Tag: Microsoft

Blog redesign: October 2012 edition

(Email and RSS subscribers will need to click through to see the change)

I’ve felt for a while that I should make this blog better suited to mobile interfaces and, in particular, touchscreen devices. This is known as responsive web design and I’ve been particularly impressed with Microsoft’s ‘Metro’ design language leading to a tiled approach on Windows smartphones. To my eyes it seems streets ahead of Apple’s skeuomorphism.

Yesterday, when I was browsing architecture blogs and came across the Contemporist site, it reminded me of that clean, touchscreen-friendly approach:

Contemporist blog

I did something I always do when I see blog themes I like: right-clicked to ‘View Source’ as you can tell which blog theme is being used. Judging by the CSS it’s a custom job, meaning I couldn’t simply download the same theme.

That was a shame, but it spurred me on to look for Metro-inspired blog themes. I was looking for something with a tiled, fairly squarish look but that didn’t scream Microsoft. Beautiful though it is, the Subway WordPress theme (from €39) was out of the question. I’d have looked like a Microsoft fanboi:

Subway Metro theme for WordPress

I also found the MetroStyle theme ($45), which I rejected for having too many boxes at the top:

MetroStyle WordPress theme

I downloaded and installed the WP Metro theme (£FREE), but I had trouble making it look decent with my content:

WP Metro theme for WordPress

In the end, after considering signing up to a course to get the Anaximander theme, I decided to pay $35 for a WordPress theme entitled Metro:

Metro theme for WordPress

Like many premium themes it comes with an extremely easy-to-use configuration dashboard in addition to the usual WordPress options. Nevertheless, old habits die hard and I delved into the CSS to tinker about a bit!

I hope you like what you see, and if you want to see the ‘responsiveness’ in action, either resize your browser window or visit this site on a mobile device. It’s only my first attempt – I’ll be tinkering around making improvements here and there over the next few weeks.

Any feedback is gratefully received!

Notes:

Why a ‘mixed economy’ of digital devices is best for your educational institution.

lisa's scissors

Earlier today, on Twitter, I mentioned that the 64GB version of the BlackBerry Playbook is now at the scandalously low price of £129. They’re practically giving it away.

I mentioned that for some educational institutions that would be a really good fit, especially given that you can side-load Android apps. Eventually, I should imagine, you’ll be able to dispose of the BlackBerry OS altogether and juse go with Android for the entire system.

Bill Lord, a Primary school headteacher, replied that he was looking at a ‘mixed economy’ of devices for his educational institution, adding that he had three main reasons for this approach:

  1. Pupil needs
  2. Staff needs (confidence/competence)
  3. Vagaries of the market

I’m with Bill. To my mind, being an ‘iPad-only’ school makes no sense. It’s replicating the Microsoft vendor lock-in all over again. Since when was school about teaching young people how to use particular types of devices?

Instead, it’s better to look at the affordances of each device. That doesn’t mean how much it costs, but rather what it allows you to do. The BlackBerry Playbook at £129, for example, has front and rear-facing cameras and a high-definition screen. Sounds like an opportunity.

It’s OK to build learning activities around specific devices some of the time, but I wouldn’t want to be doing it all of the time. Why not focus on building and using things that are device-agnostic? Surely that’s a more sustainable option? Use the Web, for goodness’ sake!

Finally, if you’re reading this in the UK you should really stop by HotUKDeals every now and again. I’m on there at least three times a day – and not just to find cheaper stuff than usual. I also find it really enlightening in terms of what people are interested in but, more importantly, the comments people leave and the context they give. There’s some serious expertise there.

Image CC BY-NC reebob

Google Apps (Education Edition) vs. Microsoft [email protected]

Today I’m presenting on the benefits of Google Apps as a collaborative platform for people who work together often, but aren’t physically co-located. It’s not easy to separate fact from myth when comparing Microsoft’s hosted services (e.g. Live[email protected], Office Live) with Google Apps.

Microsoft have, very helpfully, concocted a Fact Based Comparison of Hosted Services (16 May 2010). Unfortunately, it’s rather selective with those facts. Most of them revolve around ‘can you do the same stuff with Google Apps as you can with Microsoft Outlook?’ That’s a flawed question for two reasons:

  1. You don’t necessarily want to do the same things with Google Apps.
  2. You can use Outlook to connect to Google Apps anyway.

To me, after reading several articles (available at my Delicious account) the choice seems to be between:

  • Cloud storage (Microsoft [email protected]/Office Live)
  • Cloud collaboration (Google Apps)

Whilst Microsoft’s offerings allow near real-time collaboration with Excel and OneNote, pages are locked for editing if someone else is using a Word document or PowerPoint presentation. By way of comparison, you can collaborate and edit all of Google Docs’ offerings in real-time.

Lifehacker, a website I’ve used for the last few years, published How Does Office Web Apps Compare to Google Docs? on 16 June 2010. I quote Kevin Purdy, the author of the article:

In terms of real-time collaboration, Google wins hands-down, because Office offers none.

And again:

Google’s Docs offerings have been on the market a good four years now, so they’ve had more time to learn what users want and need in an online suite. It shows in the design and function of Docs for day-to-day users.

I toyed with the idea of producing a point-by-point checklist here to compare Microsoft and Google’s offerings, but I don’t really think there’s any need. It’s a question of attitude and focus. For example, Microsoft drags its heels insisting on Silverlight installation whilst Google looks to the future with HTML5, an emerging web standard.

So, if you always use the same device, deal in only Microsoft-produced documents and are convinced Outlook is God’s gift to email users, then you’ll love [email protected] and Office Live.

But if, on the other hand, you like to be able to get various kinds of documents in and out of your systems easily, if you need to collaborate (in real-time) with colleagues not physically co-located, and if you want to be able to access everything on whatever device and browser you prefer using, then you’ll love Google Apps.

You can probably tell by the tone of this article which one I prefer. And I make no apology for that. Rome was not built on ‘functional specifications’ but on passion, enthusiasm and dedication. :-p

What does it take to build a community?

I spent today down in London with some great educators and those involved in the Open Source community. We were part of an advisory group for a Becta-funded project allied to the website opensourceschools.org.uk. Part of the discussion naturally focused on starting a community of educators interested in using Open Source Software (OSS) in their schools. The question we were tasked with was: how do we get started?

AlphaPlus, the consultancy firm employed by Becta to run the project haven’t had a great deal of experience in Open Source, although they’ve done a decent job so far. What was great was that there were some ‘big hitters’ there to get things moving along. At the meeting, apart from myself, were:

In the morning session we discussed who we were aiming the website at. It was agreed that there already exist some excellent ‘technical’ website for network administrators and the like, but that more was needed for ‘beginners’ and those new to OSS. At the moment, opensourceschools.org.uk is a framework to build the community upon. We were concerned with how to go from eager early adopters using the site to gaining mainstream traction.

The key question of a previous blog post of mine (Why as an educator you should care about Open Source Software) was used as a stimulus to discussion. The point was raised that actually we need to move one step back: why should teachers even care about software? From there we discussed recent Becta license agreements after which Josie mentioned that at present students are taught how to use specific software (usually Microsoft) instead of more generic skills.

Michelle shared with the group the policy at her school of giving Year 7 students a USB flash drive containing all the software they will need during their time at the school. It is all Open Source and the school computers all run Linux. As a result, teachers can be confident that students have access to the software they need at home as well as school. A representative from Becta built on this, talking about the complex license agreements for some companies mean dealing with OSS is a lot easier for schools.

This got me thinking: wouldn’t it be great if the (eventual) community at opensourceschools.org.uk could discuss and agree on customised versions of the OSS available at portableapps.com? For example, a version of Firefox with useful plugins for students pre-installed, or OpenOffice with everything set up in a way students and teachers alike would find intuitive.

Josie then took over to do some scenario planning for the community we are planning to attract and build on the site. She asked us to split into groups and come up with two axes on a graph in order to think about the type of community we want to foster. our group wanted to steer a course between a place that was almost unbearingly positive and back-slapping and a forum that involved lots of flamewars. On the other axis we put ‘enablers’ and ‘reticent’. Obviously, there’s no point in ‘preaching to the choir’ and just setting out to attract those who already know and use OSS. Whilst those people are needed, we need to focus on those who are at present disinterested and do some evangelism. Other groups talked about having specific roles in the community and whether the site should operate largely as a repository or a community.

After lunch, we had more of a freeform discussion about the website and how we could go about building the community. Many agreed that whilst Drupal is a good example of Open Source Software, it perhaps isn’t best for the purpose in mind. One of the AlphaPlus team mentioned that they’d planned to have ‘roadshows’ in order to do some form of evangelism. I suggested that they may want to run some ‘unconference’ sessions in a spirit similar to that of TeachMeet. The short presentations could be filmed and form a set of rich-media case studies to go on the site. More importantly, however, people would be able to meet face-to-face and share advice and ideas.

The best bit of the day, for me, was meeting in person people I had only previously met online. It’s great to spend time with like-minded, positive people who care deeply about education. 😀

Check out opensourceschools.org.uk. What would YOU suggest? Are you interested in using OSS in education?

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What is ‘digital literacy’? It’s certainly not this…

Microsoft have proudly announced their Digital Literacy Curriculum. They’ve no doubt about what they mean by the term ‘digital literacy’ – the strapline to the bold title on their site being, ‘Helping you develop a fundamental understanding of computers.’

Oh. So, they’ll be teaching you about Mac OSX and Linux, then?

Right, so it’s Microsoft-only operating systems, yes? Well actually, in theory, no. They do say:

What if I don’t use Microsoft products, or have older versions installed?

The only software required to run either version of Digital Literacy is a minimum of Internet Explorer 6…

Oh, right then. So in practice, it’s Windows only. And what else do I see?

Aha! So after 3 introductory lessons, they get to what they would term the ‘good stuff’ – Microsoft propaganda. Hmmm… I wonder what programs they’ll be using for their introduction to word processors, spreadsheets, email program and IM clients? 😉

It’s just an adult version of what’s going on in most UK schools, really. And I think it’s shameful. I’m still not entirely sure how I’d define ‘digital literacy’ (it’s the subject of my Ed.D. thesis after all…) but it’s definitely not a souped-up idiot’s guide to using Microsoft products.

And to think, this has the backing (and presumably the funding) of the following:

What would your ‘digital literacy curriculum’ look like? Mine, for one, would look at digital literacies, and involve using a variety of operating systems and programs. That would get at something underneath the processes involved for specific operating system and programs and get a bit more to the fundamentals. 🙂

Reflections on BETT 2008

Further to my previous posts this week, I’ve been at BETT 2008 this week. I don’t like it on other edublogs when people endlessly bang on about conferences/events I haven’t been able to attend, so this will be my last post on it – I promise! 🙂

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