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

  • Education

    When software is indistinguishable from magic

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    Sometimes you see people do something with software that looks more like a magic trick. The really visual examples end up on the stage at TED. But sometimes the examples are just too technical for a broad audience - like the two videos below about desktop optimisation.

    I've heard about the power of virtualised desktops for a long time. And it was when I watched this video that it all clicked together for me and made sense of just how useful this would be for an education customer. The ability to deploy a massive arrange of software applications, without having to worry about them clashing with each other or causing your computers to become unstable. And the way that the applications, operating system and user files can just follow your students around.

    Because most education network systems were setup before this kind of technology became popular, it's little used in schools today (although increasingly in higher ed). But this approach seems to solve lots of real problems that IT managers in education face every day.

    Watch the two short demonstrations (both in plain english!) and see if you can distinguish the difference between 'magic' and the 'optimized desktop'.

    Part One - an overview

     

    Part Two - the really magic bit
  • Education

    Free graphic calculator and an easy step-by-step equation solver

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    One of the things that many schools and teachers miss out on when they think of Microsoft is the wide range of software that's free. It ranges from the things you already know (like Windows Live Messenger) to more technical applications (like the free version of the Visual Studio Express). But did you know that there are also a range of education specific applications to help teachers and students? And that these are free too?

    imageOne that's just been updated is Microsoft Mathematics, which contains a graphing calculator, an equation solver, a formulae and equations library, unit conversions tools etc (handy for old folks like me that work in feet and inches when the kids work in metres and centimetres).

    The Step-by-Step Equation SolverThe equation solver and graphic calculator allow you to take complex mathematical concepts and visualise them on the screen as charts and diagrams. And the best thing about Microsoft Mathematics 4.0 is that it is free - and doesn't need Office or anything else on your computer - just Windows.

    Find out more and download Microsoft Mathematics here

  • Education

    Windows 7 SP1 Releases

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    Oh, how times have changed. It wasn't that long ago that the release of Service Pack 1 for software was a critical milestone. And in the case of many education customers, it became the equivalent of the starting gun for deploying the latest version of Windows to their desktop computers. But the software development process has changed enormously - such as the fact that millions of users were running the beta version of Windows 7 up to nine months before the product was released.

    It feels to me like we've shifted the product release mindset, and the period of public beta testing means that people don't have to wait for SP1 to get important issues resolved. And the biggest sign of that is that we've just released Service Pack 1 for Windows 7 - and I found out about it on the Windows blog. No fanfare, no trail of press articles leading up to the release. Just a blog post, and then it will appear on your computer through Automatic Updates soon. (Maybe that's the other thing that's changed - the use of Automatic Updates to regularly stream out updates, without having to wait for a big bunch in the Service Pack)

    Anyway, if you're an education customer still in the older mindset of "I'll wait for SP1", then you're wait is over, and it's time to catch up with the other customers who have already deployed Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2.

    Read the full blog post from the Windows Team

  • Education

    The perfect student laptop?

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    image

    Overnight, the Student PC offer for Australian students came out, which is a package with Dell of a high-specification laptop, and all of the main software that a student needs, including Windows 7 Ultimate (which means that they can be connected to a domain network at campus), Office 2010 (which include OneNote) and Microsoft Security Essentials (to ensure that anti-virus protection is there from day one).

    And the other compelling thing is that the PC is loaded with what's called the "Microsoft Signature" software - which is notable for what isn't included. Which means that it doesn't have the trial software (bloatware?) that's installed on most new PCs - the little applications that pop up messages, and by extension also slow down the boot-up of the computer and the way it runs.

    The final tip is that the pricing is specifically set for students - at one third of the normal RRP. So it's a fully loaded laptop for just over $1,000.

    Find out more about the Student PC

  • Education

    Five cool web tools for teachers

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    I spent a week in January at the BETT show in London - the world's largest Education IT show. I had the luck of presenting with a colleague, Mark Stewart, about some of the websites and products that students use in their social lives, and talking about how they could also be useful for teachers and schools. I thought you might be interested in the the list of things we showed, and I'd also encourage you to take a look at what they can do, and see if they might be useful for your teachers. My favourite of the lot is the Montage site.

    Microsoft Montage

    Allows you to create your own 'daily' subject specific paper - ideal to put on the whiteboard as a lesson opener

    http://montage.cloudapp.net/gallery

    The montage examples I used was this one about floods

    Chronozoom

    Microsoft Chronozoom needs Silverlight, and then gives you the history of the universe, all on one zoomable web page

    http://chronozoom.cloudapp.net/firstgeneration.aspx

    Interactive Battle of Britain

    Uses Photosynth and DeepZoom to create an immersive learning experience

    http://news.uk.msn.com/in-depth/world-war-two/battle-of-britain

    Photosynth

    Allows you to view, and create your own, 3D explorable models from a set of standard 2D photographs

    http://www.photosynth.net/

    Office Web Apps

    Try out Office Web Apps for yourself, and see what your students can do with it without needing Office installed on their home computer

    http://office.live.com

  • Education

    The easiest way to set up a free WordPress server

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    imageThe Microsoft WebMatrix team have been working for quite a while now on making it easier to setup free web servers, so that you can easily implement a new web project - for example, if somebody in your school or uni asks for a platform for blogging - and especially when they come along with a very specific request, like "Can you setup a WordPress server for me". Of course, that's an ideal time to have the "Have you thought about running your blogs on SharePoint?" conversation, but sometimes people don't want to know about what you've already got - they've heard from a friend who uses WordPress/Joomla/Drupal - and they've been convinced nothing else will do.

    Normally, that may mean spending ages setting up a specific server for their custom WordPress install. And that's where the web team come in - they have created WebMatrix, which I reckon is the easiest way to setup a free WordPress server (or a Joomla/Drupal etc server).

    All you (or they) need to do is to download and install WebMatrix, which uses the Microsoft Web Platform Installer to get your server up and running (and the team claim you can do this in 5 minutes or less). The WebMatrix package includes support for ASP.NET and PHP applications, and includes SQL Server Compact to provide the back-end database, and integrates to Visual Studio for programming. From a student's or academic's point of view, it means that they can get started with web development more quickly, whether they are programming in PHP, HTML, CSS or JavaScript - and whether or not they want to add a content management or blogging system like WordPress, Joomla, Drupal or others on the server.

    And for you as an IT manager, what it means is that you've got a basic platform which uses the same Microsoft infrastructure you use across your institution - giving you more control and uniformity across your network.

    So next time an academic wanders into the IT office and says "I need to setup a WordPress server", perhaps it'll be a more welcome question!

    You can find out more, and download the free WebMatrix yourself here

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