Microsoft’s latest attempt at a return to browser supremacy is finally here. The new Chromium version of Edge, (Microsoft’s default web browser for Windows computers), is now available for Windows and MacOS. Chromium was developed by Google and is used as the foundation for the Chrome web browser. However, because it is an open source project, other developers are free to adopt it for their own uses. Opera, Vivaldi, and Brave are just a few of the third-party browsers that currently use Chromium to power their products, and now Microsoft have joined their ranks. This means you can now install Chrome extensions in Edge. Here’s what you need to know.
Have you seen the new Microsoft Forms? One of the most popular articles on my blog in the last 12 months was related to its predecessor – Excel Surveys. Not only did that post get a lot of views, but it also got a lot of comments from people with questions about the features of Excel Surveys, or more importantly for some, the features it did not have. You can still use Excel Surveys, but Microsoft are in the process of transitioning to something better – Microsoft Forms. This version includes automatic grading and built-in student feedback. Here’s what you need to know.
You can find the homepage for Microsoft Forms by going to forms.office.com, or you may see Forms listed in the Office 365 App Launcher. Both links go to the same place. Technically, Forms is still in Preview but you can sign in with your Office 365 Education account today and start creating surveys and quizzes. The new Microsoft Forms work on desktop and mobile browsers.
Once you are logged in, click the New button to create your first form. Replace Untitled Form with a title of your choice, and add a description underneath if you want to provide any directions or information for students or parents who are filling out your Form.
Building a Form
Tapping the Add Question button gives you access to the question types that are available to you in this new version of Microsoft Forms. The options include:
- Choice: for creating multiple choice questions! Tap or click the slider to allow people to select multiple answers. You can also tap or click the ellipses button to shuffle answers.
- Quiz: a multiple choice question that you allows you to select a correct answer for automatic grading. Tapping the comment icon on each answer choice lets you add student feedback for each selection. Multiple answers and shuffled answers are also available to you when working on Quiz questions.
- Text: to collect short (or long) text answers use the Text question type. Tap or click the ellipses button to include number restrictions like greater than, less than, equal to, and more.
- Rating: for adding a star or number rating. Could be useful as part of an exit ticket or for voting on class favorites. Ratings can be out of 5 or 10, and tapping the ellipses button will allow you to add a label at either end of this Likert scale.
- Date: a question type that only allows for an answer in date format.
The Windows Snipping Tool is a useful app, but a limited one. There are, after all, many better alternatives like Skitch, Snagit, or even the OneNote Clipper. Today, Microsoft added another to this list. It’s called Snip. Although currently still in beta, Snip allows you to take screenshots, add annotations, record audio, and save your clips with anyone you want. In short, Snip is everything the Windows Snipping tool should be. Here’s how it works.
Once installed, Snip hides discretely on the side of your screen, just like Snagit. When you are ready to capture your screenshot, simply hover over the Snip toolbar to select the type of capture you want to execute. There are three basic tools you can use to capture a screenshot – the crosshair selection tool, the camera, and the whiteboard.
A quick click and drag with the crosshair selection tool is all that is needed to make your first capture. Once you are done, the Snip editor will open giving you options for annotations that you can add to your screenshot. Although you absolutely can add annotations with your mouse, the drawing tools in the editor are largely aimed at those with touchscreen devices. However, there is the option to record audio on top of your screenshot and save it as an MP4 video file. T
This pseudo-screencasting option is an interesting option for educators and certainly opens up a lot of possibilities. In fact, if you look on the Snip home page, you will find several examples by students and educators who used the recording feature to talk about student work, explain a homework assignment, or teach poetry.
The whiteboard is idea for explaining a concept and can be used in conjunction with the recorder to make screencasts that are similar in appearance to something like Educreations on the iPad. There are not as many options while recording, but the end product is somewhat comparable. The whiteboard is particularly useful for Math and Science teachers who may want to record a brief video that includes mathematical equations or cell structures, neither of which is easy to accomplish in a text based program.
Clicking the camera button will let you take a picture with whatever cameras you have on your device. Captured images can be edited with the aforementioned annotation tools. In the classroom students could use this option to talk about some art work they created, to tell digital stories, or describe areas on a map.
Snips can be shared quickly and easily. They can be copied and pasted into another app, shared by email (this didn’t work for me), or saved to your device. Videos have the additional options of being able to be shared via a link, or embedded in a website. All snips, past and present, are stored in your Library, which you can access via the book icon on the toolbar.
Snip is still in beta, so be prepared for the odd glitch here and there. However, in the time that I have had to play with it, Snip has performed very well and Microsoft have informed me that new features are on the way soon. Better still, Snip will update automatically so you will always have the latest version. Check it out for yourself in the video demo below, or head over to https://mix.office.com/Snip to try it out yourself.
Have you upgraded to Windows 10 yet? Microsoft are offering it as a free upgrade for consumers running Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, but is it really worth it? In a recent article for Hubpages I wrote about 10 Top Tips for Teachers Using Windows 10. Together, I believe that these features are a compelling reason to make that upgrade worthy of your priority list.
Being a brand new operating system, there are obviously a number of new additions that have been added to improve on the functionality of Windows 8.1, but there is a lot that is familiar too. To that end, many pundits are calling Windows 10 the best of Windows 7 and Windows 8.1. The features that I most appreciate, from an educator’s point of view, include:
- Web Notes: Annotate the web with the new Microsoft Edge
- Reading View: A clean, uncluttered view of websites
- Virtual Desktops: A way to group and access your favorite applications
- Continuum: Mobile when you want it, desktop when you need it
- Wireless projection: Freedom to roam the classroom
So, if you are new to Windows 10, or need some tips on how to make the most of it, be sure to check out my 10 Top Tips for Teachers Using Windows 10. You can also check out my companion article, Microsoft Edge: Performance & Style for Students & Educators!
If you’re already using Windows 10, I would love to hear what your favorite features are, and how you are thinking about using it in the classroom. I for one think that it has a lot of potential and believe that it should go a long way to heal some of the wounds that were inflicted by Windows 8.1. What do you think?
On March 31, 2015, Microsoft announced the Surface 3. It’s smaller, and less expensive than the Surface Pro 3, but it still does all the things that you would expect from a tablet PC that runs the latest version of Windows. The base model is priced at $499, the same price as an entry-level iPad Air 2. So, the obvious question is, can the Surface 3 succeed where other tablets have failed and actually overturn Apple’s dominance in tablet based classrooms? I’ve been lucky enough to be able to go hands-on with one of the new Surface 3 devices, and I am already a seasoned iPad user, so here are my thoughts and first impressions on how they compare.
On paper, both devices are very evenly matched. The Surface 3 is a little heavier and a little thicker than the iPad, but it does have a larger screen that will help account for some of that weight. The battery life is identical, as is the amount of RAM in each one, but the Surface has more storage, more ports, and a better front facing camera. You can see a full comparison of the specs between the two devices in the table below. The device I was sent from Microsoft was a 64GB Surface 3 with 4GB RAM.
Of course, spec sheets only tell half the story. After all, if you are thinking of investing in a device like this for your classroom, there are other things you will want to know like how durable will it be, and can you count on it to do what you need, when you need it?
The iPad is an extremely reliable device and, in a decent case, it is able to withstand a fair amount of abuse. The Surface 3 is also a great device and is very comparable in build quality to the more expensive Surface Pro 3. I haven’t seen any protective cases for it yet, but I am sure that there will be some released in the near future. One nice feature, is the 3-position kick stand that is built-in to the back of the Surface 3. It makes typing, with or without the keyboard, much easier. If the stand is pushed too far back, or is accidentally sat on, it will automatically detach to avoid permanent damage, and allow you to re-attach it. The iPad has no kickstand, but many third-party cases do offer this option.
The iPad has access to thousands of high quality educational apps in the App Store, many of which are designed specifically for the iPad and for use in the classroom. The Windows Store does not have anywhere near as many apps, but, on the flip side, the Surface 3 will run anything on the web, including content powered by Flash or Java. What’s more, it will also runtraditional desktop software like Office, Sketchup, Photoshop Elements, Google Earth and just about anything else that was designed for a regular Windows laptop. Professional software like Adobe Photoshop or Premiere will run on the Surface 3, but performance will not be as good as it is on something like the Surface Pro 3 or a high-end ultrabook which is better equipped to handle such tasks.
Almost all of Microsoft’s press images picture the Surface 3 with a keyboard and pen, but it is important to note that it comes with neither. The Keyboard is an additional $130 and the Surface Pen is $50. That takes the base price of the Surface 3 up to $680, but you don’t get a keyboard or a pen with an iPad either and that doesn’t seem to deter schools one bit.
So, is the Surface 3 a realistic proposition without a keyboard and pen? In Metro mode, it works really well. Apps and touch gestures are intuitive and designed to work well with a touch device. In desktop mode, it is less of a success. For instance, if you tap in a text field in desktop mode, the keyboard will not appear unless you summon it manually from the system tray. This will hopefully change when Windows 10 (a free upgrade for the Surface 3) is released this summer, but right now the desktop mode works better with the Type Cover.
I enjoy using the Surface 3 keyboard. It is a little noisy to type with compared to a regular laptop keyboard, but it feels good and isn’t too small for regular sized hands. It is backlit with LED lights and has useful shortcut keys for things like screen brightness, mute and play/pause. It can be used flat or angled for better ergonomics. Nonetheless, I didn’t find the trackpad as responsive as I might like, especially with two finger scrolling, but you can easily add a USB or Bluetooth mouse if necessary. So, minor quibbles aside, it is a nice option to have. I am typing this post on the Surface 3 and I hardly notice any difference compared to the experience on a laptop.
The Surface Pen is the same pen as the one on the Surface Pro 3. The Surface Pen is no ordinary pen and is not comparable to any iPad stylus. It has 256 levels of pressure sensitivity and a fine point for precision work. The harder you press, the darker and thicker the line is that you draw. It also has a handy button on the top that will automatically launch OneNote with one click, even if your Surface is in standby. OneNote is ideal for handwritten notes, something that current research is telling us is more effective than typed notes.
In addition to OneNote, Fresh Paint is an app that is ideal for the Surface Pen. It will quickly bring out your inner artist and would be great for sketchnotes or other drawing projects. When the pen is active, it is the only thing that will make a mark on the screen. No onscreen wrist guards or other adaptations are necessary. The pen is available in blue, red, silver and black and is powered by one AAA battery and two watch sized batteries.
The Surface 3 is a more affordable version of the Surface Pro 3. As such, it is being marketed as an ideal device for schools, and in many ways it should be. The Surface 3 is light, portable, it has a front and rear camera, and it runs on a flexible operating system that will run one of the largest software libraries available to any device. In the summer, there will be a free update to Windows 10 that will include specific optimizations for hybrid devices like this. So, look for the Surface 3 to become even more capable than it is right now. The build quality is excellent, it has a great, full HD display, and a battery that should easily last a full school day.
However, as with all new devices there will always be some question marks. For instance, how well will it run three years from now, (as it will likely need to in a budget conscious school environment)? Will the keyboard and pen (and pen battery life), hold up to the rigors of classroom use? Will schools be satisfied with just the tablet version at $499 or is the $680 version with the Type Cover and Surface Pen needed? Will the app ecosystem develop enough educational apps to compete with other devices or will the web suffice?
Personally I really like the Surface 3. I can’t answer any of the questions above because I can’t predict the future. However, I can see a lot of potential in this device for use in the K-12 classroom and I know there are many teachers that would understandably love to get a device like this into the hands of their students.
Are you intrigued by the new Surface 3? Do you have questions that have not been addressed in the review above? If so, feel free to leave a comment below and I will address as many as I can.
Working collaboratively in the cloud is a great convenience, and something that you can do very well in Office 365 if you use OneDrive for Business, as many schools do. However, sometimes it is nice for teachers (and students) to know when others have changed or modified a document that they co-author. To achieve such an outcome, you can set up document alerts. Here’s how.
1. Navigate to your OneDrive for Business page and find the file that you would like to set up an alert on. (You can set an alert on any Microsoft Office document).
2. Select the document by clicking on it, and then click the Files tab in the top left-hand corner of your screen to open the Files ribbon.
3. Look for the Alert Me icon on the middle of the toolbar, (it looks like a bell). Click Alert Me and then choose Set alert on this document.
4. The pop-up window that follows gives you a number of options as to what you would like to be alerted for and how often. These options include:
Recently, Microsoft updated OneNote for iPad to include the one thing that iPad users were missing most from their Windows versions of OneNote – Draw tools. Given the touch capabilities of the iPad, this is a very useful addition. For the classroom this means students and teachers have the option to use handwriting in OneNote, or annotate existing notes, images and more with the new drawing tools. Here’s how they work.
The drawing tools are accessed via the new Draw tab on the toolbar. If you don’t see a Draw tab, make sure your OneNote app is updated to the latest version. Tools available include a thin pen, a medium pen, a highlighter, an eraser, a selection of inking colors, pen thicknesses, and a variety of palm rejection options.
To start writing, select the type of pen you want to use then choose a color from either the four default colors on the toolbar, or from one of the 16 colors that reside in the color wheel. Note that there are only four colors to choose from with the highlighter pens.
Next, choose pen thickness. You will see that line thickness varies depending on whether you choose the thin, medium or highlighter pens, but there is enough variety here that you will likely find the thickness you want from one of these pens.
The palm rejection options are a little more sophisticated than the horizontal guard you get in apps like Notability. In OneNote for iPad, there are different options for left and right handed people, and accommodations are made for a few different ways that you might hold your hand on the screen while writing on the iPad.
If you make a mistake, the eraser can come to your aid, but it might not work exactly the way you think it might. The eraser will remove entire lines at a time, as opposed to small parts of a line. For writing, this generally means the entire letter. Basically, everything you draw until you lift your stylus, or finger, will be erased in one fell swoop when you use the eraser tool. In essence, it works the same as the undo arrow. Both tools produce the same results.
To add text to your page, you don’t have to revert back to the Home tab. Instead, you can tap the text mode button to momentarily revert to typing. Once you are done typing, you can tap a pen to resume your drawing activities.
All in all it is a very successful implementation. In the future it might be nice to see the addition of a shape or line tool, but this is a great start and it adds some very useful functionality to an already great free app. The draw tools are perfect for annotating over pictures, screenshots, maps and more, but many will just use it for handwriting, and as research shows, there is nothing wrong with that.