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The FE Blog
News and views from the Microsoft UK Education Team
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April, 2008

  • FE blog

    Shift Happens at AOC


    I've been at the AOC Annual Technology Conference for the last two days, which is themed "Digital Natives, Digital Spaces". I was speaking on the first afternoon, and my sense of relaxation disappeared in the first 5 minutes of the conference, as it opened with my Shift Happens video presentation. Aargh - I'd planned to use it to open my session, so I had to spend an hour re-working my presentation for later. The Shift Happens UK version (based on an American presentation) strikes a chord with so many audiences, that I'm now getting an email every day from somebody I've never heard from, or spoken to, asking for more information about it. I've only shown it 8 or 9 times in the last year, but it is amazing how today's viral environment means that so many people both inside and outside of education have seen it, or used it themselves. When I finished the UK version, I popped it onto the blog and made a download available in PowerPoint and video format. It then took on a life of its own - somebody posted it onto You Tube, and it continues to progress outwards.

    Video: Shift Happens UK

    If you want to download the Shift Happens video, and the UK PowerPoint version, take a look at the all resources on on this blog post, as well as reading more about how it came to be!

    Then I had to do another, milder, amendment, when another of the speakers used the Microsoft video of the BSF Showcase software, which I'd planned to include too!

    The good aspect of all of this is that there's a resonance between what we're thinking (and saying), and others. The downside is that I need to create more presentation resources, some of which can be used by others - but I'd better keep one of them secret, so at least I can be sure I don't get this panic too often!

  • FE blog

    Timetabling at Sussex Downs College


    Tribal's ebs, a web-based student record and management system, is capable of managing the entire student lifecycle, from course marketing to examinations and timetables. And it’s currently used by more than 150 learning providers. You might be familiar with ebs, and some of the other systems that are there to help manage student records in colleges. But do you know how they are created?

    Tribal worked with our development team recently to produce a case study on the new timetabling module development in ebs. The main aim of the case study was to show other programmers and developers what’s possible (hence, the quotes like “Presentation Foundation has such a great abstraction between the user experience and the business logic within the application.”)

    But the case study also makes an interesting insight into Tribal’s relationship with their customers, and the way that benefited Sussex Downs College, one of them.

    Tracey Adams, Management Information Officer at Sussex Downs College, says in the case study:

    FirstquotesEBS worked well as the basis of our management information system. But when we heard that Tribal was planning to upgrade the timetabling component, we were able to get involved at the early stages of developmentEndquotes as part of its early adopter programme. It was very useful to have the ear of the developers during this process and to be able to make suggestions as the product was being developed. We could tell them how the product was being used and what might be the requirements.

    And as a result, the resulting upgrade to ebs meant that:

    • Staff immediately see clashes in scheduling and manage timetables easily.
    • Tutors access exam, course, and student timetables, and track attendance records.
    • Tutors and administrators interact with a graphically appealing system that is more user friendly.

    You can read more about the project on our worldwide case studies website

  • FE blog

    Ultimate Steal – just five days left for students and staff


    You can’t have failed to miss the offer we’ve been running for students and staff who have an email address that ends in .ac.uk – Office Ultimate 2007 for £38.95 – on www.theultimatesteal.co.uk

    But you may have missed the looming deadline – it closes on Wednesday night next week – so there are just five days to go

    We’ve seen a rush of people mentioning it on blogs and forums suddenly, because it appears many students still haven’t heard of the offer. And we’ve also seen a burst of traffic from universities which have just announced the offer for the first time to their students. Is this something that you want to tell your students and staff about?

    If you do want to tell your students & staff , then this post gives you some words & images.

    Of the universities that have promoted it to their students (including BristolKentStirlingQueens University Belfast SalfordQMU EdinburghBradfordMiddlesex – Loughborough) my favourite two are:

    • Homerton College – on what’s an obviously student-centric IT page. It’s worth looking at as a good practice example of moving away from a dull, corporate look to student communications!
    • Derby – who used the lovely countdown clock one of my colleagues created.


  • FE blog

    Ultimate Steal - good news for staff


    With only three weeks to go, I can imagine this blog post could create some howls...but better late than never.

    We have just managed to convince all the powers-that-be that staff should also qualify for the Ultimate Steal. Until today, if members of staff in your college wanted a copy of Office, they could either buy the "Home & Student" version in a shop/online (at about £80-90), or use Home User Rights (if you allowed them, and you'd both agreed to the terms), or various other convoluted routes. But now we've managed to get the lawyers and licensing teams to agree to include staff into the Ultimate Steal offer.

    What does this mean?

    Staff can now purchase, for their own use at home, a copy of Office 2007 Ultimate Edition, for £38.95, via www.theultimatesteal.co.uk

    What's the qualifying criteria?

    The lawyers insisted there should be some qualifying criteria (after all, they argued, what happens if somebody is employed as a tea lady - do they qualify?) and so we created some with them. Hopefully it is easy for all of your staff to qualify - including the tea lady. There are just two simple criteria:

    1. Staff must hold a valid email address at a UK, Jersey, Guernsey or Isle of Man educational institution, ending in either ‘.ac.uk’, ‘ac.im’, ‘ac.gg’ or ‘ac.je’.


    2. You must be employed at an education institution geographically located in the United Kingdom, Jersey, Guernsey or the Isle of Man, for at least an average of 8 hours per week or 4 teaching hours per week

    Do we have to do anything?

    Nothing other than letting your staff know they've got 3 weeks (and counting) to take advantage of the offer. If you want an email template, take a look at this post

  • FE blog

    Ultra-low cost laptops in colleges


    The market for ultra-low-cost laptops is continuing to move forwards. At the point when the Asus EeePC/Asus RM miniBook were released, it created a buzz in education. Basically it was easy to see how it would be possible to imagine that every student could have a device, which is cheap, light and small enough for them to have available all of the time.

    Over time in the UK, we've seen the ratio between students and computers improve. Although, in colleges the latest Becta reports said that the numbers are going the wrong way - according to 2005/6 FERL/Becta Survey there are 4.5 students per computer, down from 4.1 students per computer in 2002. In most colleges this has been through adding more fixed computers - ie take the students to the computers, not the reverse.

    When you've got a laptop that costs less than £250, suddenly it seems possible to make a huge leap - to providing a laptop for every full-time student, and through that changing the delivery model of resources. But the first miniBook release was only the thin end of the wedge. What's happened since then?

    RM miniBook

    The miniBook is a small format, 0.9KG laptop with a 7" 800x480 screen, with a battery life of 2-3 hours.

    RM launched the first Windows XP version of the RM miniBook/Asus EeePC in January (with a higher specification - 8Gb storage and 1Gb RAM - and a higher price - £269).

    Last month they launched the lower-cost Windows XP miniBook, at £225 (with 4GB solid-state hard drive, and 512MB of RAM).

    Read the specifications and other details here

    HP 2133 miniNote from RM

    RM have now launched the HP 2133 miniNote, a higher specification notebook, running Windows XP Pro/Windows Vista Business, with a 8.9" screen running at 1280x768 and weighing in at 1.3Kg (1.5Kg with a 4 hour battery), which costs £385.

    Intel's new Atom processor


    At the Intel Developer Forum, in Shanghai, there was a lot of focus on the new Atom processor, a new chip that helps to reduce power consumption, and is a building block for low-cost, ultra-portable devices. There were some new designs on display there - one from MSI got a lot of coverage (see right), because it was claimed to have a 6-hour battery life and a 10-inch screen.

    And there's more coming...

    It's clear that we're still in the early days of lower cost, more portable laptops, and we'll see more product launches over the next few months. In fact, by the time we get to the summer holidays, the choice for laptops for individual students is going to be even bigger. So now's the time to be thinking about your strategy for the future, and considering how that will allow you to take your college provision forward.

    So what does this all mean?

    In the past, it's been unlikely that the majority of colleges would be able to, or want to, give a laptop to every one of their students. It wasn't just because of cost, but also because of size and weight, as well as battery life. The new laptops are reducing size and weight, and some are even addressing the battery life issue.

    I think by this time next year, it will be possible to have a strategy of reducing the number of PCs fixed to desks, and rapidly getting to a 1:1 PC:Student ratio. And if you can do that, how would it change your learning model? And what contribution could that make to achievement by your students?

  • FE blog

    Darwinian Databases on video


    The Windows Server launch team have made available the video of the Cambridge University team, who are using modern database technologies to solve a centuries-old data analysis problem. If you're into databases, and their uses, then this is a good video to watch now. But if you're like me, and the mysteries of SQL elude you, then watch it over a cup of tea this afternoon - you might walk away thinking about a data set you've had foa while, but hadn't realised you could analyse in a visual way.

    Find out some more about the project in this earlier blog post.

    Video: Microsoft Cambridge University SQL Server 2008

    A higher quality version of this video is on the right hand side of this web page

  • FE blog

    Ultimate Steal - just 22 days to go


    The Ultimate Steal offer for students, closes in just 22 days on 30th April. Which means that by the time students get back from their break, they'll have just a few days to buy themselves a legal copy of the latest and most comprehensive version of Office 2007 for £38.95. (More details at www.theultimatesteal.co.uk - students must have a .ac.uk email address)

    If you're one of the colleges that have promoted this to students (or even if you're not) we've created some resources to help you let your students know about it online.

    The Countdown Clock

    I like this bit - a buzzy little Countdown Clock to pop onto your VLE or portal pages. The website guys sent me the code, and told me that "any web person will know how to use it". Well, I'm not a "web" person (by their definition), so I had a crack at putting it into this blog. And lo and behold, I pasted a few lines of HTML code and here it is...

    Basically I put the following line of code into my blog:

    <embed name="sticker" pluginspage="http://www.macromedia.com/go/getflashplayer" align="right" src="http://www.theultimatesteal.co.uk/Counter_UK_CN.swf" width="370" height="230" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowfullscreen="false" bgcolor="#ffffff" wmode="transparent" quality="high" mce_src="http://www.theultimatesteal.co.uk/Counter_UK_CN.swf">

    If you want, you can download the code for the Countdown Clock on this link below:

    The Student Email

    If you're sending an email to your students, to remind them that it's their last chance, then feel free to borrow from our template. It's got a snazzy header.....(ta-da)


    ...and some standard text. If it's too dull for you, or just not your style, then feel free to take any bits you want (like the header above). Here is the whole email in Outlook .msg format.


  • FE blog

    Event: Identity & Access for Education


    We’re running a seminar in London, in partnership with Oxford Computer Group, on 12th June. It’s an opportunity to learn about solutions for identity and access management, messaging, collaboration, and how you can enhance existing technology investments.

    During the day we’ll provide an overview of Microsoft’s Live@edu services and how these can easily be integrated with your existing infrastructure using Microsoft Identity Lifecycle Manager (ILM) 2007. We will then demonstrate how to use this platform for identity and access management, showing how to implement a rich identity lifecycle management solution that works with Live@edu and your existing in-house systems.

    When and Where?

    12 June 2008 - Microsoft London, 100 Victoria Street, London, SW1E 5JL


    09:00 Identity & Access for Education – Optimise your current Infrastructure Microsoft
    09:45 Overview of Live@edu & Exchange Labs Microsoft
    10:45 Connecting Live@edu with existing platforms and systems OCG
    11:15 Break
    11:30 Identity  Life Cycle Management for Education OCG
    12:15 Case study from King’s College London + Demonstration OCG
    13:00 Q&A and Lunch


    To register for this free seminar please email Simon Farrell, v-sifar@microsoft.com, with your details, including a telephone number.

  • FE blog

    Design IT Competition - time to vote


    DesignIT Over the last three months we’ve invited people to submit their designs for computer systems that demonstrate creativity as well as tackling real social, human interest problems experienced by charities large and small: such as contributing to the battle to reduce carbon emissions; bringing conservation closer to the people that use technology; opening channels of communication for abused and vulnerable children and identifying new opportunities for disabled people. We've reduced the entries down to five finalists - all of whom are addressing real issues in an innovative way. Everything from "The Lean Green Wind-Powered IT Machine" to St Basils "Virtual Rucksack" for supporting homeless young people.

    Now it's your chance to vote to turn one of these into reality - take a look at all of the entries, and cast your vote by the end of Friday.

    You can see the short listed entries and vote for your favourite here

    The winner will work with a team of technical architects to turn their idea into reality. Of course, they are all worthy winners. I don't want to influence your vote at all, but did I mention St Basils work specifically with homeless young people aged 16-25?

  • FE blog

    Unlock funding by helping your college achieve the ‘Training Quality Standard’


    Colleges are having to adapt to changes in the way workforce training is funded by the Govern ment, to ensure that they get certified in the Training Quality Standard (TQS) .  The TQS will have a major impact on colleges, as you could be in direct competition for funding with private sector training organisations, with funding decided by how well you are perceived to serve the employer community. 

    To achieve TQS certification, colleges you have to prove that you're responsive, high-quality providers, responding to employers within set time frames and keeping accurate records of all interactions with them.  One way that this can easily be achieved is with a robust Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system in place. To help you with your planning for this, we're running a seminar in partnership with Morse and Barnfield College at our office in Reading on 21st May.

    Barnfield College is a remarkable sucess story.  Rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, it is one of the best performing colleges in the UK in terms of its students’ achievements.  Teresa Frith, Director of Business Development at Barnfield College, will be presenting at the seminar, sharing how they have used CRM to help with their employer relationship management.

    At the AOC Conference this week, there's been a lot of talk about changes needed to meet the continually rising expectations of students - and so the work that Barnfield have done with their CRM for student relationship management will be interesting too.

    Even better, we've packed it all in to an that agenda runs from 11:30-3:3, so you've got time to get to here and away without ruining your home life!

    The seminar's free, it's on Wednesday 21st May 2008 at the Microsoft Campus in Reading and you can register now at www.morse.com/fe

    I'll see you there (yes, I'm on the agenda too - but don't let that put you off!)

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