Friday, November 14, 2008

Paradigm Shifts: Asynchronous learning

Have you heard of Maybe you've missed an episode of your favorite tv show or like me you gave up television for time management but exclusively watch these tv shows on the web? Maybe you have a cell phone plan with data and an iPhone or Blackberry to stay connected at all times?

There is a new paradigm shift on the horizon ... as pervasive and as ubiquitous as cellular technology ... and it's changing students' delivery expectations. I've noticed that students are not patient in waiting for the slow connection at school: they click and distract the browser's download whereas when I was their age with dial up internet, waiting was all you could do! Does having access to communication and information anytime and anyplace mean instructors have to think about providing similar access to learning?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Opening Microsoft Office 2007 documents in older versions of MS Office

By now you've probably heard, "I finished my paper at home but it won't open at school!" or "I can't print it!". Because Microsoft did not create a backwards compatible document file system you cannot open files created with Office 2007 with any of the older versions of Office without performing an extra step.

First read this list of what happens when you convert the file from Microsoft Office's update site. If you still have some editing affected by one of these features you may want to continue using Office 2007. If you just want to view and print, read below.

The best way is to remember to change the document type in Office 2007 so it ends in .doc instead of .docx. You can change the document type manually in the Save or Save As dialog, or via your Preferences: Tools -> Options -> Save tab -> Default format -> change to "Word Document (*.doc)" instead of "Word 2007 Document (*.docx)"

The next easiest way allows you to view and print .docx files:
"In case you just want to view a docx file, there is a simpler way: rename the extension of file from .docx to .zip then extract the contents. Docx is basically a set of xml files. When you unzip the file, you get a folder named Word and inside that you can see a file named document.xml. To view the contents of the document, open document.xml."

The following was inspired by an article titled 5 Ways to Open a Docx file from that succinctly summarized what took me a few minutes of web searching to find how to open a student's homework file at the last minute of course :) I took the liberty of adding my own thoughts and re-arranging the order of the original list in my preferred order.

  1. Convert files for free online: Initially I used Zamzar to convert a student's file: you browse to your file, select the format you want to convert to, and go for it! Anther options is docx-converter, of course a web search will find many more...
    Pros: no additional software on your computers
    Cons: not a good idea for sensitive or high security documents
  2. Software specifically for converting files: this software does one job and does it right: drag your .docx file to the drop area and it's automatically converted and saved to the same location as the original file
    Pros: a small application that does one thing and does it right
    Cons: more software on our computers? even though it's really small
  3. Free software that opens any document: To open .docx files in Open Office you'll need to install the Open XML Translator.
    Pros: You should have OpenOffice available for users anyway because it can open almost any document type and you can encourage students to use it at home since it's free.
    Cons: OO uses a lot of memory so if you're a heavy application user be ware.
  4. Download more software from Microsoft: Microsoft provides what's called a compatibility pack that updates your current installation of Office to open .docx documents. The original one I downloaded was completely standalone and didn't require installing all other updates before installing it, but I can't find that online. The Mac version of the compatibility pack is called the Open XML File Format Converter.
    Pros: Installing allows users to independently complete their work instead of making your workstation special; integrates seamlessly with Office
    If you have an older computer you should check your hard drive's memory to ensure you have space for all the updates you may not have installed in the past

    In addition, why should we continue to financially support an inefficient system? Instead of using good software design principles and making the new file format backwards compatible and thus easier for end-users, they are forcing consumers to jump through all kinds of hoops and load more memory hogging updates on our computers. Now off my high horse, it is the most easily integrated option: once the compatibility pack is installed you can open any .docx file any time without any converting.

(Sources:, LifeRocks 2.0)

Monday, November 3, 2008

Students blogging about their perspective of their education

Yes there are millions of us educators blogging about our experiences educating today's youth. But how often do we hear our "customers", our students discuss their perspective of the decisions we educators and administrators make about what they learn?

In today's news (online news of trees!) I was introduced to a young woman named Katy Murphy who writes about educational issues in the Oakland Tribune. Her insightful article caught my attention from its catchy headline ("Oakland charter schools get high marks and skepticism"), and even more impressive was the thorough coverage of a divisive issue. Then I saw that in addition to reporting with this long time newspaper she also has a blog, The Education Report, where she discusses educational issues. I read that she is a high school senior and thought, how impressed are her college choices going to be that she already has so much professional experience?

Then I thought, how many teachers take advantage of the simple medium of blogging for academic exercise or creative writing to encourage future writers?