Office Mix: To Mix, Or Not To Mix, That Is The Question

Are You Thinking About Using Microsoft's New eLearning Authoring Tool Office Mix?
Summary: In this third geek article, I take a quirky look at Microsoft’s up-and-coming rapid eLearning and knowledge sharing tool, Office Mix. I consider whether it could provide the cost-effective scalable solution for a medium-sized university wishing to raise aspects of the eLearning bar.

Are You Thinking About Using Microsoft's New eLearning Authoring Tool Office Mix? 

Let us see whether to mix or not to mix with Microsoft’s new eLearning authoring tool.

Dramatic Introduction

It’s July 2015, the sun is roasting relentlessly outside, and inside learning technologists are chatting about something intensely….

In walks the Head: “Hi everyone!” said the Head.

An experienced learning technologist turns around on his swivel chair looking somewhat worried and said, “Our Articulate HTML5 videos aren’t playing on Chrome or Firefox.

“What do you mean?” said the Head.

“They’re not viewable on Chrome or Firefox I think, but Flash fall-back is ok,” said the experienced learning technologist.

“Flash is ok, but HTML5 isn’t, what an irony, how’s that possible, it’s HTML5? Have you tried Internet Explorer, Edge or Maxthon?” said the Head.

“What’s Maxthon?” said another learning technologist.

“It’s that browser that no-one’s heard of,” said the experienced learning technologist.

The Head then calls out to an experienced IT expert, who was sitting in another room. “Find out what’s going on, and do it asap.”

After a while... 

It was some updates to Chrome 44 that affected Articulate HTML5 output files on all Chromium based browsers and not on Microsoft browsers or Maxthon, but Articulate released a fix very quickly, and that was pretty impressive,” said the experienced IT expert calmly.

“Could this happen again?” said the Head.

“As Google updates are not generally announced in advance, this could happen again, but then again, remember, updates can affect HTML5 output files depending on who’s doing them, and depending on what’s being done.”

“Holy shit, how the hell are we supposed to work, if things like this are going on?” said the Head (to himself).

“But, then again, surely, it’s very unlikely that an Office Mix HTML5 output file will be affected by an update done on Internet Explorer or Edge…” said the Head (to himself pragmatically). 

Can Office Mix Provide The Right Solution For My Institution?

Is there really such a thing as future proofing? Isn’t that an oxymoron? I mean nothing is certain in life, not health nor wealth, and nothing is certain in the technology arena too where big tech players appear to be vying for a greater market share, mostly ostensibly through competing with one another. With regard to eLearning authoring software specifically, it’s looking increasingly like future-proofing means opting for the less risky option.

A reliable eLearning authoring software company needs to address or be able to address a growing list of requirements (quickly). For instance, there is increasing legislative pressure to adhere to section 508/WCAG2.0. Multi-device compatibility, improved analytics functionality, and being/remaining affordable are also important factors; but for me, the most important criterion is, does the company have a vision of where technology enhanced learning (TEL) is going/will be going and will it be able to develop a strategy to realize its vision? Microsoft can only be as good as its senior management allows it to be though; any entrenched big-ego power freaks that stifle real out-of-the-box TEL thinking need to be expunged because it’s actually a company’s failures that evidence whether a trend-setting environment, with its right mix of whacky people, has been created and is being safe-guarded.

Microsoft evidently wants a bigger piece of the education pie, and, after all, it’s only natural for Microsoft to want to leverage itself more into education, and the push to promote the preview version of its rapid eLearning and knowledge sharing tool, Office Mix, surely pays testament to this. Another indication that Microsoft is exerting its presence more in education is the growing array of imaginative products on the Microsoft education site.

Be Pragmatic When Choosing A Rapid eLearning Solution 

Appertaining to rapid eLearning software, random unannounced security updates/bug fixes/improvements on browsers only underscore the importance of choosing a company that you feel you can (learn to) trust to find solutions to problems; I feel an addendum is required here however, in life, love, and IT, trust has to be earned (over time). For instance, one of my IT assistants informed me in July 2015 about “fixes and improvements” on Chrome 44 affecting Articulate HTML5 output files only on all Chromium-based browsers (i.e. they were not viewable); Articulate did however release a fix very quickly and were not to blame. For the full story regarding this incident, click here. The point being, as fixes and improvements are not as a rule announced in advance, I guess problems with HTML5 output file browser compatibility could happen again. However, one might conclude that it’s very unlikely that an Office Mix HTML5 output file will be affected by security updates/bug fixes/improvements done on Internet Explorer or Edge. And that’s a plus for me.

More About Office Mix 

Office Mix, which is a PowerPoint plugin, is free if you have Office 2013 or Office 365. It looks sleek and robust, and I understand Microsoft is improving things on a daily basis. And with the leitmotif of trust still in mind, maybe I should -as any person venturing in a new direction in life might do- look at the down side first.

One point of concern is that all Office Mix HTML5 output production files run from somewhere in the cloud, they do not appear to be downloadable; even though I know that there are other download options (i.e. SCORM 1.2, PowerPoint, MP4 video), I really would have liked it, if there were a local HTML5 file back-up option too. But then I say stoically to myself, “Why am I so fixated about keeping control of content locally? And is that really going to be safer? Nothing really belongs to you in this world, not even your body, and your creative ideas, if you actually have any, might at best, outlive you for someone else to enjoy.

Secondly, according to a local Microsoft rep (NB at least that’s what I understood quite clearly), Office Mix HTML5 production file storage is “apparently” free; but that seems too good to be true, is storage really going to be free (forever)? Things are, for me at least, still a bit iffy. And, if Office 365 for Education “fairly opaque” 1 terabyte, recently updated 20000-item free storage policy is anything to go by, maybe I should be concerned. Furthermore, an example of Microsoft storage policies not being etched in stone was the sudden announcement on 2 November 2015 of the downgrading of free OneDrive storage to 5GB for Office 365 customers. Is it therefore an acceptable risk to trust Microsoft will always be so benevolent with Office Mix storage? After all, any shrewd drug pusher knows that first you make them dependent, and then you get them to pay for the stuff. A trade-off therefore for relinquishing control over HTML5 content is better reliability on Microsoft browsers and possible uncertainty regarding future storage overheads.

There’s a whole bunch of other Office Mix problem issues that worry me much less - I mean, this is Microsoft, they’ll fix it (I hope). For instance (and at the time of writing this article and to the best of my knowledge), on mobile devices/tablets: Gesture support is very limited and as Office Mix doesn’t currently appear to be device aware, only non-interactive videos are available on mobile devices, on surface tablets however, which are basically small portable computers and not tablets, Office Mix HTML5 output files are viewable. Some other issues are: (1) it’s only a pre-view version; (2) there’s no pop-up blocker, which can be annoying during screen recordings; (3) there’s a navigation usability issue in recording mode i.e. you cannot go back and re-record a slide without leaving the record mode and coming back in to record mode; (4) there are presently limited quiz capabilities; (5) analytics needs to be improved; (6) you can’t embed YouTube films; (7) there’s no geo-location; (8) accessibility compliance needs more work e.g. interactive in-sync transcript, synchronized audio descriptions as a separate audio track, or sign language support; (9) there’s no responsive screen capture.

Some of Office Mix good points comprise: (1) It’s Microsoft after all - they’re less likely to make a balls-up of things (I hope); (2) it’s easy to use and is constantly updated; (3) closed captions can be exported; (4) it’s a PowerPoint plugin; (5) it’s a scalable free service with Office 2013 or Office 365; (6) it’s very likely to be compatible with all other Microsoft products; (7) Office Mix HTML file outputs will be reliable on Edge or Internet Explorer.

Final Comments 

Even though products such as Adobe Captivate 9 or Articulate Storyline 2, which are non-PowerPoint plugins, in many respects are currently more advanced, I think I like Office Mix (more)! Why? Its cost of scalability, its ease of use, its compatibility with other ubiquitous Microsoft products/technologies, its speed of development, and, the fact that any challenges will, more than likely, be addressed in the future.

But, does Microsoft have a vision of how it intends to improve access to learning? Does it have a vision of how it intends to support improvements in real/deep engagement in learning? Does it have a vision of how it intends to support improvements in the effectiveness of measuring learning? Does it have a vision of how it intends to address the way technological innovation affects learning design? Does it have a vision of changing models of education?  Does it have a vision of how to address the changing roles and expectations of the modern-day, tech-savvy, app-overdosed, social-media-addicted, gaming-adept, smartphone-doting, increasingly disestablishment, increasingly economically frustrated, increasingly self-directed, and increasingly rhizomatically networked Millennial learner?