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

  • FE blog

    Tech Ed arrives again – 3-7 November 2008



    Time to start being nice to the people that sign off your professional development budget? (I know, you always are…)

    Tech Ed (also previously known as IT Forum) is in Barcelona again this year on the 3rd – 7th November, and the agenda and registration information has just been released.

    Tech Ed is the premier Microsoft technical education conference just for IT professionals. For five days, you and 5,000 of your peers will learn how to architect, plan, deploy, manage and secure a connected enterprise from Microsoft experts and industry leaders.

    You’ll get the chance to meet new people, get new ideas and be a part of the experience, including:

    • Breakout Sessions: More than 190 technical sessions cover the latest Microsoft-based products.
    • Interactive Sessions: Interactive Sessions are small and informal and provide you with an opportunity to interact with speakers, to ask questions and discuss topics. They can be a chalk-talk, based around a whiteboard or even an extended walk-through of a demo or product feature presented at an earlier Breakout Session. Interactive Sessions are 30-75 minutes in length and delivered in theatre-style format in rooms seating a maximum of 80 people.
    • Self Paced Hands-on Labs: Evaluate products from Microsoft and our most important industry partners.
    • Panel Discussions: Panel Discussions are lively debates with a mix of industry experts and Microsoft product team members on stage answering your questions. Panel Discussions are 75 minutes in length and delivered in theatre-style format in rooms seating 140 to 700 people.
    • Instructor-Led Labs: Led by Microsoft product team  members and industry experts and supported by MCTs. Hands-on product evaluation using individual desktop workstations in sessions running for 75 minutes in length - on a first-come first-served basis.
    • Product Demos: Fast-paced demos that provide an overview of products and technologies delivered during the Lunch break in theatre-style format in rooms seating 140 to 700 people for up to 45 minutes in length.
    • Connections with the community: 5,000 IT professionals to meet. 5,000 opinions to consider. 5,000 wits to engage and experiences to share. Add Microsoft product team members and industry gurus to the mix, and you'll see why a Tech·Ed EMEA IT Professional crowd is like no other.

    Take a look at some of the things we blogged from the conference last year

    Just right for IT Directors and their support team

    Each year, 80+ delegates from UK education organisations attend the event – a number which has been increasing year-on-year. Which means that there’s a community of like-minded colleagues that you can share information with. Some of the MS UK Education team will be there too, and as usual we’ll be hosting a social evening, and a specific education session during the conference (Any ideas for what you’d like us to cover? That’s what the “Comment” button is for)

    Although people from colleges normally arrive individually, many universities bring along 3 or 4 of the team – the agenda is so wide, and so deep, that it often makes sense to split up and go to different sessions, and then meet back up to compare notes.

    Discount for UK Education customers

    When you register, you can save over €1,500 (and with the Euro the way it is, that’s a bigger saving than last year!).

    Register using our specific Academic registration code (DLACMM9M) and you’'ll only have to pay €695 Euros. (With the Euro the way it is, that’s a little more. But that’s for five days of conference and training!)

    Anyway, find out more on the Tech Ed site, and register here

    See you in Barcelona!


    (Oh, if you’re one of those people that would prefer to go the Tech Ed Developers conference instead, which is a week later, then you too can have a discount code of DLACBF4J. But you won’t get any of the joy of meeting up with education team, as we’ll all be tucked up back in the UK again)

  • FE blog

    Boiling frogs in email


    LiveateduIn recent times it has been fashionable to talk about “cloud services”, and “Software plus Services”, and to consider how Internet-based services supplement, support or replace more conventional IT services provided on campus. And, lo and behold, the occasional story has popped up of universities & colleges outsourcing some of their core services to web-based providers. We’ve seen it with our Live@edu services, which are a combination of email, storage and collaboration services, which we provide as a free Internet-based service for institutions, rather than individual universities & colleges running their own in-house servers (eg for student email). It’s something individual students have been doing for years (Hotmail anybody?), but this is the enterprise equivalent – with technologies like Hosted Exchange servers running the service.

    So what’s the boiling frog metaphor for? Well, the moral of the boiling frogs story is that when change is gradual, you may not notice what’s going on, until it’s too late. For example, that if you’re running your email services in-house, you may not notice that other colleges are outsourcing it. And then suddenly somebody comes in to the office and says “By the way, we don’t need that next year…”

    It was an email from a colleague that alerted me to what’s going on. He told me:

    FirstquotesWe now have 2,000 schools, colleges and universities from 86 countries signed up for Live@edu, with over ten million email accounts created. Endquotes

    And he went on to say that thousands more had signed up for pilots in the last six months – so the pace of change is accelerating. And I know that a larger-than-average proportion of those are in the UK.

    So what’s that all about then? I guess it’s a recognition that running a service like student email is expensive, and the service can be limited (I don’t have college data, but the average university student mailbox quota is sub 100MB, whereas you have a 10GB mailbox quota on Live@edu). Moving to an Internet-based free service frees up resources (and money) to focus your ICT delivery on something else – adding value in a different way.

    Whether or not you believe in outsourcing, or Internet-based services, then it’s worth considering what your colleagues are doing – find out more at the Live@edu web site

  • FE blog

    What does next decade’s PC look like?


    NapkinPCYou may recall me blogging the ‘Next-Gen PC’ competition last year, aimed at getting people to think outside of the (beige/black/silver) box for computer design. Well, the winners have been announced, and the amazing Napkin PC is the winner. It uses the metaphor of a paper napkin (“great ideas often start on a napkin…”), which is the US cultural equivalent of our “back of the envelope”. The blurb says “The Napkin PC is a multi-user, multi-interface, modular computer designed for creative professionals to collaborate and bring their greatest ideas to life.”

    The design comes to life with the use of e-paper to allow you to interact with, and then retain images - imagine, you get an image/idea you like, you just pin that on the wall, and grab a new piece of e-paper to carry on.

    NapkinPCCollaborateThere were 20 finalists, and all of them are on the site to browse. I think that there’s plenty of good lessons in here – from the designs and different challenges being addressed, to the professional presentation styles. For example, take a look at the 10 slides for the winning design, to see how they move from idea to concept, through to addressing specific issues such as environmental sustainability.

    I was led onto thinking about how something like this could be used in education. Ever since I saw (and played with) the Microsoft Surface PC, I’ve wondered how we can use a different computer interface to more effectively share, discuss and analyse data and information. How can we make it easier for people to sit around a table and discuss issues face-to-face, without having to resort to all facing a screen or whiteboard. If the Napkin PC comes to life, then it’s definitely something I’d want at home, to sit down and work together with my children on a piece of paper, rather than leaning over a desk to point at a screen. And maybe I’ll be able to spend less time sitting staring into one.

    I’m sure you’ll find your own light bulb moment too, amongst the winners and finalists on the competition’s web site.

  • FE blog

    Free Podcasting Kit for SharePoint 2007


    A few days ago, the Podcasting Kit for SharePoint was released on CodePlex (our open source project hosting web site). And, for colleges, it’s an opportunity to move into a multimedia, web 2.0 world in a more controlled way.

    Up until now, many of the ways that people have used podcasting, and many other web 2.0 technologies, has led to a fragmentation of information – with podcasts being hosted on lots of different sites, and made available through different routes. This has led to some colleges losing control over their own resources & intellectual property, or not being able to control who has access to resources. Not everybody wants to publish all of their materials straight onto the Internet for anybody else to download/distribute!

    PKSBigThe Podcasting Kit for SharePoint is a solution which allows you to retain control over information, and still make it widely available to those who have the right to it. By basing your podcasting system on SharePoint, you link it to your college’s user management through Active Directory – which means that you’re not creating yet another data store/identity list, and users can be given access to resources according to their role etc

    You can provide a facility for all of the college staff (and students?) to distribute audio and video podcasts, and directly integrate that into the rest of your ICT infrastructure painlessly. Most colleges in the UK are use Moodle for their VLE, and by deploying Moodle on SharePoint, you not only have single identity and access management, you can also integrate solutions such as these within the same environment.

    The features of the Podcasting Kit for SharePoint are:

  • Listen and watch audio/video podcasts, anywhere on your PC or mobile device or MP3 player
  • Share content by allowing users to produce their own audio/video podcasts and publish them themselves.
  • Easily find the most relevant content using the five star rating system, tag cloud, search engine and comments
  • Get automatic podcast updates by subscribing to RSS feeds fully compatible with podcasting devices
    • Simple RSS feed based on a defined podcast series
    • Simple RSS feed based on a person
    • Dynamic RSS feed based on search results
  • Play podcasts in real-time using Silverlight
  • Retrieve instant usage metrics with the ability to track the number of podcasts downloaded and/or viewed, instant feedback via rating system and comments, and subscribers via the RSS feed
  • Access the richness of SharePoint to extend the solution: workflow, community sub-sites, access rights, editorial etc
  • Customize the look and feel to match your own university’s style

    This release is the beta, which we don’t recommend deploying it to production systems, and the full release is in September.

    You can find out more, and download the kit from CodePlex. There’s also a short presentation which runs through the kit, available as a download.

    We’ve been using it within Microsoft for the last 9 months, and it has demonstrated (1) how robust it is and (2) how much it improves communication between a community of 150,000+ people! I use the RSS feature on my mobile phone to keep up to date with any new podcasts published with the “education” tag.

    And because it’s all on CodePlex, the community is already working on other projects to enhance it – like a very smart-looking mobile phone client to enhance the user experience.

  • FE blog

    Live Mesh - What’s with all this "Cloud" stuff?


    Over the last year, I’ve been hearing more and more about “cloud-based services” – a mechanism to make use of the power of the web, alongside desktop computers and software. These day’s we’re often expressing it as “Software plus Services”, and it is about creating a new hybrid model of computing that doesn’t rely on constant Internet connectivity, but provides a more seamless online and offline experience.

    But I have to admit, abstract concepts don’t click easily with me – I’m more of a ‘see it and believe it’ kind of person. So my personal journey to discover what’s going on in the world of “cloud” services was all about trying stuff.

    My first experience of this was when I started to use SkyDrive, to which I am now completely addicted. SkyDrive gives you a free 5GB storage space on the web, accessible through a web interface (if you’ve downloaded any presentations from this blog, you’ll have used it already). It is much, much easier than having to FTP a file for people to download, and I can control access, with public, private and shared folders (the last type are only shared with people I choose).

    I then also gave FolderShare a go – allowing me to share folders across different PCs (in my case, my home PC, my work laptop, and my old ‘test’ laptop). This was handy, but wasn’t quite a seamless to setup as I’d expected. It’s still there as a service, but I’m not going to waste your time with a web link, because what you really want is Live Mesh…


    A couple of weeks ago we announced Live Mesh, which is a massive leap forward. Although it’s still a technical preview, and you have to join a sign-up queue to get an account, it is something that is definitely worth a look now, to see what is just around the corner.

    Let my try and describe what it does…

      • MeshCircle You can setup a ‘Live Desktop’ on the web with 5GB of storage, with folders that are automatically synchronised to any of your connected devices (today, Windows PCs, but shortly your Windows Mobile phone/PDA and Apple Macs).
      • Synchronised folders appear on both your Live Desktop, and on the desktop of each of your devices.
      • You can remotely access any of your connected devices from another (forgotten to put a file you want from your home machine in your synched folder? No problem, just take control of the machine remotely and copy it over!).
      • You can then choose to share folders with others. And all of this no cost – zero – zippo – free.

    I installed it a week ago, and my jaw keeps dropping at what it can do. I keep all of my photos on my home machine, but if I want one I can just ‘pop over’ and pick it up from the office on my work laptop. I can put my working presentations in one of my Live Desktop synchronised folders, and carry on working on it on any of my computers.

    It will offer a way for staff to effectively use multiple computers, and the masses of data that we all seem to be building up across multiple devices - write lecture notes on your home PC on Sunday evening, and it’s there on your work laptop on Monday morning without having to do anything extra. And what ways will it offer for students to use college computers and their own home PCs to support their learning?

    (My) Words simply cannot do it justice…instead, take a look at one of these videos below.

    You can sign up for the waiting list to use the technical preview, and find out a lot more at, www.mesh.com



    It’s new, and today it’s a technology preview, but it’s not going to be long before it is a service anybody can use.

    So back to my original question – What’s with all this “Cloud” stuff?

    To be honest, I think we’re in the foothills of the journey. What we are seeing today, with things like SkyDrive and Live Mesh, are clever technology ideas that give an insight into what may be around the corner. The idea that as a user I can start to disconnect my data from my device – that it is stored on multiple devices, and synchronised to multiple places, which I can access on any of those devices whether connected or not, or simply from the web. Up until now, I have been used to the fact that my device is where the data is. Now that appears to be changing quickly, and the implications for students, institutions, and IT teams is astonishing!

  • FE blog

    Digital Literacy Curriculum: Now Available as SCORM Objects


    Great news! The highly successful Digital Literacy Curriculum is now available as SCORM objects that can be deployed in a Learning Platform or as part of a SharePoint/SLK implementation. The resources are free and can be downloaded from:


    There are different versions for Windows XP/Office 2003 (original) and Windows Vista/Office 2007 (version 2). The Word versions are also available.

    Here’s a reminder of what DLC includes:

    Microsoft's Digital Literacy curriculum for the UK is now live – and available at no cost. The goal of the Digital Literacy curriculum is to teach basic computer concepts and skills so that people can use computer technology in everyday life to develop new social and economic opportunities for themselves, their families and their communities.

    The Digital Literacy curriculum is available free-of-charge to everyone wanting to improve their digital literacy skills. The files in these folders have been packaged as SCORM Learning Objects so that they can be distributed, managed and assessed within a Virtual Learning Environment or eLearning Tool such as the SharePoint Learning Kit.

    The Digital Literacy curriculum consists of five courses with a folder for each:

    1. Computer Basics
    2. The Internet and the World Wide Web
    3. Productivity Programmes (Word processing, Spreadsheets, Presentations, Databases)
    4. Computer Security and Privacy
    5. Digital Lifestyles

    The content is in two formats for Windows XP or Windows Vista as follows:

    · Folders labelled “Original” are XP content versions

    · Folders labelled Version 2 are Vista Content

    · Individual chapters are included for the Productivity Programmes Course, all other courses are in a single package.

    · The Folder labelled NON-SCORM includes all the courses in a non-SCORM format that can be run from SharePoint within a browser. Note: The Original Version doesn’t include the Productivity Course as it is too big a package to load onto SkyDrive.

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