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Office Mix

19 February 2016

I began an 18-month contract with Te Rito Maioha Early Childhood New Zealand in August of 2014. Part of my role was to create a report outlining recommendations for the organisation to improve the delivery of its programmes from an eLearning perspective. The document as a whole was supported and endorsed by ECNZ's Senior Management Group and I was then tasked with then implementing my recommendations, which included the adoption of a presentation tool for asynchronous delivery.

That tool ended out to be Office Mix and here's some detail on how I introduced Mix into the organisation.

UPDATE - Office Mix (as described in this article) no longer exists as of May 1, 2018. A lot of the functionality that existed has now been incorporated into the main Microsoft PowerPoint application. I have gone through and removed any obsolete links in the article below but not made any other changes.)

Setting the scene

When I first arrived at ECNZ, its Bachelor of Teaching (Early Childhood Education) was referred to as a blended programme, but in fact had a strong focus on classroom-based teaching, supplemented by access to material online. However Pou Manawa Akoranga (the name given to the organisation's Moodle installation) was not a compulsory part of all aspects of delivery of the degree. Effectively a student could, if they opted to (at their peril I hasten to add) avoid the use of the Learning Management System during some parts of their study.

ECNZ comprises 11 "Teaching Bases" around New Zealand. Students in the degree programme have, until recently, come to a teaching base one day per week for class. During the rest of the week they are typically working in early childhood centres (it is a requirement that they are employed in the sector during their study). My obvious recommendation was to make the Bachelor of Teaching a more blended programme by increasing the use of the Learning Management System and other technologies. These recommendations sat nicely with a decision made in early 2015, when the organisation decided to move the delivery of their degree to a more significantly blended delivery model. Or as we tended to say (to explain the change)…we were going to "increase the blend".

To do this, the decision was made to introduce what is known as the Flexi-Learn model for the delivery of the degree, where (from the mid-year intake in July 2015) the organisation would deliver a degree programme without the requirement of weekly face-to-face classes, and instead have a significant portion of its delivery online, supported by two block courses per semester (one of these being a noho Marae stay each year).

The flexi in this sense was that the delivery model allowed flexibility in where you opted to study from. Previously, with a requirement to be in class one day a week, the students had been restricted to being geographically close to a teaching base. The obvious impact was that 'classroom teaching' would end, and that there was the immediate need to introduce a presentation tool into the organisation to allow for enhanced presentations to be delivered online to students to support online teaching. Note also (at this time) the organisation didn't have a tool for synchronous online delivery (more on that in a future article on my introduction of Adobe Connect into ECNZ) so there was limited opportunity to present to a 'live' group of students.

My first instinct was to look at Adobe Presenter…a piece of software that I introduced and been responsible for supporting at Massey University. However Office Mix also caught my eye and as I explored the software more, I started to become very impressed. Now…as an Apple user of over 30 years, being drawn to anything produced by Microsoft isn't always an easy thing to admit ;-)...but the reality is that some of the things Microsoft are doing at the moment are very impressive…Office Mix included…as well as their iOS apps. My main concern with it though, was that it was (and currently still is) in "Preview" development.

ECNZ is a completely Windows 7-based organisation and at the time of first seeing Office Mix, everyone was running the not-suitable-for-Mix Microsoft Office 2010. If the organisation was going to move to use Office Mix, then staff would also need to be moved to Microsoft Office 2013. In the end the process for migrating was as follows…

  • Office 2013/Mix was installed on my laptop for testing, and for the development of training material, including support material to be placed online in a "Staff Support Hub" (a course all staff had access to on our LMS)
  • Prior to June 2015, the staff that would be teaching the first cohort of the flexi-learn courses were also updated to Office 2013 and received Mix training from me (more on that later)
  • All staff attending our National Hui (gathering) in October 2015 were updated at this time, with a one-off session run by me at the Hui with about 30 staff in attendance. Those that had already been using Office Mix for some time got to attend an "advanced" Office Mix session (ably delivered by the Director Education, Jane Ewens) at the same time

Te Riot Maioha Staff - October 2015
Staff of Te Rito Maioha Early Childhood New Zealand receiving Office Mix training - October 2015

Despite the "Preview" tag associated with Office Mix, I found the software very stable and with a substantial number of features that made it exceptionally impressive to use. Its similarities with Adobe Presenter can't be ignored, but it's differences with Presenter also shouldn't be overlooked. And let's face it, one of the most significant differences is the cost…Office Mix is free. Features such as the "Inking" tool in Office Mix did not exist the last time I used Presenter, and Mix deals well with many of the aspects needed to ensure presentations can run on all platforms, albeit losing some interactivity. I'm not suggesting Presenter isn't HTML5 friendly (it is), just that ensuring presentations run on all devices was an important factor to consider for any product.

I also firmly believe that as Office Mix evolves it may ultimately adopt some of the functionality of that I have seen in Presenter. For example, writing your script for each slide into the notes field of PowerPoint is a key feature of both products. For many years Adobe Presenter has allowed you to publish a presentation that included these notes (your script), making a presentation that you could not only read along with, but you could come back to and search. It was/is a superb feature and enhances the presentation when published.

Office Mix lacks this feature completely. It does allow for the use of closed captions, but the process needed to create and use these is complex. But if I were a betting man, I would not be surprised to see future functionality added to Office Mix that allowed for the inclusion of slides notes as closed captions (or similar) when you publish presentations to the Office Mix website. To me that's a no-brainer.

Speaking of the future, it should also be noted that the Office Mix website states that a Mac and/or web-based version of the publishing process is under development. Yay!

How I introduced Office Mix

One of the challenges for me in attempting to introduce Office Mix into the organisation was that the first group of staff that were going to be using it were spread around the country. With the flexi-learn delivery launching mid-year 2015, I realised that the I would have to deliver initial training via video conferencing. I also needed a way to up-skill the staff as the launch date for the flexi-learn programme rapidly approached.

I decided that the best way to train the staff was in a two-phase approach. First, an initial 'hands on' training session via video conference (with every participant sitting with their laptop in front of a VC unit) and secondly, a follow-up session once staff had attempted their first true recording and sought feedback from me. I supplemented this with substantial material in the Staff Support Hub, the topics of which you can see listed here...

Office Mix topics
The topics of the staff support material that I developed related to Office Mix

You can also see pages from the Staff Support Hub in the images below...

Click on an image above to see larger versions of the images

Phase One

Staff were invited to sign up for a training session that required them to be in front of a video conferencing unit with their laptop and Office Mix installed. No more than four staff could sign up to any session because of how much time was going to be spent recording slides. Prior to the day of the training session staff were asked to…

  1. Create an account at the Office Mix website and watch an introductory presentation about Office Mix
  2. Prepare a PowerPoint presentation that included...
    • A title page/slide
    • A slide with text and a graphic
    • A slide with text bullet points
  3. They were to also type a 'script' into at least one of the notes fields, of what they would say on the day of training

The idea was that the three slides that they had prepared would be used to teach them how to use Office Mix in the following ways…

  • For slide 1, I had them record a video welcome, and then we spent time learning to trim the video. Doing this via video conference meant that each participant had to wait whilst another recorded their slide, so it was an amusing and slightly time-consuming activity.
  • For slide 2, video was turned off, but audio was left on, and we recorded an audio commentary whilst getting the graphic on the slide to appear at a set point.
  • Finally, for the last slide, staff delivered an audio commentary whilst bullet points appeared on the slide as they talked

And that's it.

It may not seem much, but these sessions took just under 90 minutes to get through. It was hard to do as we couldn't see each other's laptop screens (although everyone could see mine) and what the list of activities doesn't mention, is the amount of time I spent in the training on promoting 'best practice'...getting the look of your video right; why using a headset for audio was important etc etc. We weren't being fussy though...the emphasis for the first session was on having a play, not on being a some staff simply recorded things like "...and here is my first bullet point...and now my second" etc.

One of the things I tired to instil in the staff was a consistent approach across the organisation to how presentations were delivered. This included correcting terminology (staff would sometimes call presentations "videos" or even "podcasts") and to try and make the create/edit/publish/re-edit process relatively straight forward. The following image was designed to emphasise the tools and activities that staff would carry out at various stages…and to emphasise that everything they did was reusable.

The stages of Office Mix
The stages of Office Mix presentation development

At the end of the first training session, staff were told what was required before their second session…they had to record a presentation in their own time and send it to me for feedback, with an emphasis on trying to make the presentation as slick and professional as possible.

Phase Two

When staff sent me a link to their recorded presentation in the days that followed, I then sent them feedback (via email) concerning the presentation. We then met via video conference again, and reviewed how the presentation might be improved.

I found this second session the most useful. Sometimes the feedback I gave was slightly obvious…for example, the room the staff member recorded in was too noisy, or the lighting so bad I couldn't really see them…and the important thing this taught staff was that in developing their presentations, they needed to consider the audience. We also spent time looking (in this second session) at tools such as the inking tool. I did decide however, that quizzing and apps were something to look at 'as and when' staff wanted to take their use of Office Mix further.

Nose-cam and zombies

Around this time we did have some staff start to develop what I referred to as "nose-cam" presentations, where staff placed the laptop on a low surface, with the inbuilt camera of the laptop pointing up, giving us a great view of their nose. I also found a superb and hilarious article called "I was a webcam zombie! How to look alive and professional in Web meetings" which humorously helped show the importance of visuals. All this material was placed in the Staff Support Hub on the LMS. I thought I would mention two great YouTube clips here that I also used, as they were both entertaining whilst giving great advice...

I also thought at this time that we should use the CEO of the organisation as a way to promote the use of Office Mix, both within the flexi-learn course, but also as a taster of things to come for other staff. So Nancy Bell, Chief Executive of ECNZ and I sat down and recorded the following presentation welcoming the mid-year intake. Nancy is very experienced in speaking and being interviewed, so we got through the production quite quickly. We tried to keep the presentation "timeless", meaning that it should only need minor updates in the future (we changed one image and associated audio in January of this year). One of the things I did to produce this presentation was use a Chat50 speakerphone (connected to the laptop) so we didn't need to use a headset.

Consistency in instruction and the importance of tikanga

As presentations started being produced for the flexi-learn courses, we started to realise that some of the staff involved (who had not taught online previously) were not being as directive (about task instructions) in their presentations as they perhaps needed to. This is a challenge anyone faces when moving from teaching in a face-to-face environment to teaching online. "Discuss in groups" or "feedback to the class" (as instructions) might work well in a class, but in an online environment a more directive instruction might need to be delivered. For example, "Discuss the reading in this week's group forum and then post your findings to all class members by the end of the week" provides more structured guidance. Some of the teaching from the classroom was effectively being lost in translation when moving online.

At the same time, Te Rito Maioha Early Childhood New Zealand is a proudly bicultural organisation. Not only does ECNZ embrace the multiculturalism of our country, it also acknowledges the significance of Māori in New Zealand. Tikanga (Māori custom or culture) plays a significant part of ECNZ. On a practical level, it meant meetings often started with a karakia (prayer) and it wasn't uncommon for them to also include a waiata (song) at times. I mention this, because tikanga…the appropriate way of behaving…also impacted how our presentations should be delivered, as it plays a major role in teaching delivery.

I decided that we needed to create a consistent way of delivering our presentations, that supported staff and placed emphasis on tikanga. The most obvious way to do this was through the development of a PowerPoint template (the slides of which you can see in a moment) that is divided into a number of parts….

  • The welcoming and introductory slides, including a brief topic overview and greeting from the staff member involved
  • The topic, broken down into manageable pieces
  • A summing up of the topic and how the presentation students had just watched related to any required work
  • An administrative 'house keeping' section related to any other activities
  • A farewell
Click on an image above to see larger versions of the images

You'll see that the PowerPoint appears quite prescriptive. Please keep in mind as you view the slides, the importance of consistency that we were trying to achieve (partly also because more than one staff member had to create presentations for the same course) - the need to 'direct' staff to be more specific about required activities, and the need to quickly offer some instructional design guidance on presentation creation. For example, you'll see that I am a firm believer that not every slide requires video of the presenter. This in fact ties back to work I did for my Masters research back in 2009/2010 where students indicated that audio was more significant for them than video, which is a common theme you'll see in research and articles on recorded presentations. The template wasn't something set in was a guideline that we hoped most staff would adopt, and was developed in consultation with a number of staff, including the organisation's Pouhere Kaupapa Māori, Arapera Witehira.

It was interesting at the time that I was developing the template for staff, that the Office Mix team linked to this excellent presentation by James A Whittaker - "The art of stage presence". I agree with a lot of what he says, but at one point (when talking about starting strong) he states "Don't come into it with some...'Hey, look at me, look at how important I am'..." start to your presentation. In short, don't waste time introducing yourself.

I don't completely agree with this approach (I'd argue that no matter how important you think you are/aren't, it's common courtesy to let people know who you are) and significantly his suggestion clashed with the importance our organisation placed on mihimihi or introductions by a speaker. I knew from an instructional design perspective, that the template that I was developing for staff would make the presentations longer than I had hoped for, but from a cultural perspective it was important that we emphasise mihi in our presentations for our students (you can learn more about mihi here).

Here's to the future of Office Mix

I'm exceptionally proud of the way in which ECNZ staff embraced the use of Office Mix. I think the most enjoyable moment for me was when a link to the following presentation was emailed to everyone in the organisation from the wonderful staff at our Gisborne teaching base…

The video brought a big smile to my face not only because of the work they had put into it…but that they had embraced Office Mix to deliver it to us all. When staff start to enjoy presentation development to that extent, you realise that the only way is up!

I am very impressed by the quality of the Office Mix product, even at this early 'preview' stage. I think anyone reading this should also take some time to explore the exceptionally impressive presentations on the Office Mix website for inspiration. And you should pay particular attention to clever presentations such as the James Whittaker presentation mentioned earlier, as it is a great example of the ways you can use an Office Mix presentation that you may not have thought of.

Having just left Te Rito Maioha Early Childhood New Zealand, I think there is a lot of opportunity for the organisation to go further with its use of Office Mix, as the product itself continues to grow. It is a product that I am going to continue to keep an active eye on and make use of in the future.


Updated - 11 September 2018

Media used with permission from ECNZ