We've been doing a lot of work with students recently, and from that I've learnt quite a bit about their ICT habits. Two years ago universities reported that three-quarters of students turn up with their own PC, with some reporting that 99% of students do. Judging on the research panels we've held recently, that number appears to be pretty much 100% across the board now. And the mix has shifted towards laptops, although not completely. I'm not aware of any statistics for colleges, but anecdotal information points to the trend moving in the same way for college students.

But the bizarre thing is how they are used. You've got a laptop. What do you do with it? Well, it appears that you leave it at home, and just carry your data around on a memory stick. Again, that's what virtually every student told us they did.

So what happens if you lose your memory stick? Or it suddenly packs up (as my favourite one did this week, losing an important spreadsheet I hadn't copied elsewhere). Well, the data goes with it.

In this world of web-enabled everything, there's got to be another way. That's where SkyDrive comes in. It's part of the Windows Live @ Edu mail service, or UK students can just sign up separately for it. It gives you a 500MB password-protect storage space on the internet, where you can store files, and if you want share them (I use it for most of the downloads I want to make available on this blog) you can just pop them onto the public folder in your SkyDrive. Or you can make it available only to specific people.

It's the equivalent of giving all of your students a 500MB memory stick, and backing it up for them every minute of the day.

Of course, it's not something that every student might want. But when you start to put together some of the new online services, you can see how they can be put together in a way that enhances service delivery to students:

  • Hosted web-based email with a 5GB mailbox, with Windows Live @ Edu
    • with mail forwarding, so that students can automatically forward their .ac.uk email address to their "every day" email address
  • 500MB file storage with Windows Live SkyDrive
  • Live Spaces for blogs, social networking and other places for students to publish, share and talk.
  • And next? Well, Office Live Workspaces take the SkyDrive idea into a context specifically for Office users (due for launch in 2008), so that you can save your Word, Excel and PowerPoint files directly from within the software

Oh, and did I mention that ALL of this is free?