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Copying Office 2007 Files When Open?

February 22nd, 2008
I've got a little technical problem, if anyone out there knows the solution please let me know. Here's the situation: when I give my students tests in MS Word or PowerPoint, I usually have them open the app they're being tested on, carry out a set of tasks, and then save the document as their exam work. For safety's sake, I ask them not to close the document window until I have successfully copied it and determined that they saved the document correctly. Maybe I'm being paranoid, but I'd rather not take even the smallest risk of losing an hour's work by a student. Using Office 2000, this was not a problem. The students saved their documents on the server's shared folder and waited with the file open while I copied it from that folder to my computer's hard disk. But after we put in Office 2007, that became no longer possible: every time I try to copy a .pptx or .docx file that is still in use by the student, it gives me an error message and won't let me copy it until the file has been closed. I am guessing that this is because of the new XML format, which uses a package file with many components. I came up with a kludgy workaround: I can zip-archive the open document, then copy the archive, then un-zip it on my computer. It works, but it takes several steps, and is not something I'd like to repeat 20 times every class period. It also suggests that there is really no technical problem in making a copy of an open file (else why would archiving work?), it's just for some reason Office 2007 won't let you. Any ideas for a better work-around?

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  1. February 22nd, 2008 at 09:41 | #1

    http://www.sumofanmag.com/content/Issue_16/galleries/cartoons/thompson/thompson_index.htm

    ach! Luis I may have removed all the text I just wrote…..can’t remember it all!…. here’s a link to the sumo cartoons anyway….sorry!
    When I click “Say It” it does not acknowledge any sending….

  2. February 22nd, 2008 at 09:43 | #2

    Have them save in two places? First on their shared folder and then locally, in their Docs or Desktop. Once you save the second file, Word “lets go” of the first save. (When a doc is open in Word, it actually creates two files, one main and another backup, which is causing the problem.)

  3. K. Engels
    February 22nd, 2008 at 14:05 | #3

    Just have them learn how to do everything in Emacs instead…

  4. Eric
    February 22nd, 2008 at 16:59 | #4

    My instinctive reaction is “why aren’t you using AbiWord or OpenOffice.org”, but I seem to remember you once said something about not considering OpenOffice.org feature-intensive enough. So I’m going to assume you want to keep using Office 2007.

    I’d suggest your first step is to pinpoint whether the problem is at the OS level, the application level, or the file level. Try opening other files and copying them at the same time – if that works, it’s not the OS. Try opening other types of files with Office 2007 and copying them at the same time – if that works, it’s not the program. Try opening .docx files with other applications – if that works, it’s not the file type.

    So once you’ve figured out what’s causing the problem, you can go about fixing it.

    One more thing, though – it strikes me as slightly untrusting of you to ask your students to save and copy their documents in your particular fashion – especially since you consider it slightly paranoid. One of the first things students look for in a teacher (in my academic experience) is that the teacher trusts them, and it might be best if you let them save their work their own way. Yes, I realize and respect your motives, but most students these days are capable of safely saving a file on their own (the applications ask what, five times between selecting “close” and deleting your unsaved work?), and not even Windows is unreliable enough to not be trusted to save a file on its own these days.

  5. Eric
    February 22nd, 2008 at 18:19 | #5

    Luis, your blogging software seems to date comments by the time they were written in the writer’s local time, not some universal standard. This wouldn’t be that bad if it just applied to the displayed time, but it also means that all the comments are extraordinarily out of order. I wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t just seen one comment just get added before the first one (Kevin’s) and another between his and mine (the second) over the past few hours. You might want to check this out – it doesn’t mean much in this situation, but someday it might screw up a genuine dialog, and that would be quite annoying.

    Besides, I’m one of those people who likes bugs being fixed for the sheer hell of it.

  6. Kim
    February 23rd, 2008 at 01:38 | #6

    Get the Office extension that lets you save to pdf (http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyId=4D951911-3E7E-4AE6-B059-A2E79ED87041&displaylang=en). Have your students save a pdf version which you should be able to copy over, then they can exit.

  7. ykw
    February 24th, 2008 at 05:50 | #7

    What about passing around a usb key and tell them to save on that as well, and give them points for getting their file on the usb key (which is a good skill), points for getting their file on the server (another good skill), and a big F if they can’t do either.

  8. Roger
    February 24th, 2008 at 17:02 | #8

    Another possible solution would be for your students to use the old .doc and .ppt formats as the program defaults, rather than .docx and .pptx… if that is indeed what is causing the problem. This of course can be changed permanently in the program preferences as well as on a one-time basis when you “save as”.

  9. Luis
    February 24th, 2008 at 21:46 | #9

    Thanks for all the suggestions! Some won’t work because of the way the class is set up, but some could be helpful. For example, I can’t ask them to save as Office 98-2003 format because some of the test features are 2007-specific (for example, Smart Art). I can’t ask for a PDF, because I let students know what they got wrong by leaving comments in the file and returning them. Having them save in two places might make it a bit easier for me, but wouldn’t really stretch their abilities–they already have to save to a server folder, which means navigating to a specific place and saving under a specific filename; also, in the HTML lesson, they get strict training on how to save files–specific locations, filename rules, types of extensions used, stuff that is necessary for a web page to function correctly. When giving a test, it would simply add more complications, however–I’d have to specify not just the locations but also the order of saving (the one I’d have to copy would have to be saved first, then the second save would “let go” of the first). But this would lead to a bit of confusion, as I would have to explain why it’s all necessary in order for students to understand what I’m asking them to do, and that leads to more difficulty in itself. As for getting other office software, that’s not an option–the class must use MS Office, like it or not.

    When it comes down to it, the compress-archive-copy-uncompress sequence is probably the least difficult to work out. I was hoping for some setting or transparent workaround, but I guess that’s too much to ask. I have to say, I sometimes get pretty annoyed with the whole “you need permission” stuff, not just on Windows, but on the Mac as well. For example, on the Mac, you often get the “I can’t eject that volume because it’s in use by some unnamed application,” and you still get that message after quitting every program and re-launching the Finder. Yargh.

    Eric: as to timing, I was not aware of that. I have not noticed it myself–I would have thought it would show up more when I have people in the U.S. and Japan both commenting–but I have to admit I have not paid very close attention to that. But if that’s true, then I should be getting comments listed at times that precede the posting time by as many as 17 hours, and I have not noticed that…

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