Monday, October 23, 2017

On the Death of OfficeMix

OfficeMix from Microsoft is a fantastic one-stop-shopping tool for creating flipped classroom activities.  It has terrific built-in features including:

  • Slide narration
  • Slide annotation
  • Video capture with front/rear camera 
  • Screen recording (for capturing online videos or software training)
  • Interspersed questions
  • Unlimited Hosting
  • Learning Analytics

I have pointed many educators towards this tool as most are already familiar with PowerPoint and can adopt this quite easily.  So it was with some sadness and frustration that I read that Microsoft will turn off OfficeMix by mid-2018.  The features of OfficeMix will be incorporated in PowerPoint 365 and the videos will be uploaded to Microsoft Stream which is limited to an internal-only audience.

In a way, this is a blessing in disguise as it prompted me to search for alternative solutions, particularly free ones with cross-platform compatibility.  This is important as OfficeMix was not an option for Mac users unless they used a tool like Virtual Box or Bootcamp to run Windows.

There are several options out there but the one that I found the most customizable was to use a combination of Google Forms (with/without Google Classroom).
Google Forms recently allowed the creation of a quiz with automatic feedback and scoring.  You can also embed a YouTube Video into a Google Form.
PowerPoint already as the ability to record the slide narration and annotation which can be saved as a video.  By uploading this video to YouTube you can embed this into a Google Form.  You can thus use a combination of your own videos and those available publicly on YouTube.
You can hyperlink to any video from within the description area of each section of the form.  Within these hyperlibks, you can specify start and end times on the videos to split videos into appropriate segments.

The steps would thus be:

  • Decide if there are public YouTube videos available that will meet your needs
  • If there are not, create your own video using PowerPoint narration and animation and annotation
    • Upload your video to YouTube
  • Grab the URL for your videos and the public YouTube videos you plan to use
  • Jot down the start and stop times of each video and add at the end of the URL
  • Create a Google Form, and create multiple sections, one of each video and related questions.
  • Insert the URLs in the description of each section create questions 
  • If you want to use the entire video, you can embed it in the form using the "add video button"
  • Add questions following the video, with answer keys and points.
  • Share the form with learners.
See below for an example of one such activity that teaches these steps (the videos may not work in this embedded form). For full functionality of videos view it full screen here. Try this out and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Brydge 12.3 Keyboard to convert a Surface Pro 4 into a Laptop

The Surface Pro (3/4) is one of the most popular devices.  It has a large number of things going for it (listed at the bottom of this post).
It does have a couple of drawbacks and a big one is its "lapability".  This means that there are certain situations where it is difficult to find a stable way to position the Surface Pro.  I personally have never had a big issue with this but I can see why people would complain.  The other limitation is that the type cover's magnetic attachment to the device is not strong enough to support the weight of the Surface Pro and thus you cannot hold it just by the keyboard like another laptop.

I was very excited to see the Brydge 12.3 bluetooth keyboard come out for the SP3 and 4.
I got it last week and while it was terrific in many ways - which have been outlined on Reddit by @prjkthack, it too has one huge problem.

The keyboard holds the SP4 by two "claws" which are covered by silicone shims to prevent scratches.  The hinge is quite firm in order to support the weight of the SP4 at any angle.  The problem is that when closing the SP4 all the pressure to rotate the hinge falls on the 2 points where the shims hold the screen.  This causes distortion of the touchscreen.  You can see this in the video above where in the lower left corner of the screen where you see yellowish vertical bands of pressure.  I had a friend try this out with another SP4, changed the shims and tried it with an SP3 and it still caused the same problem.  I wonder if anyone else is noticing a similar problem.

I am not sure what the long term implications of this pressure would be on the incredibly beautiful touchscreen but I am not willing to test it out.

Also as others have commented, the trackpad is not as good as the glass trackpad of the type cover - it is less responsive, the left click does not work very well and selecting a line of text is not accurate.

I tend to use the SP4 a lot in the tablet mode as I read and annotate PDFs or make storyboards for presentations in PowerPorint by writing on blank slides.  For this, it is remarkably easy to just flip the type cover back under the SP4 and it immediately converts to tablet mode.  With the Brydge, it is definitely more involved to take the device out of the claws and you still need to convert to tablet mode manually.

Obviously, there are folks who use the SP4 almost entirely in laptop mode and this last point may not apply to them.  For me, these issues combined with the increased weight makes this Buetooth keyboard less than ideal.  It is possible that with more extended use, I would get used to it but the pressure distortion of the screen scares me too much to try this for that long.

What I love about the SP4:

  • One device to replace laptop and tablet
  • Light and portable
  • Superb stylus, handwriting recognition, touchscreen
  • High resolution, brilliant screen
  • Terrific practical integration of software to get work done - browser, pdf, word processing, note aking
  • The Very innovative kickstand that lets you angle the screen at any angle and still provides excellent support.
  • Type cover that is light, responsive, with a glass trackpad that has the right size, friction, accuracy, and responsiveness.