separate IM conversation in Lync, because the app won’t assess it. So we’ll want to lock them to only running SolveIT. (For more on SolveIT, see Janison’s blog post)

    Steps to setup a Windows 8 computer locked to a single app

    My colleagues in Canada have documented the twelve step process to setup Assigned Access mode, and they are fairly straightforward. For the full instructions, take a look at their blog post below

    Learn MoreRead the instructions to setup Assigned Access mode

  • Education

    Drawboard PDF is currently free in the Windows 8 store

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    There’s a new version of the Australian Windows 8 app for education, Drawboard PDF, which is great for teachers to use for marking feedback onto homework, or for students to make notes directly onto PDF documents. It allows the teacher to draw or write – using pen or stylus – on the student’s homework (saved as a PDF), and then save the resulting marked-up document.

    It’s ideal for replacing the pen and paper, and to avoid printing documents. Either upload or create a new PDF, annotate using the wide choice of tools (pen, highlighter, comment boxes, graphics), then save it back as a compatible PDF.

    clip_image001

    For the next few weeks, it’s free on the Windows Store, so I’d recommend grabbing it now, ready for next school year.

    Learn MoreLearn more, and download, Drawboard PDF

  • Education

    Updated - Free Windows 8 programming ebook

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    imageThose nice people at Microsoft Press released an update in August to their free ebook – it’s a preview version of “Programming Windows 8 Apps with HTML, CSS and JavaScript”. And it seems perfect timing to highlight it (being absolutely transparent, I didn't read it when it came out, but I've started to read it this week, as I'm spending more time talking to people about building Windows 8 apps for education)

    It’s the perfect guide to Windows 8 applications programming, and gives you the whole story for creating Windows 8 apps. As it’s only a second preview version, the whole thing isn’t yet there – so far there's 12 of a planned 17 chapters, along with a download of companion content (code samples etc)

    If you’re interested in getting started, or you’ve got students that you know will want to have a go, then this is a great book to download and to share.

    And, before you go beetling off to start writing code, can I also recommend reading building an education app for Windows 8 is about designing an experience, before writing code beforehand too.

    Learn More You can either download it in PDF directly, or go and read a bit more about it on the Microsoft Press blog.

    NOTE: There's now the final version of the Windows 8 programming ebook - see here
    Bonus: Here’s a long list of more free technical ebooks from Microsoft Press.
  • Education

    Business Intelligence in schools - Dashboards in SharePoint 2013

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    Rod Colledge, is a Microsoft Most Valued Professional (MVP) for SQL Server, and an expert on the technology side of the use of Business Intelligence in education in Australia. For a living, he helps Microsoft customers with their own business intelligence projects, through his business at StrataDB. But in his role as a Microsoft MVP one of the things that he’s been able to do is record a series of short videos of examples of using business intelligence in education, to show some of the simple things that are useful for school leaders and teachers.

    Today’s video is a demonstration of using SharePoint 2013 dashboards, for an education BI project - in this case creating a NAPLAN summary dashboard for a school. Once the report is created, it becomes a dynamic, clickable report that users can use to break down their own views of the data.

    The demo is using a dummy dataset in dashboard designer, using SharePoint 2013 and PerformancePoint

    If you’d like to know more about Rod and his projects, you can find out more on the StrataDB website or email Rod directly

  • Education

    Hosting Moodle in the Cloud - why now?

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    Moodle logoIt’s been a bit of a ‘big news week’ in the Moodle community this week. On Monday, it was announced that Blackboard had bought two of the world’s top 5 Moodle partners – MoodleRooms and NetSpot. NetSpot is Australia’s largest Moodle partner, and has been the partner of choice for many of the Australian universities who have chosen to stop using Blackboard and instead switch to using Moodle. So the acquisition news was a bit of a surprise to many. Hence why hosting Moodle in the Cloud is a interesting topic right now.

    I’ve written about Moodle quite a few times on this blog (you can see all the Moodle-related blog posts here), but a colleague was asked by a customer this week about other hosting options for Moodle – and asked me for a summary of the Microsoft integration with Moodle. After I’d written it for him, I thought it might actually be something everybody might be interested in. So here’s my short summary of options for integrating a Moodle LMS to the cloud with Microsoft, and existing integration between Moodle and Microsoft technologies:

    • Integrate Moodle to Microsoft’s cloud email services
    • Integrate Moodle with SharePoint
    • Save files directly to Moodle from Office
    • Host Moodle on Windows Server
    • Host Moodle on Microsoft’s Cloud servers, in Windows Azure

    And here’s the ‘How To’ info…


      Integrate Moodle to Microsoft’s cloud email services

      This can be done with Live@edu on Moodle 1.9 and Moodle 2.x 
      In the last few months, about a third of new Moodle installs have been 2.x, whereas over half of the installed base is Moodle 1.9

      There's more info here on this option

      Integrate Moodle with SharePoint

      This can be done with Moodle 1.9 currently, although I know some work is being done in the Moodle & SharePoint community to release the code for this on Moodle 2.x

      There’s more detail why in the article, ‘Why Moodle is better on SharePoint’, but the key reasons are:

      • Users can edit files directly within Moodle – rather than having to download, edit and re-upload
      • Document versions are possible – so you can work on drafts and ‘release’ courses and materials
      • You can search your Moodle and SharePoint datastores at the same time
      • Users can use Office Web Apps to edit, view and save files
      • Documents can be checked in and out by users
      • Using SharePoint Workspaces gives you offline access
      • SharePoint adds workflows to Moodle

      There's more info here on this

      Save files directly to Moodle from Microsoft Office

      If, like the majority of users, you are using Moodle 1.9 or before, you can use the Office Add-in for Moodle to allow your students and staff to open and save files directly into your Moodle system – rather than having to save to their local hard disk and then upload afterwards. You can find out more about the Office Add-in for Moodle here

      Host Moodle on Windows Server

      This can be done with both Moodle 1.9 and Moodle 2.x – and there’s a simple download pack that’s been created as part of the Microsoft Web App Gallery project. There's more info here on this

      Host Moodle on Microsoft’s Cloud servers, in Windows Azure

      The reason to do this is to allow you to setup and run a Moodle LMS without having to run your own servers (or commit any capital budget). It also means that you can scale up your project as required, rather than having to over-specify a system when you don’t know how much take-up to expect. It can be done for Moodle 1.9 and 2.x

      There’s more info on hosting Moodle in the cloud on Windows Azure here


      Learn MoreFind all Moodle posts on this blog

    • Education

      Songsmith - free software for teachers in February

      • 2 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.

      Songsmith

      Songsmith

      Is it possible to teach your class how to sing? Yes. Is it possible to get them to sing well? Maybe. Songsmith is a good start.

      Songsmith is a great way to encourage students to be creative: many music teachers know that sometimes just helping their students “find their spark” is the hardest part of stimulating musical creativity.

      Furthermore, Songsmith can help you teach musical concepts that are sometimes difficult, particularly how chords are used in pop music and how melodies and chords fit together. Using tools like Songsmith to explore these concepts can help connect what students are learning in music class to the music they listen to at home.

      Outside of music classes, Songsmith is a great way to encourage creative approaches to learning. I’ve heard of teachers who got students to write songs about science concepts, and other examples of using it outside of the music curriculum.

      Want an idea of what it can do? Well, there’s 1,450 Songsmith videos on YouTube - including the Songsmith advert, that’s had over 1.5m views, and a case study of the use of Songsmith at the Philadelphia High School of the Future. And for a classroom idea for Songsmith in the history curriculum, take a look at the FDR speech about the Bombing of Pearl Harbour - in Songsmith!

      Where can I find out how to use it?

      The Songsmith site has a complete ‘Help & How-to’ section, which includes online help, a community forum and tutorial videos, along with some good ‘Tips and Tricks’ advice. There’s also a good short article by Stuart Ball on the UK Teachers blog, and he has also uploaded a ‘How to create a song in Songsmith’ tutorial onto YouTube.

      Where do I get Songsmith from?

      You can download the trial version of Songsmith from the Microsoft Research website, but the extra link you’ll want to know about is the ‘Songsmith For Teachers’ page, which lets you download Songsmith free for education use (by you and your students).

    • Education

      Do you really need a Learning Management System?

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      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?

    • Education

      Learning Management Systems - Desire2Learn

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      There's plenty of change happening with Learning Management Systems at the moment in Australia. Some universities are faced with migrating from WebCT, and others are working out their future strategy to support a much more dynamic learning environment than their current existing learning management system can support. A fortnight ago I wrote a series of blog posts about all of the integration points between Moodle and Microsoft technology, so now I'm going to turn my focus to alternatives to Moodle.

      Desire2Learn logo

      One of the alternatives to Moodle is Desire2Learn, a cloud-based learning suite with over 5 million users, across 500 institutions, including a growing band of Australian universities and schools. In Australia*, Deakin University have chosen Desire2Learn's Learning Suite to replace their existing Blackboard system.

      When they made the choice for Desire2Learn, part of the reason was the Deakin team felt they needed something that went well beyond simply replacing an existing Learning Management System (LMS), but created a genuine virtual learning environment, that would support their future growth. As Deakin's Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), Professor Philip Clarke said at the time:

        At Deakin we place great emphasis on our flexible learning programs and with over 30% of our students studying from home, work, regional or remote areas, we needed a solution partner who can deliver a smooth and rapid transition, with little or no 'culture shock' for academic staff and students.  

      The Desire2Learn system comprises a series of 6 key platforms:

      • Desire2Learn Learning Environment - which enables you to develop and deliver content, manage collaboration and manage course workflow.This also provides capabilities for data import and export - one of the key benefits from a content point of view is that course materials can be transferred to and from other learning management systems (If you're using a different LMS, that's an important consideration, and one of the first questions you learn to ask any potential supplier - Can I bring my data with me? And if I want move away in the future, can I export my data?).

          • Desire2Learn Learning Repository - allowing you to store, search and share a library of learning resources, including course materials, assessments, quizzes and lesson plans. The search system can also be linked to other learning resources - for example your library system - to bring together all of the resources that you have available for your students and staff.

              • Desire2Learn ePortfolio - allowing students to create their own online portfolio, integrating features of social networking to create a more social learning experience, as well as track progress.

                  • Desire2Learn Analytics - from simple every day reports on usage and experiences, and also allowing staff to create their own reports to uncover hidden information such as how students are performing in their courses, and highlighting learning opportunities.

                      • Desire2Learn Mobile - providing access to courses and learning resources through student's own smartphones, as well as managing news and information feeds.

                          • Desire2Learn Capture - a new solution, which allows you to automate the process of capturing lectures and tutorials on video, and make them available to students on their computer, phone or over the web.

                          Underneath the Desire2Learn system, the whole solution runs on the Microsoft SQL Server 2008, as a hosted service. In the middle of last year they announced integration with the Live@edu service, so that students can access their email inbox directly within the Desire2Learn portal. It will also integrate to SharePoint, so that students and staff can use the process and document management capabilities of SharePoint in your own institution, as well as to their Cloud services.

                          Learn MoreLearn more about Desire2Learn

                          * This list of Desire2Learn University customers shows the large number of international users already using the system - some with over 200,000 users

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