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Member Since 10 Nov 2009
OFFLINE Last Active Apr 24 2012 09:08 AM

How Microsoft Teams is transforming the classroom

25 May 2018 - 08:00 PM

To most of us, Microsoft Teams might just seem like another Slack competitor vying for office messaging market share, but in schools it’s proving its to be a revolutionary and transformative tool for classrooms. Those aren’t the words of Microsoft or some Teams spokesperson, but James Yanuzzelli, a social studies teacher hailing from Old Bridge, New Jersey, who is very much on the ground with today’s students.

“I’ve been teaching for almost 15 years now, and this is the greatest product that we’ve started integrating into our classrooms, Yanuzzelli says. “I started a pilot program this year with Microsoft Teams and getting more open education resources into our classrooms, and it’s led to the biggest transformation I’ve seen.”

“We can put assignments through Teams, we can send it out to them where they can receive it and use OneNote in Teams, he says. “I can connect my device to theirs, I can connect my device to a presenter or presentation, and it moves the classroom from me to them.”

In this way, Yanuzzelli feels great about the way Microsoft Teams has shifted the entire classroom from a ‘teacher-centered focus’ to a ‘student-centered focus.’

Microsoft Teams

“Where teaching first started as ‘I’m the teacher, I’m going to stand and deliver you guys sit and learn,’” Yanuzzelli describes. “Now, it’s here’s the Declaration of Independence, let’s break it down [as a group]. They can break it down and put it into subsections, they can work together, and now it’s really an exercise. It’s not just remembering and regurgitating the facts.”

Yanuzzelli also sees his students as being more self-driven then ever and often welcomes students to personalize the curriculum.

“Let’s bring in sports, Minecraft and everyone’s playing Fortnite, so let’s talk about Fortnite,” he says. “Kids can really change the entire lesson, because it’s not just an one-size fits all. It’s now let’s see how we’re doing and how we can relate this to our lives.”

Bird’s eye view

As a teacher, Yanuzzelli says Microsoft Teams lends him more accountability to see how his students are doing and progressing.

“Giving students a voice and choice in what they do is great, but still at the end of the day I still see how they pull it all together,” he says.

“Can they still articulate their thoughts, so once they do cover the declaration?” Yanuzzelli poses the scenario. “Can you explain it in your own way and how can we bring it to present it to me?”

With this sort of bird’s eye view perspective, Yanuzzelli says he really can’t miss anything on his end, as he can literally see everything his students are working on.

“I can pull up every student to see what they’re working on, how they’re working collaboratively and what [each] student posted, he says.”It’s all there and we don’t have to worry about where it went or losing it.”

Sorry kids, the classic ‘my dog ate my homework’ excuse doesn’t work with Microsoft Teams.

Microsoft Teams

Beyond the screen

You might think that, with Microsoft Teams and laptops being introduced into the classroom, students are just looking at a screen all the time, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

“You have to balance it out,” Yanuzzelli explains. “I don’t want them to get stuck in screen time.”

Yanuzzelli explains that sometimes he’ll break up the class into an agree or disagree session. In this exercise, the students are separated into two opposing ‘agree’ and ‘disagree’ sides to discuss a question before going back to Teams to put their thoughts together.

“We still need to get our blood flowing, move around, interact and be personable because that’s the skills we have to carry,” he says. “We need to have our 21st century skills, but also the soft skills of talking and working together face-to-face.”

“Just everyday it’s a new experience for me and them – it’s awesome.”

New Windows 10 preview gives you a slicker Edge browser and more

25 May 2018 - 05:12 PM

Yesterday (May 24), we reported that a new Windows 10 preview wouldn’t emerge this week due to some major issues. Well, it turns out Microsoft was mistaken – more on that later – and in fact a fresh build has just been released for testers to play with over the weekend.

So, let’s take a look at what’s new with build 17677 for Redstone 5 (the next big update due later this year), which has just been pushed to testers on the ‘skip ahead’ program or fast ring.

For starters, a number of improvements have been made to Edge, with the firm continually tinkering with its browser to make it a more compelling offering (while promoting the product in various ways, as we saw yesterday on the laptop battery longevity front).

Edge now has a rejigged interface, with the Settings menu being better organized into groups of entries to make it easier to find whatever you need to adjust. Plus keyboard shortcuts are now clearly labelled on the menu, where appropriate.

Various other tweaks have been made, including the addition of more options to the Downloads pane (for example, to be able to ‘show in folder’ after you’ve downloaded a file).

Microsoft has also made it easier to organize groups of tabs that you’ve set aside in Edge, giving you the ability to rename any group to something more descriptive or memorable. And all your top websites are now listed in the Jump List, which is on the Windows taskbar (or Start Menu).

Narrator, the screen reading app, has also seen some attention, specifically to Scan mode, which allows the user to navigate swiftly around the likes of web pages, apps and emails using the arrow keys and keyboard shortcuts.

With this new build, Scan mode is now able to support the selection of content in Edge, Word, Outlook, Mail and more. Common selection commands work, such as pressing Ctrl+A to select everything.

Cellular cleverness

Finally, you may remember that a month ago Microsoft introduced a new network driver – which should make for a better, more reliable cellular connection – to build 17655 of Windows 10. In this new build, that MBB USB NetAdapter driver has been made the default driver.

So if you’re running a laptop with cellular connectivity, when you use mobile broadband you’ll experience this new driver by default. If you hit trouble, Microsoft’s suggestion is that you use Wi-Fi or a wired connection instead. Such is the life of a tester on the fast ring…

As ever, there are a multitude of other minor tweaks and adjustments, and you can check out the full list in Microsoft’s blog post.

And coming back to what we mentioned at the outset of this story, what happened to the reported ‘rollback issues’ which were supposed to delay this build from launching this week?

Head of Windows testing, Dona Sarkar, informed us in a tweet that there wasn’t actually a rollback bug at all, but in fact a deployment issue was the problem – and that was a gremlin which was apparently relatively easy to overcome.

Amazon Alexa can now play Audible books in Australia and New Zealand

25 May 2018 - 05:25 AM

Alexa’s available skills Down Under are on the rise. Starting today, Aussies and Kiwis with an Audible membership can ask their Alexa-powered smart speaker to play their favourite audiobooks for them.

All you need to do is say, “Alexa, read [name of book]” and you can listen to your heart’s content, allowing you to relax, whip up a meal in the kitchen, or keep up with your chores without missing out on any reading.

If you need to pause or resume the narration, just say “Alexa, pause” or “Alexa, resume my book” and Amazon’s digital assistant will do the needful. By saying, “Alexa, go back” or “Alexa, go forward”, the digital assistant will skip 30 seconds in the requested direction. You'll even be able to skip chapters, and know that Alexa will begin playing your audiobook where you left off the last time.

With hundreds of thousands of audiobook titles to choose from, and more being added every day, your book choices are plenty. For new members, Audible offers the first audiobook on the house, with memberships costing $16.45 per month after a free 30-day trial.

Okta wants to help your business ditch passwords forever

23 May 2018 - 02:01 PM

The days of worrying about remembering passwords in the workplace may soon be at an end thanks to Okta.

The security firm has today announced the launch of a new platform that will allow companies to do away with passwords altogether in favour of much stronger authentication options.

Okta ThreatInsight, revealed today at the company's Oktane 2018 event in Las Vegas, combines context-specific information with real-time analysis from internal risk assessment teams to block threats.

This, the company says, provides a more secure experience that should mean businesses, as well as their employees, partners and customers, stay safe online.

No more passwords

Due to be released in the second half of 2018, Okta, which counts the likes of Nordstrom and 20th Century Fox among its customers, says the new tool will allow companies to do away with passwords as their main authentication option.

Instead, the platform can detect possible security risks by analysing information such as the location of an IP address attempting to access a corporate network. The platform can also identify known devices, and if they are attempting to connect from an unfamiliar location, can block access.

“The best password is no password at all. Today’s threat actors are targeting the weakest point of your company’s security – your people – and too many are successfully compromising employee accounts due to poor or stolen passwords,” said Okta CEO and co-founder Todd McKinnon. 

Best PDF to Word convertor of 2018

23 May 2018 - 01:03 PM

PDFs are mostly designed for sharing, but sometimes, just occasionally, you may want to grab some or all of the content for use elsewhere. By, say, converting the document into a DOCX file which you can open in Microsoft Word, or any other editor which supports the format.  

If you've got Word already then you could just use it to open your source document. But try that with anything complex and you'll probably notice some major issues, like missing content, text which reflows in very different directions, and a final document which might not look anything like the original.  

There are plenty of good general-purpose PDF applications which can help. Several of the apps in our lists of top PDF readers and PDF editors include conversion tools which might deliver what you need.  

You'll get the highest quality and most accurate results from a specialist conversion service, though, and in this article we're going to highlight five of the best. 


The iLovePDF website offers a comprehensive set of free PDF processing tools, covering file conversions, watermarking, rotation, merging, splitting, compression and more.  

The conversion features enable converting PDFs to and from Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents, and we tried out the PDF to Word option.  

The website impressed us immediately when we realized it didn't just accept PDFs by browsing locally, dragging and dropping: we could import them directly from Google Drive and Dropbox, too.  

The site displayed a thumbnail of our test document's front page almost as soon as it uploaded - handy as confirmation that we had the right file, and as a check that the conversion was going to deliver the results that we needed.  

This service continued to surprise with its download options. While most converters just have a single download button or link, this time we could save the document back to Google Drive or Dropbox, and even create a custom link for downloading the file. If you're running the conversion for someone else, email them the link and they can download it themselves.  

What really matters here, though, is conversion quality, and iLovePDF is hard to beat. All our test file content was transferred and there were no obvious errors or issues. Open the exported document in Word and you'd be ready to work with it immediately.  

iLovePDF's standard plan has some limits - in this case, the source PDF can be no larger than 10MB, any download link is only available for one hour and can be used a maximum of five times - but these can be increased.

Just handing over your email address gets support for 15MB files, 2 hours of link life and 10 downloads. The commercial Premium plan supports 40MB files and up to 200 downloads of the converted document over a 24-hour period, all for 3.99 Euros (£3.50, $4.75) a month (this also gets you access to all the other conversion and PDF management tools). 


A good first step in evaluating any PDF conversion service is to check who is providing the underlying technology. Clicking the About Us link on the SimplyPDF website reveals that the site is powered by the excellent Solid Documents, the veteran developer who is also behind iLovePDF, which immediately tells us the service is likely to deliver great results.  

The SimplyPDF web interface looks basic at first glance, but it's actually packed with high-end functionality. For example, although the page will convert from PDF to DOCX files by default, it can also import Excel and PowerPoint documents and export to RTF.  

Tapping More Options enables taking vast control over the conversion process. By default, for instance, SimplyPDF will try to detect lists, tables, headers and footers in the source PDF and convert them to those objects in the Word document.

If your document includes images with what looks like text, it uses OCR to try and extract this. These defaults normally work very well, but if they fail and the exported document isn't quite as you expect, adjusting SimplyPDF's conversion settings will often help you fix the problem.  

Our tests suggested you won't need this level of tweakability very often, as all our sample documents were converted without any real issues at all. But if you regularly work with complex documents, or you've had previous problems with the accuracy of PDF converters, SimplyPDF's fine-grain control over the process could make it worth a try. 


FormSwift is a free online PDF to Word conversion service with a very unusual extra.

At first glance the website looks like many others. The interface is simple, and there are options to drag and drop or browse to the PDF you'd like to convert.  

What's interesting here is that once the document has been uploaded, FormSwift displays it in a simple PDF editor. It's not exactly crammed with features, but you can still add, edit, or highlight text, insert or move images and apply a handwritten signature.

Perhaps most usefully, the editor enables deleting elements of the document that you don't need. Simplifying a PDF in this way can improve the chances of an accurate conversion, and it's well worth a try if other converters aren't producing good results.  

Our tests suggest you may not need to spend much time playing around with your documents, though, as the FormSwift conversion engine produces excellent results with even the most complex of files. 

In particular, the service did a great job with our sample newspaper page, accurately rendering the columns, colors and images. There was an issue with text spacing, but that was only because our system didn't include the font used in the source PDF, forcing FormSwift to substitute another. This was easily fixed in Word, and overall FormSwift performed very well. 


HTMLPublish is a website which offers a free service for converting PDF files to Word and HTML.  

The conversion interface is feeble by the standards of the competition, and doesn't even support drag and drop. All you get is a header and an Upload button.  

The annoyances continue when the converter is finished, and the website demands you close any ad blocker before you can see the file. HTMLPublish is the only PDF conversion website we've seen which does that.   

We restarted the process in an ad blocker-free browser, and this time the document was displayed in its HTML form after the conversion was complete. Why, when we only wanted to download it? In order that the website could display some ads, it seems, two of which included Download links of the firm's own, presumably in the hope that users will click them accidentally.  

We found and clicked the real download link in the header, which took us to yet another page, with more ads, and another download link. Clicking that link opened the PDF in a web page with yet more ads, and finally we could save it to disk.  

Put this all together and HTMLPublish is one of the most cumbersome PDF services to use. But we're recommending it anyway because it delivered some of the best and most accurate conversions of our test files. If other services fail, HTMLPublish is well worth a try, and if you hate the ads, the developer's PDF-To-Word application gives you hassle-free conversions on your Windows desktop for only $19.95 (£14.25).  


UniPDF is a commercial PDF conversion utility for Windows. Launch the program and you're able to drag and drop as many source files as you need to convert. (Unlike most online converters, there are no limits on the size or number of files you can process at one time).  

By default UniPDF will export your converted documents as DOCX files, but it can also save them as RTF, HTML, images or plain text.  

In our tests, the conversion results were mixed. Our sample documents kept their content and basic layout, and looked much better than if we'd imported them using Word's own PDF converter. But font and text layout weren't always reproduced correctly, and it would take some time to fix these issues before we could begin any real editing tasks.  

There's a further complication with the trial version, as it only supports converting the first three pages in any document. If your source files start with a title page, a blank page and a table of contents, you won't get to see what the program can do with everything else.  

If UniPDF appears to do what you need, spending $29.97 (£21.40) gets you a license to use the program on a single computer in a non-commercial environment. A Business license looks expensive at $99.97 (£71.40), but that covers commercial usage on multiple systems across your company - it's not just for you.  

A 30-day money-back guarantee is available if you discover any problems that the trial build didn't reveal.