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The Second Coming of Microsoft

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If you’d told me ten years ago that I’d be excited about next year’s teaching with a bunch of Microsoft tools, I’d have told you were crazy.

At that stage Microsoft was on the skids: bloated old-fashioned desktop programs and slow to the internet. The software suite they had made their name on (aka Office) looked dated and oh so 20th Century. Worse, their cash-cow, Windoze, was a laughing stock just at the time when everyone was looking elsewhere for inspiration. With a resurgent Apple and the juggernaut that is Google, the end looked inevitable.

Cut to 2018 and things have shifted. Apple still makes the most beautiful shiny things but its software is hopeless (does iCloud even work?) A lot of teachers like some of the Google tools, and the Chromebooks have taken off, especially in the United States, but I think that might be driven by security conscious administrators with the bottom line in mind; I mean, have you ever used a Chromebook for anything substantial?

Re-enter Microsoft. Turned around and all internetted-up. The decision to make their programs ubiquitous (ie. tone down the reliance on a old desktop operating system) has not only seen the old standards re-vitalised as IOS apps, but also seen a growth in tools like OneNote, Sway, Teams, Planner, Forms, Stream that all play nicely within what feels like a mature and secure environment. Just as good, the pricing models, and the storage options, are attractive and well targeted to schools.

Not to mention OneNote Class Notebooks, which I’ve mentioned many times before. One of the best note-taking tools has morphed into the best technology based teaching tool I’ve seen.

So, I’m excited about 2019. We’ve rolled out Office 365 to students and staff and we’ve got an IT team who not only get it, but know how to make it work. We’ve already run some sessions that cunningly required using tools like Forms, and I’m planning to run a series of workshops later this year where teachers will choose from a range of possible professional learning opportunities.

The best thing? I’m hopeful we’re going to have a bunch of keen teachers equipped with some of the best learning tools yet, just raring to go. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens. Who’d have thought?

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A deluge of possibilities

When you come back from some time away, particularly when you’re wandering around beautiful landscapes like I was, you do get out of the pace and rhythm of a school. So, it’s been a bit of a jolt coming back and getting used to timetables, bells, hundreds of daily interactions and the pace of the day.

And, one thing that has particularly struck me, in an area I’m very keen about, is technology. Schools seem to be at the center of a perfect storm of change, particularly in terms of ed-tech.

At my own workplace, for example, we’re grappling with the virtues of OneDrive and Google Apps for Education and probably going to opt for some of both. The OneNote notebook creator (see video below) looks like a great leap forward to this product that is so powerful, but so tricky for setup at times. We’ve been a school that uses Outlook and Office, so the collaborative features of OneDrive will be welcomed, but the sites and the survey tools in Google are excellent.

At the same we’re weighing up options for an LMS that might supplement or replace our current wikis, with teachers looking at things like Blackboard, Schoology, Edmodo and others. It’s an arms race of features out there. I’ve been using Schoology with my own teaching, and I think it’s terrific, but what about a reporting tool? And how’s the mobile app look?

Finally, we’re talking a lot about ebooks and replacing / supplementing the paper text books with e-book versions. Do we go with a single vendor, try to accommodate a range of vendors and portals or look for an aggregator? And how do we transition our teachers and parents to that model?

Lots to think about. Sometimes I think back to the simplicity of a day’s walking in Skye last term, but it sure is an exciting time to be a teacher. I’m pretty sure that OneNote will be part of my teaching next  year. Here’s that video:

Google +

I’ve been playing around with Google + for the last week or two and am hopeful that maybe, just maybe, this  might be a better social tool than the elephant in the room that is Facebook.

Like most schools, we’ve struggled with some issues to do with student access to Facebook and I think that the students too would like a more transparent, easy to manage social tool that would allow them to share with their real friends, not the public ‘friends’ that Facebook would prefer. Facebook’s default is public; the idea of circles in Google+ means that a student could perhaps have their ‘real’ friends in one circle, and everyone else in another.

I don’t know if it’s the answer, and I don’t know enough yet about how Google+ will develop, but I’ve never got into Facebook, and am hopeful that this might be better.

Street View

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Google Maps, a handy little tool I often use when travelling around Melbourne, just got a little more powerful and a trifle scary with the introduction of ‘Street View’ in Australia, the ability to zoom in at street level on just about any street.

I’ve never seen them, but apparently little Google-branded cars have been trawling our streets photographing everything they can, and pulling it into one giant photogrpahic map of the world (or at least three countries so far) If you had a faster internet connection than me you could even cruise up and down the streets of your choice, looking at houses, or shops.

It’s all slightly Orwellian in some ways, except that we all have access to it.  I like the way that you can create your own Google Maps of places you go to, favourite restaurants and the like, but this is a new dimension to all that. Imagine the data involved! If you want to talk to me about it I’ll be at the Pastry Kitchen (above) for a coffee around 8.30 this morning.