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The Australian Education Blog
Ray Fleming's take on what's interesting in Education IT in Australia

  • Education

    Education pricing for Kinect for Windows

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    I am one of the latest of the 18 million people who’ve bought a Kinect sensor for my Xbox (one of the Microsoft CES announcements - the 18m number, not the fact that I’m a user) 

    imageIt seems I’m a laggard when it comes to gaming and home entertainment technology, having only just setup my Xbox and bought a Kinect this Christmas. The two things I’ve discovered and never used before, is the voice control feature, and the ABC iView app on my Xbox, which means that we can now watch catch-up TV on our TV, rather than having to watch it on a laptop computer. So over the holiday the whole family have become re-addicted to Spooks. I feel silly not having set this up before, because I’d thought of it as a gaming box, rather than a home entertainment system.

    Anyway, just as I’m catching up with Kinect on the Xbox, the world has shifted again with the CES announcement of Kinect for Windows. From the outside, the sensor looks the same, and works in the same way, giving you control over your computer via your hand and body movements, but unlike the Xbox version, it’s now optimised for close-up use - from 50cm away rather than having to stand a couple of metres away. That means that it will allow people to use Kinect while they are sitting in front of a desktop setup.

    What we’ve announced is that this new Kinect sensor hardware and software will be available from the 1st February, and it’s been priced at AU$299. The even better news is that later this year there will also be special education pricing for Kinect for Windows, bringing the price down (I don't have an Australian price yet, but in the US it's planned to come down to $149). You can read all the details on the Kinect for Windows blog here.

    Because Kinect is able to do full body tracking, and now has it’s new ‘near’ mode, I can imagine a heap of scenarios that it will be useful for in education:

    • Replacing interactive whiteboards with a Kinect, to reduce the hardware cost and allow more to spent on teaching resources
    • Giving special needs students the ability to interact in new ways with IT, without needing to use the keyboard or a mouse
    • Creating simulations - eg science  experiments - where students are able to control virtual equipment and manipulate them

    imageWith the education pricing for Kinect around the corner, I guess the KinectEDucation community is going to get even busier in the near future, with teachers and developers collaborating on new teaching and learning ideas for Kinect.

  • Education

    Cutting out paper - Getting rid of paper forms

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    Cutting Out Paper icon

    Continuing the month’s worth of ideas to support a New Year Resolution to cut paper use in education…

    Looking at other sources of paper use around the school, then there’s an obvious opportunity to get rid of paper forms used internally. The obvious benefits of this aren’t restricted to saving paper, time and money - it also can help you to make your internal processes and communication much smoother, and more accurate and efficient.

    Yesterday’s example from Alan Richards, of removing paper from the Academic Review process at West Hatch High School, was a first step in a longer set of steps that Alan took in his paperless school project. The next obvious candidate for moving off paper and onto the school’s SharePoint was what Alan calls the ‘Training form’ – a request by staff to go on a course.
    As Alan said at the time:

      You had to fill in the form, then somebody would read it and manually gave it the OK, then someone else manually filed it. Now it’s been redesigned and put online  


    The plan is to do the same for all commonly used forms. And as Alan points out, the whole “paperless school” initiative isn’t just about the cost of paper and printing. It makes for a more efficiently-run and cost-effective school. There’s improved collaboration both within the school and between home and school, together with better administration and easier access to useful data. As Alan explains:

      Once the documents and forms are on SharePoint, it’s easy to extract data from them. For example, under a manual system, if the head wanted to know how many people had been on training courses, somebody had pull out the forms and go through them. Now the data’s kept centrally, and it can be analysed quickly and easily.  

    And because the data is going into the school’s SharePoint system, it’s possible to use the workflow system to manage the way the form is handled once it’s been completed. For example, for a training request, you might route it through a departmental head for approval, then through the Finance team for budget allocation, and then finally route it to the manager responsible for allocating a cover teacher to cover the lessons the teacher might miss. The other thing that can be done is to automatically add it to different calendars once it’s been approved - maybe in the teacher’s calendar as well as a school-wide calendar.

    The intent of the idea was to remove the paper, but the end result goes much wider - removing  manual processes and improving communication. The process makes it easier for teachers, because they have much better visibility of what’s going on and where a request might be in the process, as well as being able to make an absence request online without needing to find the paper form.

    You can read more details on Alan’s project in an original blog post I wrote in late 2010, as well as on Alan's Edutechnow blog.

    Read more ideas to help cut out paper

  • Education

    Bring Your Own Device in schools - one school’s experience

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    School IT budgets will come under pressure, as the DER programme reaches it’s zenith, and overall spending on education continues to be in flux. Although we’ve now reached the point of every Year 9-12 student having a laptop, there’s still plenty of schools where the teachers and students don’t have access to IT whenever they want.

    And yet students and teachers now have better and cheaper technology at home than ever before. A spot check of the average 15 year-old’s school bag is likely to reveal a heady mix of smartphones, laptops, games consoles, iPods, cameras, and more power packs and cables than your average branch of Harvey Norman.

    It’s therefore not surprising that schools are wondering whether these two trends can be combined. Is it really possible to allow students and staff to be productive in school, using technology they’ve brought in themselves? Can the school save money buying or replacing hardware, by utilising the devices which have often been banned from the network? Will staff and students actually work harder and be more engaged in their learning and teaching, if it’s all happening on a device which they enjoy using? Or is the idea of “Bring Your Own Device” nothing more than a headache for school IT staff, a massive security risk, and a fad based largely on the principal being in love with their new iPad?What devices do students carry around in their backpacks?

    Two of my UK-colleagues Mark Reynolds and Tim Bush have recently been talking about the issues/opportunities created when students have their own IT devices - and how one English school - saltash.net - accommodates them through their school network. I’ll let them pick up the story from their original blog post:

     

    saltash.net is a fantastic school down in Cornwall where head teacher Isobel Bryce has built a strong platform for her staff and students to succeed. Their most famous son is Dan Roberts, whose Recharge the Battery project won a Microsoft Innovative Teacher award in 2009. We spoke with Adam Ledger, the schools Network Manager. Adam explains their approach to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD):

    “Our network has about 300 fixed desktops and 300 netbooks. We also have about 100 teacher laptops, which are vanilla windows and 30 Macs in a suite for Media. So we’ve got about 700 school owned and managed devices, but in total have over 1,700 devices which have joined the network.”

    The 1,000+ “unmanaged” devices are a huge range of laptops, netbooks, smartphones, iPads, iPods, Kindles, Nintendos and anything else which staff or students want to bring in. To be honest, I nearly fell of my chair at this point, because although I’d been to many schools who allowed guest wireless access of some kind, I’d never come across anything on this scale. Adam explains that Saltash.net has always had this approach, ever since students started asking:

    “Trust always is the starting point. Trust the kids and they will reward you with good behaviour. We say yes to everything, as long as they come and ask us. I can only think of 3 or 4 instances of misuse of the system, and one of those was a member of staff. I know we are lucky with the kids and that it might not work in every school, but it works for us. We enable access on peoples on devices which they WANT to use, and so we have happy customers. They know we can block or remove access if we need to, but they value the trust we put on them and they’re glad to be learning in a way that suits them.”

    So from a technical point of view, how do they keep it secure and manage the process?

    “If you want to bring in your personal device, you bring it to see us (the IT team). We register their mac address, version of anti-virus, make and model, and the serial number of the device. We then use the software that comes with our wireless network to enable that mac address in a whitelist. The same software we use for whitelisting can also do the blocking by mac address (blacklisting) – which it does for any “unknown” mac address, or for any device that needs to be banned from the system. We also periodically then clean out the DHCP databases, and run a very short lease on the IP address given to a wireless device. We want people to have freedom of access, but also want to know what’s on our network.”

    And that, really, is that. They give wireless access to devices they know about and they block anything they don’t. It is then down to the teaching staff to manage the way students use those devices when they are in school. That is one for Dan Roberts to explain, which we’ll do in another blog post. Just walking round the school though, that feeling of trust and mutual respect is noticeable. I can only assume that the same respect students have for their teachers, they have for the freedom they are allowed when it comes to technology. They’re enjoying their learning, and feel able to use the technology that suits them.

     

    Microsoft is planning to make the management of BYOD networks much easier, with the launch of System Centre 2012. Not only will System Centre offer the best possible management of your existing Windows network, but it will also offer support for management of iOS and Android devices too. There is a public beta available already, which you can read about and download here.

    Learn More

    The UK team have created a Consumerisation of IT in Education whitepaper, which you can download from Slideshare
  • Education

    Cutting out paper - Get rid of school reports

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    Cutting Out Paper icon

    Continuing the month’s worth of ideas to support a New Year Resolution to cut paper use in education…

    Get rid of school reports on paper, by providing electronic reports to parents

    Although many schools are already doing this, there are plenty that still provide parental reports on paper. And don’t want to change, because they feel that it’s key for parents to get a paper copy of their children’s report. As a parent, I still like getting the report on a piece of paper. However, I think my mind is changing, as plenty of other systems go online. For example, I now get all of my utility bills, my phone bill and my bank statements online. And the benefit to me is that I can quickly jump back and see any of the historically, rather than having to look for old paper copies (most of which, I haven’t kept filed neatly). Imagine if I could go back and read all of my children’s school reports, save my own copies, and print them out when I needed them.

    A school report is one of those documents that parents keep for a long time - but how about taking a step forward by providing a parent with a school report as a PDF document too? So that they can share the report with grandparents online (especially relevant in today’s non-nuclear society).

    And perhaps, if parents find the PDF version beneficial, you’ll be able to make the paper version optional?

    One school that’s making a determined run for “paperless” status is West Hatch High School in the UK. There, Alan Richards, Information Systems Manager, and his team have put the technology to work in a way that saves costs and improves efficiency right now, and opens up even more possibilities for the future.
    The key is to transform paper forms into truly interactive documents on the school’s SharePoint Learning Gateway. The starting point was to tackle the extensive paperwork supporting the school’s Academic Review Days.
    There are two Academic Review Days each year, for which staff collaboratively prepare two documents for each student– a Progress Review, and a Target Setting Document. Both are two pages long which makes four pages, twice a year, for each of 1,300 students. So moving the whole process online saves printing 10,400 sheets of paper each year.
    How it works is that the Target Setting document for each student is agreed by teachers, parents and students individually at the academic review day meetings. Previously a paper exercise, it’s now done on an interactive InfoPath form on SharePoint. Each student, with their parents and a teacher, works on a laptop to come up with a set of targets. When they’re all agreed, the teacher presses “submit” and the final version goes off by email to the parents and to the student.

    You don’t have to go all the way that Alan’s done at West Hatch. If you just simply emailed a copy of the finished report to parents when you send the paper copy home, you are starting the process of changing. Let’s face it, you’ve already got the electronic copy, and parents will value being able to have it electronically to share with relatives. So why not? (It’s a ten second operation to hit ‘Save to PDF’ in Word 2010, and most report-writing software already produces a finished email-able format).

    There’s a further benefit. As you start collecting up-to-date parental email addresses, you’ll also have them handy for every time you’re tempted to send out other pieces of paper.

    If you want to learn more about Alan’s Paperless School project, then you can read more on his Edutechnow blog, and I’d highly recommend listening to the recording of his Cost Cutting using SharePoint webinar.

    Read more ideas to help cut out paper

  • Education

    Cutting out paper - change printer defaults

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    Cutting Out Paper icon

    Continuing the month’s worth of ideas to support a New Year Resolution to cut paper use in education…
    In some schools it’s the students that use too much paper. They’re doing a project, and then they want to print out a draft of their work (or even a draft of the first paragraph of their work), to see what it will look like. And if they are doing a long-term project, they print out a copy every week to see how they are going. Cutting this out (or reducing it significantly) will make a big difference.

    Change the default printer on student laptops to not be a printer

    So how about letting your students print, but instead of printing onto paper they print onto an electronic document, either as a PDF, XPS or a OneNote document - so they still see the ‘finished’ work, and they can even keep an archive of each stage of the process without stacks of paper. This is especially useful where a student is creating digital work that’s going to be assessed.

    • If your students print to a OneNote document, then it’ll automatically put it into their OneNote document set, and will store it along with all of their other work, revision notes etc. And add a new set of pages next time they print it.
    • If they print to a PDF or XPS document, they could then store this on their own eportfolio, or their SharePoint MySite, USB stick, laptop or network drive.

    In the UK, at Bristnall Hall Technology College in Sandwell, ICT and Network Manager Phillip Wakeman forecast a saving of £25,000 from posting documents on SharePoint, and he has his eye particularly on the printing demands made by ICT exam students.

      Students doing ICT coursework habitually print off the whole lot – and it could be 200 pages for each student – a few times each year. With 200 students in each year group, the amount of printing is enormous.  

    The first step for this is to change the default printer for your users.

    • Print to XPS (a format that locks the file, and allows you to see if any editing has subsequently happened) is standard within Windows 7
    • Print to OneNote is available when you have Office 2007 or 2010 installed
    • Print to PDF needs an extra driver or software application (although ‘Save as PDF is built into Office 2010)

    Read more ideas to help cut out paper

  • Education

    Cutting out paper - hide the printers

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    Cutting Out Paper icon

    Continuing the month’s worth of ideas to support a New Year Resolution to cut paper use in education…

    Make printing more difficult

    When I first started work, printers were only just making an appearance and they were noisy, slow and produced very low quality print. I remember the day that I used the first laser print was magical - so quiet, so fast and so very professional. In those days the printers were plugged into the back of the network server, and a whole office of full of staff used to print to a single printer.

    Then inkjets arrived, and prices of printers started to plummet (but not the price of ink, of course) and what happened then was a huge wave of printers arriving in offices. Suddenly everybody needed their own printer. It didn’t take long for the cost of that to hit - and the realisation that buying a printer cost peanuts, but buying the ink was a massive ongoing cost. (And that’s also about the same time that everybody talked about ‘the paperless office’).

    Although many institutions in education have now switched back to central networked printers (or MFDs - multi-function-devices), if you haven’t yet made printing less convenient for your users, then take action to do it. If you switch printing to a central printer, with a smart card to start the printing process (sometimes called follow-me printing), you’ll cut down on the amount of paper you are using - even if it’s only reducing the number of times people print a document, and then forget to collect it from the printer.

    And if people have to leave their desk to get a printout, they will think twice about printing.

    This may seem like a facile statement, but it’s very true. One school I worked with discovered they had 104 printers - and only 102 staff. People in the same office were unwilling to share a single printer because they didn’t want to have to move to collect their printout. And some staff had both a laser and an inkjet printer.

    At Twynham School they’ve tackled the printing process itself – putting in departmental quotas and building ‘stop and think’ warnings into the machines for large print runs.

    How much paper does centralised follow-me printing save?

    Typically, articles which talk about centralising printers quote 10-15% savings - a figure which I agree with based on first-hand experience. Although it won’t be the same for everybody, it should help you to work out how much paper you can save. And, if you manage to switch staff and students away from printing on inkjets, you’ll save a more significant amount in ink - because it can cost up to 6x as much to print on an inkjet as on a central laser printer. So you’ll save more money, not just paper.

    And with centralised printing, you can easily produce reports for departments or individuals, raising awareness of printer use. Which will also help reduce printing.

    Read more ideas to help cut out paper

  • Education

    Cutting out paper - send your lesson notes home electronically

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    Cutting Out Paper icon

    Continuing the month’s worth of ideas to support a New Year Resolution to cut paper use in education…

    Send homework assignments electronically

    You know that your students now have enough electronic devices in their pockets to sink a Sydney Harbour ferry - so how about using that as an excuse to cut the cord on paper-based homework assignments? If you’re a teacher using OneNote, then it’s one very small step to share your OneNote documents (eg homework assignments, tests, lesson plans or revision materials) with your students on the web - and because OneNote is also on the web, on the Windows Phone, and available as apps on iPhone and iPad, it means that your students can access it whether they are at home or on the bus home from school.

    I wrote an example scenario last month of how teachers and students could use OneNote to remove the need for paper. Here’s an extract:

     

    The teacher can then share the OneNote notebook with their students, for them to use afterwards

    • If they do this in SkyDrive, they can just set the default for all of a particular notebook to be shared, and keep all their lesson materials in that notebook
    • If they don’t want students to see next week’s lesson, they can set a password on each new lesson page as they start to create it, and then remove it when they teach that lesson - meaning that it’s closed to students all the time they are creating it and until they want it to be available

    The teacher can also publish the homework assignments on the OneNote as well

    • Using the password trick above they can ensure students do see the assignments until it’s the right time
    • They can also set groups in the class differentiated assignments by creating multiple homework pages - and give each group a different password to get to their assignment page

    Students can access their assignments and lesson notes wherever they are

    • The super-keen ones can access it on their iPhones and Windows Phones on the way home on the bus/train (how cool would it be to get your homework sorted before you’ve even reached home?)
    • At home they could access it on their iPad (or more likely, on Dad’s iPad), or their home PC or school laptop with Office installed, or over the web on any computer using Office Web Apps on SkyDrive
    • If they don’t have internet access at home (eg they are one of the 6% of school students without home Internet access) they can use their school laptop with OneNote offline - they just need to sync their laptop before they leave school - eg in the lesson - and then they have all the files available at home, including any embedded videos and graphics
     

    How easy is it to share a OneNote notebook with students?

    OneNote sharing screenshot

    Just pop into the FILE menu in OneNote and click the Share option. That’ll sync your OneNote to your Skydrive (the free 25GB storage folder on the web). And then you can either set it to be shared publically, or just with your students (to do that you’ll need to list the email addresses of the students). And you can either allow them read-only, or give them the option to edit the files.

    That’s it. Now your students can either access it over the web, or use OneNote installed on their phone to read their homework assignments.

    And another trip to the printer or photocopier saved.

    Read more ideas to help cut out paper

  • Education

    Cutting out paper - updating your room booking system

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    Cutting Out Paper icon

    I promised a month’s worth of ideas to help with cutting out paper use in your school/TAFE/university, so that you could have an institutional New Year’s Resolution. So here’s the first idea from my colleague James Marshall on his UK LIve@edu blog:

    Wouldn’t it be great if you could get rid of that pile of paper/book/binder, that holds all the bookings for a particular room or piece of equipment?

    Well, if you get smart with your email system you can by using resource mailboxes to handle room and resource bookings.

    There are two types of resource mailbox: room, and equipment. By creating them for your users, you allow them to book meetings and events electronically rather than writing their name down on a paper diary, or having to go and pester the secretary every time you want the main auditorium/hall, or an IT suite for a project.

    It helps because it:

    • Reduces amount of paper used
    • Allows people to see if the room/resource is available immediately
    • Speeds up the booking process
    • Allows people to make bookings wherever they are, as long as they can access the Internet
    • Bookings can be restricted, moderated, and denied by rules, or by a nominated individual

    James gave out three tips for success, and having used resource scheduling for years, I completely agree with these from a user’s perspective:

    • When naming rooms pick a convention and stick to it: Give your users an easy time by making it clear what each room has, for example a room called M1 that can seat 35, has audio, video, interactive whiteboard and black & white printing facilities might be listed as “M1 (35) A/V, IWB, B&W”. Use this convention with all your rooms and people will see at a glance the important details.
    • Ditch the paper today: Once you’ve created the mailboxes run a couple of light training sessions, or distribute a one-page guide on how to use them and then get rid of the paper straight away. Force your staff and students to change their ways, otherwise you’ll end up with a mix of paper/electronic booking and this can lead to confusion.
    • Don’t allow block bookings: I know what you’re thinking – by doing this some clever person will book a room every week, all year, even if they don’t need it. Use some of the features of the resource mailboxes to restrict the number of consecutive bookings someone can make to prevent them from hogging.

    How do you create resource mailboxes for rooms or resources?

    Creating these mailboxes is really easy – there are some great guides online that talk about exactly how to do it, so rather than cover that here, take a look at the help info for whichever mail service you are using - Exchange and Outlook onsite, or either of our education mail services in the Cloud - Live@edu or Office 365:

    Although I’ve given this as a tip to help with Cutting out Paper, it’s actually even more valuable as a time-saving tip - once everybody has got used to it, they’ll be surprised they ever had to do this manually with pen and paper.

    Read more ideas to help cut out paper

  • Education

    Cutting paper use in Education - Paperless January

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    Cutting out paper icon

    Have you made any New Year resolutions yet? Or more to the point, has your institution? Because for all of our personal commitments (lose weight, drink less, exercise more) there are some things that can only change if everybody in an organisation tries to do tackle them. So here’s my contribution to a New Year’s resolution for education IT people: Cutting out Paper

    I’ve noticed that Australian education institutions seem to have a never-ending affair with paper, both inside and outside of the school. Paper forms for everything, lots of paper-based notices and newsletters, photocopies of assignments and books, and lots and lots of printer and photocopier paper arriving regularly. So I’m going to offer a new tip every weekday of January, to help you in cutting out paper use (or, at the very least, reducing the amount of paper whizzing around your school/college/university). A 10% reduction for your institution would probably mean hundreds of thousands of sheets less, so there’s a bunch of money saving that can happen to.

    My oft-repeated example is that a typical high school in the UK uses 2 million sheets of paper a year, and the Australian examples I’ve come across so far are way higher. So the potential savings are much bigger too.

    Keep an eye out for the ‘Cutting out Paper’ icon all month…

    Learn MoreFind more 'Cutting Out Paper' blog posts

  • Education

    Most popular Education blog posts of 2011

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    Screen iconI arrived in Australia at the end of January 2011, and setup this Education blog on the first day of the new school year. I aimed to pop up a blog post every working day, with two goals:

    • Help you discover useful info on ICT, Education and Microsoft’s role in it
    • Help me to learn more about the Australian Education marketplace

    Well, after writing 295 blog posts in a year, I can definitely say I’ve learnt a huge amount about the Australian Education marketplace. I can’t count the statistical/research/consultancy reports I’ve read, the people I’ve had the chance to talk to whilst preparing to write something, and the news stories and press announcements I’ve had to dig into and behind to get to the core facts. It’s been a great way of understanding the Australian education system.

    So here, out of almost 300 posts, are the most popular blog posts on this Education blog:

    The most popular Education Blog posts of 2011

    This was the easiest list to compile - what was more difficult was trying to understand why each of these individually became popular education blog posts.

    1. Something for the weekend - free eBooks from Microsoft Press
      A list of free Microsoft eBooks on subjects including Windows Phone, SQL Server 2008 R2 and Office 2010
      This blog post from March shot to popularity when it went viral through Facebook, and then hit the front page of LinkedIn
    2. 21 things that will become obsolete in education by 2020
      A commentary on Shelly Blake-Plock’s two-year-old list of potentially obsolete things in education
      I only wrote this in November, but it hit the number 2 spot after going viral on Twitter, as well as becoming the subject of an extended discussion on the University of the West Indies online learning system!
    3. Ten of the best - SharePoint School websites
      My subjective list of the sites I believe are the best school websites built on SharePoint
      This one hit the top ten partly because it gets a lot of traffic from people searching for ‘best school websites’ and ‘best SharePoint sites’
    4. Windows 7 SP1 Releases
      A straight news item about the release of the SP1 for Windows 7
      Hit the big-time because for a short period it turned out to be the number one search result for Windows 7 SP1 in Google
    5. Business Intelligence for Universities
      A list of case studies of universities saving money with the CALUMO BI system
    6. One in six schools block Wikipedia
      One snippet from a survey in Australia, and suddenly a top-ten blog post!
      This got a lot of interest in the worldwide Wikipedia community, many asking ‘Why would a school block Wikipedia?’. Also the most commented blog post.
    7. Moving to the Cloud - the Microsoft experience
      Case studies of how we’ve moved business critical applications to the cloud - and what we’ve learned along the way
    8. Ten of the best - Australian education websites built on SharePoint
      Yup, one of my subjective lists again
    9. Ready-made IT user documentation
      A whole bunch of user support teams around education have found these handy starting points for their own user documentation
    10. A pile of Microsoft technical e-books now free for Kindle and iPad
      This is linked to the Number 1 spot - but this time with additional formats for Kindle.
      Somehow the use of ‘free’ ‘microsoft’ ‘e-books’ ‘Kindle’ and ‘iPad’ seemed to act like catnip for people searching on Google

    And just to re-assure you, I still plan to keep on sharing - and learning - in 2012 too!

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