Digital Citizenship Toolkit For Educators

For schools and educators that are struggling to figure out where to start when it comes to teaching Digital Citizenship to students, this is a great place to look:

Microsoft Digital Citizenship Toolkit For Educators

This links to a free OneNote full of rich resources to get started covering important topics such as:

  1. How do we protect ourselves?
  2. How do we protect each other?
  3. How do we protect our content?
  4. Teacher and Parent resources.

Do check this out and share with your teachers and parent community. Remember, that Windows 10 has a huge amount of parental controls built directly into the operating system so check out a blog like this one to learn how to use these to keep kids safe.

Guest Post: Surprises When Using Office 365 In Class

Today’s post comes from Mr Ben Hilliam, Head of Junior Maths at St Andrew’s College in Christchurch, New Zealand. In this post he outlines how he is teaching basic programming concepts using Microsoft Excel and also the increasing versatility of Microsoft OneNote through the use of embedded applets that can show and execute Python coding.

You can read the original post from Ben here – please do check out his other posts as well. I particularly like Ben’s finishing comment when it comes to describing OneNote:

OneNote is more than a piece of digital paper, it is quickly becoming the universal canvas of expression for learning.

Here’s the entirety of the post:

With a new year I have begun teaching some new topics. For the first time in my career, I am teaching Probability Simulations to year 10s. As usual, OneNote is my go to, where I drop all my resources so that my students can access the problems I set them. In this topic I have come across two surprises:

1. Microsoft Excel is still a very cool program
2. Microsoft OneNote allows for a huge range of student expression

1. Microsoft Excel is still a very cool program:

One task I set my year 10s was the following:

Sara has maths on four days each week. 
Her teacher checks the class’s homework on only one of those days. 
The day is chosen at random by the teacher. 
Students who have not done their homework for that day get a detention. 
Sara says she did her homework on 32 out of the 40 days on which she had maths last term. 
Describe a simulation (probability experiment) that Sara could use to predict the probability 
that: 
(1) she had not done her homework 
AND 
(2) the teacher checked. 
Assume that you have access to: coins, cards, spinners, dice and a random number 
generator on a calculator or computer. 
You must give sufficient detail in your description so that someone else could carry out 
the experiment. 
You must state what you will record and how you will calculate the probability. 

Most of my students used Excel to run this simulation. One problem that quickly made itself apparent was how do you get the teachers to randomly check on one day of the week only, becuase most students assigned random numbers of 1-4 on each day which meant the teacher could potentially check homework more than once in any given week.

This is where Excel comes to the fore, with its conditional formulae:

A “1” comes up when an even that we are interested in occurs while a “0” comes up for events that are irrelevant. Where two events occur at the same time they add to 2 which is then picked up. Here’s the formula that makes it work:

The point I’m trying to make here is that if you have a problem that requires programming, Excel can actually do it. With a few choice “if” statements and other formulae, my students were able to produce a simulation that correctly estimated the probability they were investigating. So they could be accurate in their thinking rather than smudge a “near enough” response.So don’t forget Excel, it’s awesome.

2. Microsoft OneNote allows for a huge range of student expressionLast year, I did some coding with my year 9s. Specifically we had a look at solving problems from Project Euler using Python. So when we started doing Simulations, some students naturally wanted to use Python to run their simulations. My question to them was “How will you show me the results of your simulation?” Their response: embed an HTML window in OneNote with their Python code running in an applet:


In the part I have circled in red, my student has imported an HTML window with her Python code and an applet that will run it. This meant I was able to see the output of their simulation and check it was consistent with what was expected and I could look through their code if there was a problem. Such a simple addition to OneNote has such wide consequences for how we use it.

OneNote is more than a piece of digital paper, it is quickly becoming the universal canvas of expression for learning.

Easier Office365 License Management Coming to Azure AD

One of the challenges that schools can sometimes face is bulk assigning / revoking licenses in Office365 as this often requires some PowerShell skills to do this easily. In schools, this is most commonly needed in situations where students are arriving/leaving at the start/end of school years and the same for the arrival/departure of staff. Another scenario is when Microsoft roll out new features and the licenses are sometimes assigned automatically e.g. Yammer licenses applied to all students when a school may not actually want this to be the case.

Yesterday, a solution was announce as coming to public preview, using Azure AD Security Groups to easily manage these licenses.

Read the full announcement here.

From the announcement itself:

Today, we’re happy to be able to fulfill this request by announcing the public preview of a much-anticipated new capability in Azure AD: group-based license management! With this new feature you can define a “license template” and assign it to a security group in Azure AD. Azure AD will automatically assign and remove licenses as users join and leave the group.

Some key points to note:

  • Licenses can be assigned using any “security group” in Azure AD, whether synced from on-premises or created directly in Azure AD.
  • All Microsoft Online Services that require user-level licensing are supported.
  • The administrator can disable one or more service components when assigning a license to a group. This allows staged deployments of rich products like Office 365 Enterprise E5 at scale.
  • The feature is only available in the Azure portal.
  • Licenses are typically added or removed within minutes of a user joining or leaving a group.

If you have Azure AD Premium (as schools in NZ do via the Ministry of Education Schools Agreement with Microsoft) then you can even use a self-service portal where your end users can request access to a specific group to gain a license as they need it.

This is a great announcement and one that schools should keep a close eye on for easier management of O365 licenses.

Quick Insights Into Big Data With PowerBI & Machine Learning

UPDATE: I see on LinkedIn that Gartner Business Intelligence and Analytics Magic Quadrant 2017 has been released recently showing Microsoft continues to be the leader in terms of vision and ability to execute. I do encourage you to read the full report here but the one specific take away is here:

Microsoft is recognized for the constant and fast development of Microsoft Power BI. This is the 10th consecutive year that Microsoft has been positioned as a leader.

powerbiFollowing on from my last post that referenced how the Cortana Intelligence Suite was powering Sticky Notes into the 21st Century through the use of machine learning, I’ve just seen a relatively new feature in PowerBI that is doing the same thing. It’s called Quick Insights and you can read all about it on the following link:

Quick Insights With PowerBI

The basic overview is that after you’ve published your data set from PowerBI Desktop to PowerBi in the Azure cloud, you can either start to manually build some reports for your data and analyse it with questions you may have OR you can use Quick Insights. As per the website:

The Quick Insights feature is built on a growing set of advanced analytical algorithms developed in conjunction with Microsoft Research that we’ll continue to use to allow more people to find insights in their data in new and intuitive ways.

To see this in action, watch the following video showing some examples:

The reality is I think the ability of advanced analytical algorithms to find trends or outliers “hidden” in data will probably exceed the abilities of amateur “data scientists” who are doing their best to pick these out. I recall a post on LinkedIn from Dr Joe Sweeney where he talked about the real value in big data being in the algorithms and the companies that can develop those the fastest/best will be in a strong position.

It will be interesting to see how smart these Quick Insights end up being when end users, particularly schools who typically don’t have full time data scientists working for them, start to use them to interrogate their data.

Talking of examining data, this is a good example from Microsoft’s Ray Fleming showing how the natural language Q&A feature can drill down deep into your data and auto-magically format it for you:

This example is not using machine learning, but instead leveraging well named fields in the data’s table structures to quickly locate and visualise data.

Editing With Natural Hand Gestures & Digital Inking

Over the last couple of years I have had innumerable conversations with teachers who love the power of OneNote for editing student work quickly and easily, especially when combining the digital inking experience on a tablet such as a Surface Pro. Perhaps the best example of this was the recorded conversation I had with the Head of English at St Andrew’s College:

I’ve been really excited to see that a couple of new editing features have been added to Word, Excel and PowerPoint in Office 2016 and these are:

  • Ink Editor – easily markup / remove text using natural hand gestures with your pen
  • Ink Replay – if you’ve made significant comments on a Word, Excel or PowerPoint document sometimes it can be hard for your fellow editor to understand your train of thought. With Ink Replay, they can watch your edits all over again.

I’ve made a short video showing how this can be achieved:

Sticky Notes Powered By Cortana Intelligence Suite:

Another cool feature of Windows 10 is the Sticky Notes. In and of themselves, they operate very similarly to sticky notes on any other operating system. However, you can now give them a real power boost by linking to the Cortana Intelligence Suite to give you insights and do more.

To do this, you first need to enable the insights:

sticky-notes

To leverage the power of Cortana you need to Enable Insights

Once this is done you can see the power immediately as demonstrated here:

Putting to one side the very clever intelligence that lies beneath the surface to enable things like Ink Editor and smart Sticky Notes, the real benefits here is the saving of time. Editing a document with natural hand gestures and a digital pen remains the most efficient method for most people. Similarly, having your natural handwriting analysed for key words or phrases and reminders generated speeds up some of the more mundane tasks we all have to deal with in life.

If you’ve not given these a go, try them out now and feel free to leave a comment below on any neat ways you’ve used this technology.

 

 

 

Professional Learning Communities Groups in Office365

office-365-fi-625x321Back in mid-2016 Microsoft released PLC Groups for Office365 and I have to admit, I completely missed this feature release.

You can read the full announcement on the official Office365 blog post here.

I guess I’m pretty excited about this for a few reasons, primarily because it links into the professional development model that is increasingly being adopted in New Zealand schools – that of Professional Learning Groups (PLG) using inquiry based models. Certainly, at St Andrew’s College where I was the Director of ICT for the last five years, this was adopted back in 2012 and resources for these groups would typically use a OneNote or a Moodle course to collate resources over the period of the inquiry. Whilst this was fine, it was always a pain to keep track of group members and making sure that everyone was being included in group messages. The official blog post above highlighted some of the challenges as well:

  • Teachers can be isolated, time is severely limited and collaboration is difficult.
  • Professional collaboration tools are disconnected and don’t always support meaningful, sustained collaboration.
  • A challenge for many PLCs is extending the work and relationships in the times and spaces between physically coming together.
  • It can be difficult for new teachers to ramp up.
  • Information is often stored in personal spaces as opposed to one common place that can benefit others.
  • New members need to better understand the journey, story, exploration and history of a PLC, its activities and areas of inquiry.

To address these short comings, the following features are available in these O365 groups designed especially for educators:

  • Inbox for group email communication, including Connector for connecting your group to Twitter and following topics or Twitter handles that interest your PLC group.
  • Calendar for scheduling group events.
  • Document library for storing and working on group files and folders.
  • OneNote notebook for taking project and meeting notes.
  • Planner for organizing and assigning tasks and getting updates on project progress.

What is not listed above, but has huge value for me, is the ability to add guest members to your PLC group. What this means is that teachers/experts (or even parents) who are outside of your O365 tenant can be invited on their personal email address and they only need to activate this address as a Microsoft Account, to be able to sign into the O365 group and contribute.

professional-learning-community-groups-in-office-365-education-2

Screenshot from the Professional Learning Communities shared OneNote with guidance on how to run the inquiry.

This opens up a huge range of possibilities for schools where there is likely to be inter-school professional inquiries taking place. In New Zealand, this could be the Communities of Learning which connect different schools together in the same geographical region. To be able to use a shared inbox group and calendar to co-ordinate meetings (either in person or via Skype) as well as a central location for all documents shared (either uploaded or simply attached via emails through the group) and a OneNote means the key tools to promote a successful inquiry are all in one place and accessible to every member, whether they are at the same school or not.

The experience of the Omaha Public Schools District using PLC is shown below:

Last week, Darrell Webster hosted a virtual meeting with a number of people to discuss how PLC work and the effectiveness of them in schools. There are a few technical glitches at the start of the meeting but it’s worth watching past these to see the quality discussion. Attending the meeting are:

  • Darrell Webster  (host) and Microsoft MVP award winner since 2013 and self described “Office365 Enthusiast”
  • Krish Gali, Product Manager for Office 365 Groups
  • Robert Dickson, Executive Director at Omaha Public School
  • Rachel Chisnall MIE Expert and teacher at Taeri College, Dunedin
  • Morgan McKeen MIE Expert and teacher at Parnell District School, Auckland

My Thoughts On This:

There’s a lot to like about PLC Groups in Office365, not least that it reflects that Microsoft is continuing to actively invest into technologies that improve the way in which teachers manage their growing administrative workload. A few other highlights for me (in no particular order):

  • The PLC group OneNote comes pre-populated with templates to assist teachers with their inquiry and smooth running of the Professional Learning Groups.
  • Guest Access – it’s hard to overestimate how valuable this is. Too often schools are dealing with disparate groups of people and being able to link them all into the one-stop-shop of resources is incredible.
  • Central Access – the PLC group is not owned by any one individual teacher, but instead is part of the school’s O365 Tenant meaning that if one teacher leaves the school or is no longer involved in that particular PLC, the resources are not locked down preventing others from getting access to them.
    • Similarly, this means that if a PLC inquiry is likely to be a multi-year group, staff can come and go but all the previous resources, conversations and research is maintained and accessible.
    • Additionally, the staff member in charge of professional development can be added as a member to all PLC groups and can see progress and add comments etc at anytime ensuring full transparency.
    • Again, having a single email address to email all members of the PLC means there are no excuses for accidentally excluding a staff member from a vital communication!
  • Connectors – in particular, the ability to add Twitter and follow users or hashtags means the PLC can extend their reach and pull in valuable resources directly into the PLC group – priceless. I became a Twitter convert back in 2014 and wrote a lengthy blog explaining why teachers should use Twitter to grow their Professional Learning Network
  • Planner – this is a simplified GANT chart type organisational tool, very similar to the popular Trello. It’s a great addition to the Office365 tool box and you can read more about it here. I’d certainly encourage teachers that are already using Trello to consider migrating to Planner given the deep integration into O365 that it offers.

So there you go – don’t make the same mistake I did and overlook the value of the Office365 Professional Learning Communities groups; they will definitely find an indispensable place in your school.

OneNote: a “low floor, high ceiling” application

I recently saw this great blog post from Steve Brophy who is the Director of ICT & eLearning at Ivanhoe Grammar in Melbourne and do encourage you to read the full thing here:

Utilising the power of OneNote and Surface to develop visual thinking skills

The phrase that caught my attention was Steve’s description of OneNote as an application that has a “low floor, high ceiling” meaning the barriers to entry are minimal and that almost anyone can understand how to use it quite quickly, and yet the possibilities are almost limitless, hence the high ceiling for usage. This struck me as a very helpful way to describe the power of OneNote and Steve illustrated his point with the following image:

onenote-student-example-vincent-1024x575

Steve added that using a Surface device heightens the benefits of OneNote for students:

Being able to zoom in and out through the touch capacity of the Surface Pro 4 allows students to change perspective and delve into different components of their thinking. This thinking can then be easily shared with classmates through OneNote’s presentation mode and it is in this endless canvas approach that students can see their ideas not as separate discrete elements but as a narrative that represents their current thinking.

I first met Steve in February 2016 when visiting schools in Melbourne, Australia and after spending the afternoon at Ivanhoe I stayed on for my first experience of a TeachMeet. This inspired me to host TeachMeets at St Andrew’s College throughout 2016. I’ve found Steve to be an excellent educator and leader and highly recommend you check out his blogs here and follow him on Twitter here.