Blended Learning with Microsoft Office Mix for PowerPoint
Office Mix is a simple free screen recording add-in from Microsoft that integrates directly into PowerPoint. I discovered the tool at a teachers’ CAAA conference in Newfoundland over the summer of 2016. I was excited to try it when I returned to Dawson in the fall. Combined with a flipped classroom pedagogy that includes problem-based learning, integrating this tool into my workflow allowed me to produce learning material that dramatically improved the success rates of my students.
I created video ‘mixes’ to present the theory in my flipped classes and spent face-to-face class time on application of the theory. For the past five years I held synchronous online (live) classes using the Adobe Connect virtual meeting platform and recorded my lectures. This platform requires an annual licence and teachers wishing to use the platform had to get authorization from their Dean. At Dawson, teachers already have access to a Microsoft Office licence. Since the Office Mix add-on is free, it was not difficult or expensive to have it installed on my computer.
An overview of Office Mix
When you install Office Mix, it simply adds another ribbon to the PowerPoint interface. The ribbon is intuitive and easy to use. There is no new software to learn, and you can use existing PowerPoint presentations to get started with producing your videos. The tool facilitates creating short videos with audio narration. Each slide becomes a video, so editing and rearranging the video is simple and quick. There are some pretty neat features, such as pausing the video to ask the students questions. Students answer for participation marks and it helps keep the students interested and engaged when watching the video. Office Mix also has the ability to record the screen. Therefore, I can record anything that I would do in the classroom. For example, when I am explaining complicated concepts in my Accounting class, I simply split the screen to show my calculations in Excel with a spreadsheet. I also use Microsoft Word to present complex tax problems in my taxation class, as I find it works better than PowerPoint for this type of learning activity.
The Office Mix ribbon in PowerPoint
All of my courses use a hybrid structure. This means that I meet the students face-to-face once a week and the second class is at a distance. I use the videos differently depending on the type of course. For problem-based courses such as my Accounting course, I teach theory within the video mixes, and assign simple online exercises provided by the publisher on their companion websites for the students to do while they are watching the videos. Typically, they watch one topic for a few minutes and then they are directed to try an online accounting exercise. This asynchronous format gives students the freedom to control their own schedule and their pace of learning. The online exercise also gives them instant feedback on whether they understand the topic. They don’t have to sit for 2 hours to take a class. They can start and stop as they wish, but they must complete the class and assigned exercises the evening before the face-to-face class. For the face-to-face class, I book the SMART classroom at Dawson which has 7 SMART screens. The students work collaboratively in groups to solve the higher-level online problems. My role is to circulate and explain things when a group flounders or to teach the concepts at an even higher level.
In my Introduction to Business course, I use video classes differently. It is a discussion rather than a problem-based course. In the videos, I talk for a few minutes and then pause the video to ask simple questions on the topic that was just explained in the previous slides. This helps keep students engaged and the responses are used as participation marks. However, the biggest impact of this new pedagogy on my Introduction course is that I am able to finish the material significantly faster and try something that I have been thinking about for years but for which I never had sufficient class time. I developed 4 questions for class discussion about the Loblaws and JOE Fresh lines of clothing, which made headlines following a tragedy in Bangladesh at one of their factories. The last question was to contrast MMA’s responsibility to Quebec in the Lac Megantic disaster. Students were able to apply knowledge from several chapters including globalization, ethics, business law and government responsibility and many students understood how much their opinion changed when the tragedy was so close to home. The application of business theory is a significant learning opportunity for my students.
My process of creating videos is pretty straight-forward. I create a PowerPoint presentation for the week. The Office Mix ribbon in PowerPoint contains a series of self-explanatory buttons like Slide / Screen Recording and Quizzes/Videos/Apps. I use a headset with a microphone, press ‘Record’ and speak as if I were at a podium. I only use audio narration when presenting and don’t show video of myself, even though you can easily add video of yourself to the Office mixes using a webcam. The reason is simple. If I have to edit the video and am not wearing the same clothes that I was wearing the day I first recorded (or happen to have changed my hair), this difference can be distracting to the viewer.
My approach to evaluation has changed in parallel with my new approach using Office Mix. Students can watch the videos and try the online homework as many times as they need to understand a concept. I do not limit their number of attempts. I base my evaluations on completeness, not the highest or lowest mark. The flexibility of the video mixes is appreciated by students, as they can pace themselves by stopping the videos at any time to take a break, then come back to them to continue their work.
Success Rates and Analytics
When I went from using a traditional classroom pedagogy to video classes and online homework, I noticed a dramatic change in student learning and success. The weaker students were more confident, and the advanced students whizzed through. The student feedback is generally positive.
In my Tax class, using traditional classroom pedagogy, the success rate was as low as 70%. Since I implemented the use of my videos along with online problem-based learning and face-to-face classes in rooms with interactive whiteboards, it has increased to a 90% pass rate. The marks on tests are coming back higher than ever. Not only this, but it is clear that students’ knowledge level is also higher. They can learn in little chunks of time, rather than sitting in class and taking notes for close to 2 hours. I use valuable class time for active learning activities and guide students through any difficulties they may have with the material.
By uploading my video mixes to the Office 365 cloud, I have the added advantage of being able to access data about the students, who are logged in to Office 365 to see the videos. I can see who has viewed the videos, the number of times and how much time they spent viewing the videos, as well as how many questions they answered correctly. These learning analytics help me to keep tabs on the class and see when I need to intervene to ensure that a student stays on track. I had one student who stopped watching the video mixes in week 4. I told her the video classes were not optional and would affect her success in the course. She finally started viewing the videos once she understood what I was trying to do. and ended up passing the course.
A video from Microsoft showing some of the Analytics capabilities
Advice for Teachers
If you are interested in trying Office Mix, I recommend that you use it for a class in which you have two or more sections in order to get the maximum benefit from the time invested producing your video mixes. For example, I explain Business Administration departmental policies in the first class each semester for each course. I decided to make this into a video mix to avoid repeating myself 4 times!
I also recommend teachers take baby steps and adjust their expectations. In other words, try creating a couple of video classes the first semester rather than being overly ambitious and overwhelmed. And then the next time you give the course, add another 2 or 3 classes. This will help you get through the learning curve. In terms of expectations, I have found it takes 2 to 3 semesters to develop excellent flipped classes. In other words, the first time around, my videos have some hesitation when I speak. The second time I significantly expand and improve the videos and homework and the third time around I perfect them.
Although you don’t need to learn new software, it does take a little bit of time to get used to recording your speech, producing and uploading your videos to the Office 365 cloud. You will eventually develop your own process, and things will be more streamlined over time.