Monday, January 11, 2016

5 Reasons Schools should run with Office365

It often surprises me when folks don't know about Office365 and/or don't know how Microsoft has changed its educational offerings in the past few years.  Although Google definitely had the lead up to say 2011, Microsoft has quickly come up from behind and re-invented the educational space for teaching, learning, collaboration and creativity.
So, briefly, my top five reasons* why any school would benefit from running Office365.

1) OneNote and the OneNote Class Notebook
There is nothing comparable to OneNote and the OneNote Class Notebook / Staff Notebook anywhere on the market.  It's paper... made digital!  It allows an easy transition from folks used to working with paper but also is a springboard to digitize everything in a classroom, office or home.  It makes it easy to take a quick note (on any device) or write a thesis.  It's a container for everything (documents, spreadsheets, presentations, sound and video files) but then allows you to organize, categorize and summarize.  It has collaboration built into its ecosystem and things can be shared for reading or editing.  And although it aids making a transition away from paper, it's also great kindling for those being transformative -- there are no barriers to creativity as you'll find in text-based environments and since OneNote is ink-based, it's open to happenings of creativity through easy sketching and doodling.  So much is built into OneNote (and linked through Office365) that you don't have to track down an app -- it's all there, tied into the ecosystem.  And -- most importantly -- it caches on the device so if you lose the internet (by geography or misadventure) you can continue working and things sync up when wifi returns).

It's cross platform so I can take an anecdotal note on a student (or a pic/video) from my phone and it automatically appears on my laptop - and on the student device if that's the section I posted it in.
I've written plenty on OneNote already so I'll just include these links for more information... and a series of educational examples that showcase the transition we've made away from and beyond paper.
But just to emphasize... if only for OneNote, people should use Office365.  It's that much of a game changer.  But more importantly, it allows people to easily begin to change their game, it's such a gate way drug to pedagogical and learning changes because of the low technological threshold and the near infinite opportunities not hog-tied by being text based and bringing all the convenience of paper in a digital format.

2) Delve
In a modern collaborative working space, a simple list isn't sufficient anymore.  And search isn't smart enough.  Having an intelligent agent available to every student, every faculty and every staff member has been an unexpected and universally appreciated boon.  Things don't get lost.  People know what they should be working on and what's important.
Delve is the face of the background search built into Office365.  It knows all the content and shows you cards of things that should be important to you.
When you first visit the Delve page, it shows you the global picture of things going on that involve you.  So for me, I see some math things I've been working on with my colleagues.

Then, you can drill down by person or search term.  So if I know that my principal, Katrina, has been working on a document for me, I can track it down.  I don't have to remember where it's stored or what it's named because Delve is more concerned that she and I have been working on it recently and it knows that Katrina is someone who I value.  (How does it know that?  It measures the volume, spread and how quickly I reply to emails within my environment.)
Delve also measures what my colleagues find important so a document that has been opened a lot recently gets moved up in priority - which is why ParentTeacher Conferences is showing up; we're coming into another PT conference shortly!
Given the vast number of documents we have emailed to us (it does attachments) and that exist in shared spaces (including OneNotes) it becomes impossible to know where everything is located - Delve does that organizational part for us.
And its mobile app gives you a daily "here's what's popular" list, too!

3) Collaboration
Every aspect of Office365 is collaborative.  Documents, spreadsheet, presentations, sways, sites -- there's a share button everywhere and in almost every situation it's synchronous collaboration.  Want to work on a presentation together?  Click to share... and it surfaces in Delve so you know what you're supposed to be working on together.. and who's updated it recently.  And you can pull or expire permissions easily (and it correspondingly disappears off of Delve).

You can work within the online Office365 system, which gives you basic editing options necessary to pull of most tasks or push your work into the full desktop versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint & OneNote with the press of a button.  The convenience of the online apps is noticeable when you're on a different device.  It really opens up the opportunity for BYOD because it really doesn't matter which device you're on ... the mobile apps are as responsive as the desktop ones even if they're not as feature rich.  But, since most people have their own full-powered device either at their desk or in their home, they can use the full power when necessary.

4) Depth of Ecosystem
For us, OneNote and the OneNote Class Notebook is the container for everything and we use it as a springboard to the other aspects of Office365 : our documents, videos, online meetings, etc are all linked from or embedded in the appropriate OneNote pages for students and faculty..
However in the administrative side of the school, they're still Site driven, so they use the more traditional site structure with document libraries and calendars.  It doesn't matter!  Delve ties everything together regardless of the way people work.

Everything is brought in to the mobile environment with all the productivity apps but also mobile specific apps like Microsoft Lens (which ties your camera to OneNote, Word, etc).  They added a complete video storage & distribution system so we can publish videos involving students and not worry about having them spread across the internet and we have our own discussion area in Yammer that is tied into every other piece.  You may notice the Y* Yammer button in the Delve screen above.  And faculty and students have been using data from Excel and moving to experiment with PowerBI, Microsoft's business visualizing software (that's again, both online and on device).
And it's all tied together with one password and one Waffle menu (circled in the image above).

5) Customer Response
Microsoft has been incredibly responsive to user suggestions.  They have an active UserVoice system that has prompted a great many developments.  There were over 400 additions to Office365 in 2015 - and these range from minor improvements to the addition of completely new applications like Sway (an online presentation system) to the forthcoming Planner (simple project management).
They also have a large Yammer community through which you get a lot of troubleshooting, training and roadmaps to ongoing development.  Because it's cloud based, things can change quite quickly -- when doing training, I emphasize that what I show will likely change within the month.
This is not the Microsoft I grew up with nor is it the Microsoft of five years ago -- this is a different company with a markedly different approach to infrastructure and education.  And I'm happy for my school to benefit from it.

*I am not including the fact that it's free.  Lots of things are free but everything carries a cost.  I'm also not including all the benefits of the paid plans because, well, they involve money.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Five reasons to learn Math with OneNote

So, Alice Keeler - @alicekeeler- who is an amazing blogger and an incredible resource for those using Google products, posted 60 Ways Math Teachers can use Google Classroom last April.  It came across my desk the other day and, since school hadn't started yet, I thought it might be a good reflection for me on how one could do similar tasks with OneNote Class Notebook.

I went through the list and checked that I could accomplish them all with OneNote and re-wrote her post with those modifications ... but it was looking a little "plagiarism-y" so, just to check, I emailed Alice to see if she was okay with it.  She was not, but encouraged me to do my own brainstorming.

So... Math Teachers & OneNote (including OneNote Class Notebook).  My top five... 

1) The Under-valued value of scribbles & notation

If you really want to be "paperless" (and that should never be a goal - you want to be digital so that content is no-cost) in a mathematics classroom, it's not enough to put a computer into a faculty or student's hands.  It has to be a pen-based device in order for students and teachers to express their understanding in as free a way as possible.  We should always try to minimize impediments if we want to have students focus on the problem.  Paper does that... until you want to do more with it.
OneNote gives the student and the teacher a blank page (or a template) and then the student/teacher can take it from there.  They can type, of course, but more importantly they can start drawing, sketching, scribbling, doodling anywhere on the page and build their ideas from there.
And since the notes sync between devices, everyone sees everything -- and if needed/allowed, can interact with the ink.
Students should not have to leave their environment to draw, sketch & scribble

Students should be able to easily build on and bring ideas together visually
I'll also add that because it's a blank slate that sits in front of them all the time, I get to see lots of great student doodles in their work.  Who they're thinking of, what they're dreaming of, and all the little sketches & designs that bring character to their notes and their feelings to the fore.

2) Breadth of opportunity to express ideas

Alongside the pen, OneNote lets the student and teacher type, draw, record both audio and video and paste any other object into their page to build upon.  They can also link to other resources outside of OneNote but annotate the links and keep them organized.  

3) Assessment of and for Learning
My feedback should not intrude and should build and by trackable from their work
The number one problem with paper is that I have to take it from them.  With OneNote, I see exactly what they see themselves without having to physically interrupt them from their work.  And, just like they can build on what they've done --- using ink, text, audio, video, links and, as this example shows, clips from other programs like GeoGebra -- I can give my feedback using the exact same tools.  Not only that, but I can use OneNote tags in their work for both exemplary examples of mathematics (and easily share those with the class) and I can also tag common errors to get a quick overview of how the class is progressing just by asking OneNote for a summary of the tags.  And I can do it from any of my devices anywhere, anytime.

4) Bring it all together
Everything can go into OneNote.  While my students construct all of their notes and do almost all of their daily work inside of OneNote using their pen or keyboard, they do work on the Whiteboards, they do work on paper, they do use other applications like Desmos or WolframAlpha, and they do take pictures and video of mathematical objects.  Everything can be placed inside of a OneNote page and built on right on the same page without having to link or leave for another application.  Files don't just get attached -- they get printed into the page so that you can interact and build on top of the content.  Spreadsheets become interactive within the page.

And with the Chrome web clipper, the built-in OneNote screen clipper and the OfficeLens app on their (and my) phones we can bring content in from anywhere, anytime.

5) It's there, safe, secure, anywhere, any time, always - and re-mixable & shareable 

Using the Class Notebook, my content is there for any student, any time.  Never lost. And something that is often overlooked is that everything works offline, too.  The students can still read my content and continue to build their own without the internet... And then when they get wifi it all syncs instantly between us.
Announcements?  Always on the top page, what we call the CoursePlan page or CP
Homework?  Always on the top page.  
My notes about the completing the square?  All my examples, all my writing about the algorithm, all the history of al Khwarizmi, all the worked homework examples, all the helpful videos?  All there, organized by unit, page.  And, additional examples pulled from other students.  And embedded videos from their fellow students on CTS problems.  And links to outside tutorial videos.
Missing a review handout?  There in my _Teacher section.  Take as many copies as you want.  
Need more review?  There's more questions, more problems, more feedback!
Broke their device?  Grab another device & sync.  Everything back safe & sound
Tutor wants to see how I approach a topic?  Available in my notes
Want to see another student's technique?  Have them drop it in the _Group space -- they don't have to be in the same room to share ideas
Collect homework?  It's in the _A tab and returned to the _R tab thanks to automatic syncing
Want last year's notes on trig?  Open last year's OneNote and take a look.

and most importantly... and the reason I got into using communication technology in the first place... 

Got a question and are too shy to ask?  Tag your question in your OneNote private section with the ? tag  (highlight your text and press CTRL-4) and I'll answer it and no one will ever know you asked.  Anywhere.  Any time.  Always.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

"So you've sold your soul..."

While at the Bringing-IT-Together conference (one of the best gathering of learners in North America) in November 2015 I had the opportunity to present at a few sessions, mostly on OneNote (of course?) but I also got to work with some folks from Microsoft and, in recognition of being a Microsoft Education Fellow and Innovative Expert Educator and my school being a Microsoft World Tour School, they gave me an amazingly red t-shirt with the image below on the back.
I'm not one for "labels" (Distinguished Educator, Certified Innovator... all those pretentious, self-aggrandizing badges from various companies... what was the SmartBoard one?) .  I'm not a fan of wearing corporate labelling, either, and am regularly removing tags, flags and the like from my clothing.  And except for PCMI, I'm not one for t-shirts at all (I used to have to wear a collared shirt to sit at the dinner table), but I was very humbled that our Microsoft Canada Education rep Lia De Cicco-Remu had gone to the effort of recognizing our contributions that I wore the shirt the second day of the conference.  And I liked the way the artist had brought a lot of important ideas together into one design -- I shall track down her name.
But sure enough, friends noticed and one of them said "So you finally sold your soul to Microsoft, eh?"  I replied as I have whenever my enthusiasm (or my wardrobe) emphasized a particular company's product -- I will sleep with anyone who produces a better learning experience for my students.  I will push them out of the bed, though, if something better comes along,  For the past eight years, right now, for the foreseeable future, Microsoft has been bringing their A-game, first with OneNote on a pen-based tablet computer (okay, and then we ran with it) and now the on-going development around Office365.  There is nothing better on the market for the learning that goes on in, around and beyond our School.  Not a day goes by that a different teacher (or staff member ... they're on board now too) expresses to me how one aspect of Office365 has made learning more visible, deeper, easier, more collaborative or their job/life more interesting, quicker, better.  Microsoft Canada has been incredibly supportive and their staff are nothing short of amazing. 
So I'm quite happy to sleep with them.