How Can Microsoft Technology Help Your Revision?

By JASON BROWN, Saturday April 11th 2015

Being an International Microsoft Showcase School and myself being a Worldwide Microsoft Student Ambassador representing Microsoft in Education at Wymondham High Academy, we are always keen to show off how Microsoft products can be used to help students and staff with their educational life, whether that be planning their day, completing their homework, messaging colleagues in school, taking notes in class and most importantly of all at this time of year, revision.

Wymondham High Academy is a Microsoft International Showcase School in Norfolk, UK.
Wymondham High Academy is a Microsoft International Showcase School in Norfolk, UK.

For those of you unfamiliar with the UK education system, every child in the UK is required to take GCSE examinations at the end of Year 11 when they are 15 or 16 years old, and those who choose to go onto further education (A levels) also take exams at the end of Year 12 and Year 13. The exams are in May and June, and so April is definitely ‘revision month’ for many teenagers and young adults in the UK! At Wymondham High Academy we have students taking their GCSE and A level exams each year and suggesting methods of revision to these students is absolutely vital to ensure that they do well in their exams.

Traditionally revision could be done in a number of ways. A lot of students were encouraged to make ‘flash cards’ with questions and answers on them to help test memory and key points as well as to put posters around their bedrooms with key points and of course make notes from the text books. These methods still work and they are all effective, though I found making notes from textbooks more effective than the other methods. However, with technology come some new methods of revision. We’ve written a few articles about Microsoft OneNote from both the students’ and the teachers’ perspectives on this blog. Have a read of those articles and it will be clear to see how OneNote can be used to help with revision.

Microsoft OneNote stores your notebooks in OneDrive, meaning that you can access them on any device, such as a smartphone (pictured). Notice the notes displayed on the phone are the same as the ones shown on the Surface in the header image?
Microsoft OneNote stores your notebooks in OneDrive, meaning that you can access them on any device, such as a smartphone (pictured).

From a students’ perspective, all of your notes are in one centralised place and are accessible on any device. This means that so long as you have an internet connection you’ll be able to access your notes on your laptops, desktop PCs, smartphones and tablets. Even your games console if you want! Having all of your notes in one place means that you can save time trying to find notes and avoid accidentally ‘losing notes’. This means that revision can ‘travel with you’ because you’re not having to taking lots of revision books or files full of paper notes. It’s true that you need periodic breaks from revision to ensure that what you are learning is sinking in and to rest from working, but whilst in the car or sitting there in bed on the night before your chemistry exam wondering what the pH value of rain is, you can quickly pull out your phone and check on your notes on OneNote. You can also periodically test yourself with questions whilst out and about and then check your knowledge using OneNote on your phone or tablet – rather like ‘digital flashcards’. One reason why I think handwriting notes out from the textbook used to work really well for me was because the pattern and the physical action of my writing went into my head and the knowledge was retained. If you are using OneNote on a tablet or a device with a touchscreen you can easily make drawings and handwritten notes. I’ve already written an article explaining how OneNote and a tablet can replace paper as a medium for recording notes and how the Surface Pro tablet is a perfect device for doing this (though that doesn’t mean it is the only device you can use – there are plenty of tablets that OneNote can run on which I’ll get to in a minute!) and the same applies for revision. When I was revising for my mock GCSE exams in November 2013 I was going through notepads and notepads and writing pages and pages of notes. By the end of my revision periods my hands were aching and the ink in my pens was often depleted. However, with OneNote you can an infinite amount of ‘paper’ and not worry about your tablet’s pen or stylus running out of ink and you can still handwrite notes if you really want to. I have found that using OneNote on my Surface Pro is really helpful for geography revision (drawing diagrams) and using the Surface pen and OneNote has introduced me to the idea of using ‘spider diagrams’ for revision to highlight key points.

I've found that drawing spider diagrams in OneNote on my Surface using the pen has helped me to clearly map out ideas and key terms.
I’ve found that drawing spider diagrams in OneNote on my Surface using the pen has helped me to clearly map out ideas and key terms.

This is especially useful for economics because I can quickly, easily and clearly show how changing one factor (eg inflation) needs to another factor changing (eg price level changing as a result of increased inflation) which in turn changes another factor (reduced consumption, for example, which could then lead to unemployment). Using a pen on a tablet with OneNote makes during diagrams and charts much easier which helps to aid revision. You can of course choose custom colours for ink which is very good for revision because it has been proven that one of the things your memory associates things with colours (sound, smell and imagery are the others) which can help you remember your revision notes. From a teachers’ perspective, OneNote Class Notebook Creator can be a very helpful tool for helping your students with their revision. We have mentioned this fantastic tool several times on this blog, so please take the time to look at this article. The Content Library section in the Class Notebook is an area where teachers can post links to resources to help with revision (for examples news articles) or post information, for example exam techniques or the subject specification. Students however cannot edit this section of the notebook by default. The Collaboration Space is where resources for revision can be shared between the teacher and all of the students who have access to the notebook. Students can post helpful revision resources for the teacher and other students in the class to look at (and vice versa!) Each student has their own section in the OneNote notebook where they can do their revision. Other students cannot access other students’ sections, but the teacher can. This means that you can check up on who is using OneNote to do their revision and have solid proof that they have been doing revision. Of course, you couldn’t use this to see who hasn’t been doing revision because not everybody is going to want to revise using technology, however it’s a good way to see what your students are actually revising and how they are revising.

Using a stylus in OneNote makes marking very easy! You can also use a stylus to 'draw' onto documents in Word too.
Using a stylus in OneNote makes marking very easy! You can also use a stylus to ‘draw’ onto documents in Word too.

Past papers are a great method of revision. They are the ultimate way of testing your knowledge. However, with 20 pages per paper and wanting to complete as many as papers as possible, printing off past paper upon past paper upon past paper can end up costing a lot of money in paper and ink very quickly. It wouldn’t be so bad if you were to keep the papers or if they served some useful purpose once you had finished your exams, but you end up just throwing them in the bin, or if you’re like me you give them to your Dad to use as mousemats! A year on and he’s still using my old GCSE papers as mousemats! Anyhow, you can download PDFs of the exam papers from the exam board websites and you can also download the markschemes. You can answer the question papers in OneNote and you can also mark them in OneNote using a pen on a tablet if you access to one. If students do their papers in their sections in Class Notebooks then teachers can look at their answers and help to mark their papers and add comments and feedback. Moving on from OneNote, I want to talk about how I revised for my GCSE exams and my AS level mock exams. After having killed my hands after filling notebooks full of revision notes for my GCSE mocks, a friend of mine suggested to me that I typed my notes into PowerPoint presentations instead. Typing the notes into slides on PowerPoint presentations was good because I was limited to how much information I could put on one slide and typing my notes was much faster than handwriting them – and of course no paper was consumed! This worked well and of course using OneDrive and SharePoint you can share PowerPoint presentations and collaborate with people in real-time when making adjustments or revising in groups.

Sway makes it easy to create professional presentations for the web and mobile devices. Simply add 'blocks' to the presentation and adding content such as pictures is as easy as searching on Bing!
Sway makes it easy to create professional presentations for the web and mobile devices. Simply add ‘blocks’ to the presentation and adding content such as pictures is as easy as searching on Bing!

However, last year Microsoft Sway came along and it impressed me. We’ve written an article about Sway before, so check that out, but for those of you who don’t know what Sway is it’s like an online version of PowerPoint but much sleeker and more refined. You can customise your Sways using a number of pre-set designs, much like you can in PowerPoint, but the difference is that Sway’s themes are much more pleasing to the eye, and you can also integrate multimedia content such as Tweets and YouTube videos to enhance your revision notes. The beauty of Sway is that it encourages you to make your presentations look pretty, which is great because as mentioned earlier you remember thing based on colours and pictures. Adding photos of real places really helps bring geography ‘revision Sways’ to life and gets you really thinking about what you reading! Please do take a look at some of the Sways I have created for my revision by clicking on the links below:

AS level Computing: Sway 1 | Sway 2 | Sway 3

AS level Geography: Urban (1) | Urban (2) | Rivers (1) | Rivers (2)

Revision notes made in Sway can easily be shared via something like Yammer by posting the links to your Sways.
Revision notes made in Sway can easily be shared via something like Yammer by posting the links to your Sways.

The beauty of Sway is that when I have finished creating one, I can just get a link for the Sway presentation and then post it in a Yammer group or in the Collaboration Space of a OneNote Class Notebook so that the other people in my class can benefit from my notes. To get started with Sway all you need to do is visit sway.com and sign up, and that’s it! Get Swaying! Of course, Sway is a great alternative to PowerPoint and can also be used to deliver engaging and interactive presentations. I use it a lot to present ideas and meeting presentations to my Student Digital Leader Team. Here’s what one teacher had to say about how he thought my Sway presentations looked in comparison to his lesson PowerPoints.

“Your Sways look great, better than many of my lesson PowerPoints.”

– Andrew Howard, Computing Teacher

OneNote and Office 365 is accesible on just about any device. It is pictured here running on an iPad.
OneNote and Office 365 is accesible on just about any device. It is pictured here running on an iPad.

The best thing about using Microsoft technology to help you revise is that it is all free. OneNote is now free to download and comes pre-installed on every computer with Windows 8 anyway and Sway is a free tool that you can use. Staff and students at Wymondham High Academy are also entitled to download 5 copies of the latest Microsoft Office 365 software at school so that they can have the same version of Office at home as they do at school which makes the transition between the two seamless. Whilst I am definitely a fan of running Windows and Microsoft software on Microsoft hardware, not everybody is, and that’s fine because Office 365 and OneNote can be downloaded and installed on any Windows, iOS or Android device meaning it runs on a huge variety of hardware ranging from a £100 Windows 8.1 tablet to a £1200 Surface Pro 3 to a £400 iPad or to a £200 Google Nexus. This makes working very flexible and you can the use the platform that best suits you.

To conclude, revision isn’t all about handwriting notes. You can now make something that is eye-catching, informative, helpful, very accessible and easy to share with peers thanks to Microsoft technology.

I wish everybody who is taking exams this year the very bust of luck! Hopefully this has been a helpful article!

Be sure to follow the Wymondham High O Team on Twitter for regular Wymondham High IT updates: @WyHighOTeam

The O Team also has a YouTube Channel with several Office 365 tutorial videos for students at Wymondham High Academy.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter to hear my views on Microsoft products from a Worldwide Microsoft Student Ambassadors’ perspective: @JasonBrown2K13

Also be sure to follow Kevin Sait’s Twitter for Microsoft Educational updates and updates on IT in the classroom at Wymondham High: @kevin_sait

Video

What students think of Office 365

Office 365 has helped students share, communicate and collaborate more effectively. A year 10 student summed it up very well about what can be done. This is Jason Brown’s video add which we used to sell Office 365 to the remainder of the school.

Remember this is a student perspective on Office 365, and really shows the importance of using students in rollouts like this in school.

Microsoft IT Academy and DreamSpark – Could this spark a dream?

Jason Brown
Jason Brown

How has becoming a Microsoft IT Academy and introducing Microsoft services such as DreamSpark, Office 365 and Yammer improved ICT opportunities for a typical student? I’m going to explain. My name is Jason Brown and I am a student at Wymondham High Academy in Norfolk, England. Currently, I am a Year 11 GCSE student with a passion for IT (both hardware and software) as well as photography, web design and multimedia. Come September 2014, I am hoping to go into Wymondham High’s Sixth Form and study Computing at A Level. Whilst the introduction of this A Level course (which is aimed towards those with a strong interest in computers and programming) is a great way to learn computer programming, why wait until September when I can start learning now?

The Microsoft Qualification roadmap. All courses are available for students to complete for free.
The Microsoft Qualification roadmap. All courses are available for students to complete for free.

One of the biggest benefits which becoming a Microsoft IT Academy brings is the opportunity for all students to get involved with professional Microsoft Qualifications. There are several different qualifications which students can choose from, for example Windows OS and Office Fundamentals, Server and Networking Fundamentals and Software Development Fundamentals. These qualifications are highly sought-after and usually cost hundreds or possibly thousands of pounds to do (my father did an MCSE in Windows Server 2003 R2 Fundamentals around 10 years ago and paid a lot of money). The fact that students can now do these qualifications for free is simply amazing and opens doors to a future career in IT. Some of the best-paying jobs in IT will look for candidates with some of these qualifications. There are different levels which students can undertake, ranging from MTA (Microsoft Technology Associate) which is the most basic qualification (but still highly looked-upon), to MCSA and MCSE which are the higher qualification levels which you can progress towards once you have completed your MTA.

I’ve been programming in Visual Basic.NET since the summer of 2010 and have used every version of Visual Studio since 2008. I am now undertaking an MTA in C# Software Development Fundamentals in order to ‘progress’ from Visual Basic.NET to C#. In order to aid me with my MTA, the school have provided me with a free copy of Visual Studio Premium 2013 which I am currently using to learn C# on (I am learning C# in two key ways, explained later).

My first independent C# program open in Visual Studio 2013. This program simply backs up some files (notably websites I've created).
My first independent C# program open in Visual Studio 2013. This program simply backs up some files (notably websites I’ve created).

I have obtained my free copy of Visual Studio 2013 through DreamSpark, which is a Microsoft service which the school provide and allows students to access all kinds of Microsoft software for free. Software you can download ranges from Windows 8.1 Pro and Visual Studio 2013 to Autoroute 2010 and Windows Server 2012 R2 and even older software such as Windows 7 Professional and Windows Vista Business are all available to download for free. If I were to buy Visual Studio Premium (with MSDN) 2013 from the Microsoft Store today, I’d be paying £6,200 or thereabouts. From DreamSpark, I got it for free. This is fantastic because it allows students to take advantage of the latest software without having to pay for it, eliminating financial reasons as an excuse not to get learning. By not having to pay for the products, students can always be up to date and use the latest versions of their desired software for free. The brilliant thing is that there are multiple versions of most software online for students to download. So whilst I am using Visual Studio Premium 2013 on my desktop, I have also downloaded Ultimate 2013 to download on my laptop (when I get round to buying one). Visual Studio Ultimate (with MSDN) 2013 costs £13,500 to buy from the Microsoft Store, so by using DreamSpark to legally acquire free Microsoft software, I have already saved just under £20,000 on two copies of Visual Studio. There is easily over £100,000 worth of software for students to download and use for free, which is just astonishing. Very few companies currently offer services like this for students (in fact, the only other one I can think of is AutoDesk).

I am still only in the process of learning C#, hoping to sit the Software Development Fundamentals MTA exam in August or September 2014. In order to start learning, I purchased a copy of John Sharp’s ‘Visual C# 2013 Step By Step’ (published by Microsoft) which is a great way to learn because it encourages you to complete the lesson files whilst reading. This is great for kinesthetic learners. I am also being taught C# and Visual Studio by somebody I know outside of school over Skype and TeamViewer, which sparked Kevin Sait and I to come up with a project we have called ‘School Without Walls’, allowing us to teach some of this content over the internet using Microsoft e-Learning software to children in local schools who do not have the same IT opportunities as those at Wymondham High do. We believe that where you are being educated is irrelevant: you should be entitled to the same opportunities and this is what our School Without Walls programme is all about.

Some of the software available to students to download for free from DreamSpark.
Some of the software available to students to download for free from DreamSpark.

The introduction of Office 365 and Yammer is really beginning to take off at school. There have been several teacher training sessions recently and now the teachers are beginning to join Yammer. Yammer is great because it allows students to quickly, securely and easily contact their teachers. It is ‘the enterprise social network’. Kevin Sait and I use it frequently to talk and discuss things, for example today he sent me a message asking me if I would be interesting in writing this article through Yammer. Mobile apps available for Windows Phone, Android and iOS means that it doesn’t matter where you are, you are just a few taps away from getting help from your teachers should you require it.

Our school Yammer network.
Our school Yammer network.

Office 365 is another fantastic addition. Students who may not have the money to go out and buy a copy of Office 2013 to use at home can now download and use Office 365 for free from the school. Again, like DreamSpark, this is fantastic because it eliminates any financial worries and allows students to keep on using the latest software and learning. Office 365 is a cloud-based service, and with their SkyDrive accounts (which the school are also providing), students can save documents on SkyDrive and work on them at home and school, having the piece of mind that it is being kept safe and protected. Documents saved on SkyDrive can also be viewed and edited on mobile devices too, thanks to SkyDrive apps provided by Microsoft for most major mobile platforms. With the advent of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, it is becoming increasingly important that documents can be created and edited on mobile devices.

With Office 365 also comes some great blogging features, which students can use to blog about work they are doing in order to quickly share information. I am using Office 365 to create a blog documenting my learning of C# – you can read it here. The idea is that once I have put more content on my blog, we will be able to use it to show other students (not necessarily in Wymondham High) how a real student at Wymondham High achieved his MTA qualification – hopefully documenting the journey from writing ‘Console.WriteLine(“Hello World!”);‘ in Visual Studio to gaining the qualification. I have started by creating some videos explaining some basic c# code and also uploading some Visual Studio solutions so that users can download them, open them up in Visual Studio and experiment. The best way to learn is by doing – the best way to prove to somebody else that you know what you’re doing is by teaching.

We use the SharePoint Web App to organise our online teaching resources within the school. This also comes as part of Office 365 and every student can access this. From here, students can visit Yammer, check their emails (using Outlook Web App), create bogs, visit the DreamSpark store and even download Office 365 for free (which was mentioned earlier). Students have been involved in the design of the WH-AT’s SharePoint Web App homepage, which you can read about here. The design of the SharePoint homepage has become a cross-curricular activity involving art students as well as our ‘Office 365 Team’ (who like to be known as the ‘O Team’). The design currently fits in with our black and lime green colour scheme which the school has.

The design of our SharePoint homepage has been a cross-curricular activity, utilising the skills of IT and art students.
The design of our SharePoint homepage has been a cross-curricular activity, utilising the skills of IT and art students.
Office 365 brings along some nice features, such as blogging facilities as well as a SkyDrive account for every student.
Office 365 brings along some nice features, such as blogging facilities as well as a SkyDrive account for every student.

On top of this, the school has purchased several Surface tablets which we aim to start using in lessons, and we are currently planning to roll out Windows 8.1 Enterprise over the summer (replacing Windows 7 Enterprise), ready for September when the new school year begins. We have already replaced Office 2010 with 2013 (for better SkyDrive integration), as well as replace Windows Server 2008 R2 on our terminal server with Windows Server 2012 R2. The school is always aiming to update its software, using the very latest to ensure maximum efficiency and reliability. Technology moves along at such a fast pace nowadays that the school needs to keep up with the software which students may already be using at home.

To summarise, the benefits of becoming a Microsoft IT Academy and introducing these new services are available for everybody in the academy to use and enjoy, maiximising learning potential, whilst minimising cost.