Friday, 30 June 2017

Microsoft Stream - an important new widget in Office 365

Wish I'd added a ? mark to the name of that first test video...

When people talk about Microsoft Office 365 they tend to focus on products like OneDrive, Outlook and perhaps more creative tools like Sway. Products like Yammer and Delve create chances to work deeper. Microsoft themselves are really promoting Teams (and the education version which we'll blog about another day (spoiler: "unconvinced").

Office 365 Video is the unsung hero of their range. It has allowed us, at no cost, to create a video library organised into 100+ channels. Each channel has owners who can upload videos, and viewers who can watch them - it means a class or a team can produce some wonderful resources and means of engagement, all protected by a login to our system.

365 video - simple but it works.

It isn't pretty and it is limited in terms of the features you'd find in public services like YouTube (such as likes, comments, playlisting and sharing) but they don't matter so much to us.  We want lots of material that is easy to upload (through Mix, the iPad app or just the webpage) and searchable, that plays on any device.

The "joy" of working with cloud services is that change comes, like it or not.

A year ago Microsoft released Stream in beta and we looked at it and thought 'thanks but no thanks' because the model is much more like a "YouTube behind a login." The social aspect, comments around the material, was front and centre and for us in a school environment:

  • We don't want the comments all over the place - we want them where the learning is happening - so we embed the video in that place (typically Google Classroom) - Microsoft's approach always tends to lock you into working in their environment which is not what we are looking for.
  • Often we don't want comments at all. Make that usually.
  • We need to control who can create channels, groups and interaction - we're dealing with users from the age of 4 to 18.
Stream will soon not be a choice any longer - all users of 365 Video will be migrated over, like it or not - so we have gone back to the product a year later to see what it offers.

The good news is that for school use it is massively improved - to the point where we're really excited by it.

There are tools now for an administrator to limit who can do what. This means we can replicate what we do now in the new system - but anyone managing 365 for a school would be well advised to log in right now and change the settings to make sure that everyone can't create channels and start publishing. 

We're going to have to make some changes to the way we use Groups to make Stream work for us - but if we ever did decide to use Teams for Education, we'd need to rethink that anyway. It will means taking away some flexibility from students in how they make their own groups for project work but nothing too difficult as most use sharing around a folder of documents in Google Drive anyway. That isn't a bad thing - we have to do some tidying up and rethinking, but in return we get the ability to make who shares what in a channel linked into our directory of users and groups with far less effort.

Stream looks good to the user - it is modern and responsive. So we will end up with a far better looking and more usable system for no extra effort. It also adds some features (over and above the social ones that we've switched off) that promise to be interesting.

Video is transcribed automatically, so that how-to video from a teacher can have a written and searchable transcript alongside. It can also do captions using the same technology. We haven't uploaded enough content to really make a judgement on this but we know that the naming and comments of videos in the existing system is an issue unless the teacher takes time to properly label it - meaning that when users search across the several 1000 videos there the results tend to be the best commented rather than the best videos (although views helps as an indicator of value).

So staff and students in our academies - the web address next term will probably take you to the same videos in a new look and better service. Staff that run channels will gain some new options to use if they want to.

If you use Office 365 and haven't tried Office 365 Video, give Stream a go.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Coming Soon: the Week of Keep

We try really hard not to promote a massive range of apps and websites because we prefer to only back the things we are confident will have a great deal of value, and that we can support. After the week of Trello (which will feature in the demo Slam at our summer conference) we think we've got another real gem we're confident adds to the mix we want to encourage.

Keep is a note taking app. A user with their Google ID can save things to Keep from the web, make handwritten notes, to-do lists, and add images and photos - so far so Evernote. But the underlying ability to share notes with people and edit them together, to have the web version on the teaching screen and the app running on something else, both signed into the same notebook, and to have Keep running side by side with a Google Doc all create some very powerful opportunities in lessons.

So welcome to the Week of Keep - we'll be sharing a selection of top tips and ideas for this great little app. Showreel

We've published a showreel video with some samples from our project ahead of our eLearning Conference (#DRETelc) this week. is our name for Microsoft Office 365 Video. We make heavy use of both G-Suite and Office 365 as a Trust and have found the simplicity of the video service to be a joy to use.

A teacher or a team can have a channel - video uploaded there can be seen by anyone they allow to view that channel. So a Year 6 class at an academy might have a channel any logged in user can see, whilst a CPD group at a particular academy might make a channel only members of the group can see. No adverts. No comments to worry about. Just the video in a nice clear interface.

Since September we've opened more than 100 channels - the content ranges from celebration of things, reporting and news, howto clips and a lot of flipped learning material.

Hopefully the showreel gives an idea of how we use it - we publish it from Google Drive rather than 365 Video because is designed as a private service for in-house use only. If you're in a school we'd strongly suggest you look into it - indeed if you sign up for Office 365 only for that one service you'll not regret it.

As an aside, 365 Video is about to go the way of the Dodo. Sadly not everyone has the same levels of keen for it as us - but the good news is that the service that replaces it Microsoft Stream looks nicer and is available now. It does add some complexities in terms of how to manage it for a school environment, where the user-level sharing and social elements aren't perhaps as front and centre as the product designers seem to think it is - we're confident though that it will be ready for 2.0 very soon.

eLearning Scrapbook of Ideas

Our eLearning Conference is coming up fast and a number of ideas and mini-projects are coming up to release for it. One of these is what we've been calling internally a 'Playbook' then a 'Scrapbook.'

The premise is simple - we have the privilege of working with a lot of very clever people around the DRET Academies and often, something to them that seems mundane or just something they thought they'd show us as an afterthought turns out to be an idea we're blown away by and need to share. Over the year this has happened during visits to other people, at staff CPD events and through the blog, but we wanted to collect them together better. We have picked up many of these snippets and are making "top tips" website for our staff that will be publicly available with help videos etc very shortly.

Sometimes though you need a "brochure" version - on paper - to get attention. So we've packaged together a sample and had it printed for delegates. If you'd like to download a copy (and it really is only a sample of what's to come) then mouse over to

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Showcase Classroom Visit

There was a time when the Classroom of the Future was a thing. A place where companies would deck out a space with the latest and greatest and people would come and play with it. A few remain, mostly looking rather like an Apple Store with educational quotes on the wall.

Microsoft's Showcase Classroom is a very different proposition - everything there is very much current, not future, but because of the pace of development now instead of old software on the latest and greatest hardware, the emphasis is on the latest software and a trainer who knows how to make best use of it and can relate that to the people in front of them (in our case the incredible Sam O'Leary). Sam took us on a highly accelerated tour of Microsoft's offer and I think left every teacher in the group with a few new ideas and tricks to use back in school on Monday morning.

To Sam's great credit she took our agnostic approach to tools (a mix of Google and Microsoft's cloud) in her stride and had the knowledge to compare intelligently.

The highlights for me included:

  • Although Microsoft's propensity for releasing similarly named things that do similar things but not quite the same drives me insane, the Snip tool (as opposed to the Snipping tool) brings a version of Office Mix to everyday use - I like the idea that at any point in a lesson I can grab something on the screen, annotate it and keep it handy for later without having to change gears. I think every Star Classroom needs this setting up as soon as possible! The confusion of course of having a Snip Tool, a Snipping Tool, Snip tools of various kinds in various Office Apps (the Powerpoint ones are great), Snipping tools in OneNote and of course the snip/ annotate tool in Edge is not a good thing.
  • I doubt I'll change from Google Forms just because it's become second nature to me, but the Forms tool in 365 is now equally capable and seems to produce forms that look nicer to the user.
  • Reading View in Edge allowing me to strip all the extraneous stuff from a web page to use in a lesson - adverts especially - seems such an obvious idea. Safari has a similar service and looking for Chrome I've found the Read Mode extension which works but nowhere near as well as the Microsoft baked in alternative).
  • Sway is an app I thought I fully understood - but to watch someone who really knows how to use it well put it through its paces really inspired me - in particular the options for grouping content together will let me make much more structured and well organised Sways.
Everyone there signed up for the excellent Microsoft Educator Community (which is one of the best under-promoted resources on the web for teachers) and earned the Microsoft Innovative Teacher Award from the various points they earned over the day.

Several parts of our Basecamp programme were based on earlier experiences at the Showcase and I think as we plan for 2017-18's round of training and consider the tools to place front and centre we will still very much be featuring tools like Mix, Sway, OneNote and probably one of the various Snipping tools. Many thanks to Sam and colleagues at Microsoft for hosting our visit.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Login to Our eLibrary

We've just taken delivery of banners and posters to promote our eLibrary at every one of the David Ross Education Trust academies - here is the handout to go with it.

Google Expeditions without all the Cardboard

We're big fans of Google Expeditions - both from our own experience at the Google HQ and from a whole series of visits to our academies by both Google and organisations affiliated with them.

The novelty value (and that isn't a pejorative term: nothing wrong with something new that grabs everyone's attention and enthusiasm) of having a class set of VR headsets made out of mobile phones and cardboard is undeniable - we can still remember the Oo and Aa moments - but how practical is it really to buy and service a set of smartphones for this kind of thing: it seems to be a technology that is in its infancy, expensive for the number of potential uses and very much at the promise rather than delivery end of the spectrum.

But this great article on smore really makes the case for using VR in lessons with the tools you already have it - whether it be one device or a whole set, the fact is you can have students gain a very good experience (but not an immersive one) with a plain old tablet device.

This guide from EdTechTeam gives a solid step by step walkthrough anyone can follow to use Google Expeditions without quite so much impact, but also without quite so much hassle!

Friday, 9 June 2017

Voiceovers in Office Mix

A great idea from our visit to Briar Hill Primary School today for using Office Mix. The context was the class preparing short advertising videos for a project - where they needed to match the text they would present to the timing of action on a video. Having marked the key moments in the movie track they set out to draft and rehearse their voiceover to match the timings and then perform it.

Office Mix first allowed the teacher to grab a selection of the screen in which the required video was playing and insert it into a slide (> Insert Screen Area). He could then make a copy of that slide for every group of pupils and when ready they could go to the screen and use Mix to record their voiceover (the webcam on the screen providing a well-placed microphone for three people standing about a metre from the screen. Although the rest of the class are in the room, the audio is reasonably good as the web cam isolates the input to quite a narrow field in front of the screen.

The finished Powerpoint deck can of course be exported in several ways....

  • Saved as a Powerpoint file in Google Drive or OneDrive, shared and the link used in ClassDojo...
  • Saved directly to Office 365 video, allowing the teacher to publish all the videos in a single file to the class video channel for later use in class or for viewing from home.
  • Saved as an mp4 video for use... anywhere.