Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Flip, Blend, and Mix with New Free Office Plugin

I get many email requests to review products and, although I do read most of the emails, I rarely agree to do the review. Too many times, the product or service is simply "old wine in a new bottle."

But...when I received a recent email requesting that I review a new FREE service from Microsoft called, I was skeptical, but felt compelled to check it out. The sender wanted me to try a demo of this new service on a Surface Pro (on loan). I was also asked to speak with Shanen Boettcher, the general manager of Microsoft Startup Business Group (SBG). Shanen and his team work with Microsoft Research to take innovative ideas and turn them into solutions outside the work of Microsoft's mainstream product teams. Their education work includes this new tool,, to help teachers and students harness online content.

Essentially,, is a free, easy way to take your PowerPoint presentations and bring them to life as interactive online lessons. From recording audio or video of yourself giving a lecture, to directly marking up the presentation as you would at your whiteboard, to quizzing, to sharing, and creating. This solution allows you to take existing PowerPoint slides and insert quizzes, videos, apps, and other content from open source services like Khan Academy and CK-12, and screen capture, narrate, and markup the slides with or without video capture of you while you are presenting. You can then share it with anyone on the Mix Gallery site. Your new Mix can be viewed directly in any web browser.

Here is a Mix that includes a great overview.

So, within a few days of my response, I received the loaner tablet with the software preloaded. I immediately launched PowerPoint and started using Mix right away. Although there are tutorials and instructions on their support site, I didn't see a need for any of them. The process was very intuitive. Basically, if you can create a basic PPT slide, you can do this. It's easier than adding transitions and animations. Trust me.

I did try to load the plugin on my Surface RT, Mac, and iPad, and it would not work. You must have either Win 7 or Win 8 AND Office 2013 (or Office 365). Office 365 is supported but only if you download and install the Office suite. You can not use Mix to create new content using Office Web Apps. You can watch a mix on a wide array of devices. They support the latest version of all major browsers (Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox and Safari) on desktops, laptops and Windows tablets. The full interactive experience will also be available on Apple and Google Android tablets very soon. For now, they support mixes as videos on these devices. For Windows Phone, Apple® iPhone® and Android-based smartphones, mixes can be viewed as videos.
Click for example Mix

Today I had a chance to speak with Shanen and he shared some insights with me. In turn, I shared insights from my perspective of being a part of one of the largest school district in the U.S. Although we do have some great successes, we also struggle with 1:1 initiatives, device management, cloud storage, FERPA, COPPA, etc. So storage in the cloud is always a concern, as well as having enough devices (with Office 2013 installed) to support students creating Mixes. He said they were looking into supporting other versions of Office (2010), as well as other operating systems, and even perhaps the Web Apps.

I am really excited about this new add-in. I can see all kinds of great things happening, including high school students using it for their digital portfolios. You should try it, and tell me (in the comments) what you think.

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