OneNote gets handwriting on iPad … Finally!

Finally it’s here! Microsoft has finally added handwriting to OneNote on iPad. After keeping it for Windows only devices, it was released on Android and now it has made its way to iOS.

Obviously as it’s iPad you have to use a capacitive touch stylus or you can use your finger to write. It was quite easy to do and handwriting wasn’t too bad. Up to now I’ve been using NotesPlus (paid app) which includes the excellent MyScript handwriting recognition.

It also includes OCR text search of images that are inserted, although it takes up to 5 minutes per image for any text be recognised and indexed.

Notes can be saved either to OneDrive or OneDrive for Business so you can keep all your notes in sync and switch between your iPhone, iPad and Windows devices.

If you’re used to using a stylus to write on OneNote on a Windows device (as I am for work), it does take a little getting used to but very quickly my handwriting improved to be something which is passable and I could share with others without complete embarrassment.

I use the excellent Bamboo stylus on my iPad which can be purchased as either a Solo stylus (capacitive touch stylus only) or the Duo stylus (which has a regular pen on one end for use on paper and the capacitive touch on the other end).  Many have also recommended the Pencil stylus from FiftyThree available in either gold, walnut or graphite.

So download the update from the App Store now and start writing on your iPad straightaway using OneNote.

Linx 8 – the iPad mini of the Windows 8 world?

I’m not going to lie, I’ve always felt the Surface Pro’s are a little on the pricey side (but I’m willing to evaluate the unit if Microsoft sent one to me!) Other manufacturers’ devices were cheaper but still not at an entry point for a low risk purchase. Apple started with their iPad and later released the iPad mini with a lower price point. Microsoft tried to make a cheaper model with the RT tablet but the App Store just wasn’t developed enough for this. Fast forward two years and the Linx 8 has been released at a retail price of £99. Maybe the Linx 8 is the iPad mini of Windows 8 … at an even better price.

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From the moment you open the box it feels well made from the packaging to the device itself. It sits nicely in the hand and feels like a natural fit, especially in portrait rather than landscape mode. It is lightweight with a Windows soft key on the front and three hardware buttons on the side for power, volume up and volume down. There is a micro USB port (used for charging), a micro HDMI port and micro SD slot for additional storage (although OneDrive for Business won’t sync to external storage which is very annoying). In addition to the three ‘micro’ connections there is a regular 3.5mm headphone jack.

I bought mine from Amazon who advertise it as 16GB storage but it is actually 32GB storage. There is a 2MP camera on the front and another on the back and the device has Bluetooth.

The cherry on the cake is that you also get a one year Office 365 Personal subscription with 1TB of storage (worth £59.99 for a year’s subscription). This allows you to install Office on a PC or Mac in addition to your tablet and includes 60 minutes of Skype world calling per month.

So the big question is how does it perform? It performs really well. It is responsive and I don’t ever feel like I am waiting for it to do something. I am using it extensively including syncing OneDrive, using Office 365, Facebook and Twitter … and writing this blog post.

I would wholeheartedly recommend this product. It is fantastic value for money and is a great device for browsing the web, catching up on a bit of work or just for playing games.

Check it out and purchase on Amazon

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Why aren’t your files in OneDrive?

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*Moving to “The Cloud” is difficult.  It shouldn’t be but it is for many people.  Many people are unwilling or unable to move their files because of a lack or understanding of how cloud storage works. Part of the reason is that users can’t see it and therefore have a perception that they have no control over how it works.  There is a comfort in seeing your files on the desktop or in My Documents.

We feel a security in backing up to a USB flash drive that we carry round in our jacket pocket. But this is a false security – hard drives fail and USB flash drives get lost. So why should you store your files in OneDrive or OneDrive for Business?

1. Instant backups – as soon as your file is stored in OneDrive it is backed up.  This means your files are safe straight away.  If we compare this with storing files on your network storage (I’m not considering USB of desktop storage as there is no backup) you are better off on OneDrive. Most network administrators carry out their backups overnight in the quiet period.  This means you are covered only after the overnight window so if you save a file at 10am and then have a problem at 4pm you are left high and dry.

2. Version history – OneDrive for Business keeps a copy of every version that you save as soon as it is saved. Have you ever wished that you could go back an hour, week or month in a document? You can view, compare or restore historic versions in OneDrive with ease. This also means that your files and folders are neater as you only have one file no matter how many versions you have. No more version information in the file name (admit it, you’ve got document version 1.docx, document version 2.docx, document version 2 final.docx and document version 2 final final.docx in your current filing system!)

version history

There are some differences between OneDrive for Business and OneDrive in terms of version history.   OneDrive for Business keeps every version of every file type and version histories are available from the Office suite within the application itself.   OneDrive maintains a version history for Office files only but the previous versions are only available through the browser and not using the Office applications.

3. Self Service – if you do want to retrieve a backup from network storage you’ll likely have to raise a ticket with your network support team, wait for a technician to pick up the call, retrieve the tapes or log on to the backup system, find the file … and you need the file right now! With OneDrive you have complete control so you can retrieve the file or a specific version of the file when you need it in real time.

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4. Sharability – I could write a whole article about this (and I probably will at some point) but the gist of it is that you can share your document with other people, work on it collaboratively and retain version history across users.  You can share as read only or as an editable document and can revoke that access at any time.  There are a whole range of reasons why sharing is better than e-mail but I’ll save that for my article about sharing.

5. Access anywhere anytime from any device – If you can get to the internet then you can get to your files.  Are your files are on your USB drive or your hard disk and you’re not near them? Tough!  Are your files on your network storage? You might be lucky enough to have a VPN connection but that won’t help you if you’re not on your usual device or you’re on a mobile device.   With OneDrive or OneDrive for Business you can access your files through the browser (and even edit them using the online version of Office) from any device connected to the web with a browser.  If you’re on a mobile device you’re in luck as OneDrive downloads are available for a whole range of platforms.

So I ask again … why aren’t your files on OneDrive?

Screenr – A simple tool for teachers

Teachers don’t have a lot of time! But they do have high standards and they want their efforts to have impact. I have recently been demoing a free tool to a few teachers at my school called Screenr.

It is a free screencasting website which is a one-click record simple system. There is no software to install (although you do need Java installed). You don’t even need to register an account as you can use a Windows Live account (we have live@edu so all teachers have a Live account), a Google account, Twitter, Facebook or other services.

It can be used to record video tutorials showing how a piece of software is used, or showing a PowerPoint slideshow with some narration (perhaps as a revision video). In fact, anything that is on-screen along with the audio narration.

So what’s the downside? There are two main factors but these aren’t negatives.

  1. There is a time-limit of 5 minutes, but this is a bonus as it means you need to split your work into manageable chunks that will keep students engaged.
  2. There are no editing tools, it is record and go! If you mess up, scrap it and record again. This is a bonus as it means that you don’t waste time editing and trying to perfect something which is fine as it is!

I’ve recorded a short video tutorial showing how to use the tool and embed the video into our learning platform (Moodle).

If you have any questions then please ask. If you record an awesome demo then please post it in the comments below!

ICT Freedom – With great power comes great responsibility


“Bored” from lanier67 on Flickr

My Twitter feed is full of retweets this morning … “Michael Gove to scrap ‘boring’ IT lessons” from the Guardian.   In his opening speech to the BETT show, Michael Gove will slam the boring and constrictive programme of study that is in place for ICT and will allow schools to choose their own curriculum.

Gone are the days of the drip fed Microsoft Office curriculum and a brave new world is upon us with exciting and dynamic schemes of work that will be updated to reflect current practice.  This new curriculum will serve the needs of all and will pay homage to Turing and inspire a new generation of programmers and other digital professionals.  Or will it?

Don’t get me wrong, as an ICT teacher and former Head of ICT I welcome the freedom but I’m not sure everyone will know what to do with this new found power.  There are lots of excellent professionals who are on Twitter and have already made moves towards developing a dynamic and exciting scheme of work.   The #ictcurric team developed excellent resources and shared them willingly.  But what about the ICT departments who are not engaged in these professional networks?   How do they find out what others are doing?   The concern is that some departments won’t know what is possible so will not push the boundaries.  This situation is made worse by a lack of computing trained professionals in schools who can inspire students and lead them on to independent programming through sites like Microsoft Dreamspark.

The major stumbling blocks in this brave new ICT/Computing world are the examination boards and the qualifications available.  We can provide as much inspiring teaching and as many awesome lessons as possible but whilst you still have exam boards who are awarding marks for using WordArt in coursework (see attached extract from the mark scheme for WJEC A-Level ICT) we are still doomed to be uninspiring when we get to the formal stages.

The exam boards must develop the qualifications to match this new technological freedom and must continue to update the qualification to keep it relevant in an ever changing work.

Finally, to support teachers we need to have more CPD available to staff to get them skilled up in the computing aspects of ICT.  There will always be students who want to push the boundaries of lessons (educationally) and the staff have to be able (and confident) to lead them to the next steps and support them on their journey.

These students are headed for greatness, we just need to ensure they are pointed in the right direction.

2012: My Year of Coding

This year I won’t be making any new year’s resolutions.  For me I am focusing on using my skills more at school.   As an ICT teacher it’s easy to get on the treadmill of Word, PowerPoint, Excel and the occasional Access database if you’re getting really technical.  This year I am going all out for coding at school.

In my previous life (before I was a teacher), I worked for BT in their main development facilities in Ipswich.  During my time I was a systems tester, systems analyst and I have been known to turn my hand to some coding from time to time.  Some of those development skills have lapsed but they occasionally get a trip out when I am really into a web project – an example of this was when I developed plannerLIVE!  <—- BTW: plannerLIVE! is completely free of charge, has hundreds of schools registered and has over 100,000 homework assignments online! Did I mention it’s free?

Following my visit to Microsoft’s UK base in Reading at the Microsoft in Education Forum I have been thinking more and more about getting more coding into school.  Ben Nunney‘s presentation on using Kinect in the classroom was excellent and got me thinking about doing more coding at school.  I’d love to get him to come in (or Skype in) and do some work with gifted students.  In addition, Ray Chambers is publishing some exercises on using Kinect on his website which is a future step for us.

So this Thursday I am starting Coding Club at school.  The students have been fed an almost exclusive Microsoft Office diet (some have done a little Scratch) so we’re starting from the basics.   

  • I’ll be getting all students to register with DreamSpark to get hold of software and tutorials.
  • We’ll be starting with a little SmallBasic to get them used to coding and conventions
  • Following that brief intro we’ll be getting straight into XNA Game Studio 4.0
    (I’m currently working through the XNA 4.0 Game Development by Example: Beginners Guide book which is really good)
  • From there … who knows? The sky’s the limit!

Am I going wrong?
Are you running something similar at your school?

Let me know in the comments below! 

Microsoft in Education Forum

It’s been quite some time since I last wrote a blog post and in that time I’ve had a couple of significant incidents that have changed my perspective on ICT and Computing in schools.

The first was the Microsoft in Education forum held at the Microsoft UK headquarters in Reading.   This was a great event organised by Sean O’Shea, James Marshall and Tim Bush.  A small group of 12 education related people got together and discussed how Microsoft helps with the most important thing in schools … learning!

There was a real focus on doing things differently, from moving from on-premises systems to the free Live@edu product, to the whole host of free tools available at the Partners in Learning site. 

The Partners in Learning site has some fantastic resources to help learning and teaching in schools.  Here are a few highlights from the site:

Microsoft Mathematics Add-in for Word and OneNote – This free add-in allows you to easily insert mathematical formulae, symbols and graphs into Microsoft Word documents.

Microsoft Songsmith – A clever free application that helps students to develop music.  Students sing into the microphone and Songsmith creates the music to accompany the song.

SmallBasic – A simple way to introduce real programming skills to students.  SmallBasic is the pre-cursor to VisualBasic and projects can be ‘graduated’ to VisualBasic when you are ready.

There are a lot more tools available at the newly redesigned Partners in Learning network site.   They’ve packaged their best learning resources into the Learning Suite by Microsoft.   This is a single installer that allows you to choose the programs you want to install.