Jul 15, 2006

Where to get Powerpoint for free?

We get a lot of e-mail inquiries from students and teachers asking us where they can get Powerpoint for free. Well, it isn't possible because it is a Microsoft product but they do give education discounts and most school districts can buy in bulk.

Presumably, if you are sending us your request, then it implies that you don't have access to a district license or that you don't want to spend the money just yet on the full MS Office 2003 suite. Of course, all of you are law-abiding citizens and have no desire to use pirate software.

What to do? Kieran Mullen has two suggestions, which I repeat here:

Use Microsoft's Powerpoint viewer to share your presentation with others who don't have Powerpoint. The viewer is free and you can get it here. However, if the point is to learn how to create presentations in Powerpoint, this viewer will not help you.

Use the Impress presentation program in Open Office. This is an open-source competitor to MS Office 2003 and it is free to download and use. I haven't tried it myself, but a quick glance at the interface shows that it has all the basic features of Powerpoint. I will test it out over the next few weeks with my own work and see how it goes. Download it here.

Here is a screen shot of the Impress interface:

Hmmm, maybe Jim and Sue should take a closer look at Impress?

Jul 7, 2006

TOEFL IBT and Online Voice Recording

It's been a hectic six months with the successful launched our TOEFL IBT interactive suite. (Question: are there any corporate bloggers that will admit to unsuccessful launches?) IBT stands for Internet-based testing, and the new TOEFL IBT exam is one tricky application to program. There are lots of unusual question types that don't translate easily into a standardized format.

For example, in the new Speaking section, students must listen to a lecture or talk, read a passage, and then speak for 45 seconds into a microphone. Their voice is captured online and then uploaded to a server for grading. No special software is required, students just use a standard headset and microphone while interacting through their web browser.

A second type of question requires the student to listen to a talk, read a passage, and then write a short essay.

It took us a while to get the technology right, but it's been working flawlessly. Over 4,000 students have used the ACT360 IBT system to date.

We think there are applications for the IBT system beyond the niche market of TOEFL test prep. For example, it could be used for broader language training and evaluation applications or as part of a corporate training module to test for understanding.

It's a very rich way to evaluate student comprehension beyond the usual multiple choice/static response type interactions. I am sure that ETS (the makers of the TOEFL) has plenty of research on the testing methodology behind it.

For instructional designers and teachers out there, let us know what you think. We will prepare a short demo on the ACTDEN site before the end of August to let you try it. Based on your feedback, we will then incorporate the technology as part of ACTDEN 2.0 release in the fall.