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July, 2011

  • FE blog

    No-Code Designer Solutions for SharePoint 2010 training course


    One of our partners, Collabco Software, have written a post I would like to share with you on SharePoint 2010 and the opportunity for a course on creating no-code SharePoint Designer Solutions. Please take a look below and if interested, details on how to enrol are given at the end.

    Information Technology has been continually evolving over the last 20 years. During this time it would be fair to say that the volume of applications within any typical education institution has continually grown, and the infrastructure required has therefore become much more complex. Simultaneously with this growth comes ever increasing Information Technology related costs, and conflicts between departmental and institution-wide I.T agendas. At a time of increasing budget demands and greater student expectations something needs to change.

    SharePoint is often implemented as Intranet enabling Information Portals/Dashboards, Collaboration, Search and Document Management, but some of its key capabilities are often overlooked.

    SharePoint 2010 provides a great feature set to enable all these things. However the time and expertise involved in integrating to existing applications is significant. Not just a SharePoint perspective, but also application specific knowledge is often required, and that can have a high cost attached, requiring application vendors to be brought in. The question then is, why aggregate lots of applications when some of them need not exist in the first place?

    One powerful set of features which SharePoint provides is an application development platform, however this is one with a key difference. A development platform that allows ordinary users to implement applications without entering a single line of code! This capability, described by Microsoft as “Composites”, allows an I.T department to provide a central governed environment that enables business users to create their own database and workflow applications, to meet their exact requirements, without involving yet another application vendor.

    There are now courses that specialise in training for SharePoint Designer specifically targeted to the education sector in order that they can implement these changes themselves. This allows them to achieve a closer business fit, lower costs, and also enables users to transform their organisation and increase efficiency, whist at the same time keeping the I.T people happy. These courses are specifically developed and are instructed by experienced consultants, who have had involvement with Implementing SharePoint into the education sector.

    Creating No-Code SharePoint Designer Solutions for SharePoint 2010 is a course taking place this winter specially designed for the education sector.

    This course will demonstrate how to make the most out of SharePoint Foundation 2010 and SharePoint Server 2010 without having to engage in any custom development. The course demonstrates how to create business solutions using nothing more than a browser and SharePoint Designer 2010. The course is designed both to teach and to give the user hands-on experience with the most valuable functionality of SharePoint Server 2010.

    For more details on how you can take part in these course this winter contact Collabco Software on 0845 0507 380 or email info@collabco.co.uk and ask about Elev8ted.  Alternatively you can check out the website.

  • FE blog

    Master students report key talks and discussions at The Sunday Times Festival of Education


    festivalOn 25th and 26th June 2011, The Sunday Times Festival of Education took place at Wellington College, Berkshire. Here Wellington brought in a team of nine student reporters from the Masters course in journalism at City University and invited them to write some short reports on some of the talks and discussions during the event.


    Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Education

    Andy Burnham MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Education

    Sir Martin Rees with Dr Anthony Seldon, Master of Wellington College

    Lord Robert Winston


    All PDF’s to these reports can be found here

  • FE blog

    Software Licensing Training Course at Stockton Sixth Form College, 5th August 2011



    Do you want to know more about EES (Enrolment for Education Solutions)?
    Do you need to know more about Microsoft licensing, including:

    • Client/Server Licensing
      • What’s a CAL
      • Core CAL Suite
      • Enterprise CAL Suite
      • Device CAL & User CAL
      • Processor Licensing (inc Multi-Core)
      • External Connectors/Internet Licences
      • Terminal Services/RDS
    • Work @ Home / Home Use Programme
    • Student Licensing
    • Software Assurance & Other Benefits, including:
      • MSDNAA
      • Dynamics CRM AA
      • IT Academy
      • Live@Edu / Office 365
    • OEM & Operating System Licensing
    • Virtualisation – impact on licensing
      • VDA & VDI Licensing (including access to Applications)
      • Windows Server
      • Windows 7
      • SQL
    • Product Activation
    • Downgrade Rights
    • Licence Transfer
    • Step-Up Licences
    • Re-imaging Rights
    • Desktop Optimisation Pack
    • Licensing products to use with the Apple Mac
    • VLSC (Introduction to)
    • Online Services
    • Multi-user licensing (i.e. Multi-Point Server licensing)

    What can Viglen do to help you?

    As one of the top licensing resellers in the UK as well as an OEM, we are well placed to understand the licensing needs of our customers. 
    Therefore we have designed a training course, covering all the above subject areas, to help customers understand how Microsoft licensing works and how you can get the best return on your investment.  Our trainer has over 20 years’ experience of software licensing and is regarded by many in the education sector as one of the primary experts on Microsoft licensing in the UK.

    Venue - Stockton Sixth For College

    Course timings:

    0930-1000               Coffee & Registration
    1000-1115               Training Part 1
    1115-1130               Coffee Break
    1130-1300               Training Part 2
    1300-1345               Lunch (& opportunity to discuss issues with your peers)
    1345-1500               Training Part 3
    1500-1530               Q & A Session / Close

    If you wish to attend, please complete the attached Booking Form at the earliest opportunity. 

    If you have any queries please do not hesitate to contact us –  email or telephone 01727 201890

  • FE blog

    Brockenhurst College, staying lean and efficient


    Brockenhurst collegeOne area that we, here,in the Education team like to report on is cost saving and how looking at different area’s in education, this can be achieved.


    Brokenhurst College, in the New Forest in Hampshire, serves a wide area, covering seven local authorities. Its main activity is providing exam courses at post-sixteen level. There are also some vocational courses for school leavers and a significant amount of adult education. Ofsted rates the college at its highest level of “Outstanding” in all categories, and in the cause of maintaining this, the monitoring and guidance of students has a very high priority. It’s clear that the IT team’s role in this is seen as one of giving support and not getting in the way. For example, they have their own highly practical take on what constitutes an effective Virtual Learning Experience (VLE).

    Using SharePoint 2010, teachers over time have built curriculum sites of varying styles and levels of complexity. There’s a log in portal for students and staff known as “My Brock”  and one for parents.

    “If that makes it a VLE, we never thought of it like that. It’s a framework where we can pull everything together. The attractiveness of SharePoint is that it allows you to embed the best of breed.”

    Head of Information and Systems Development Dr Robin Gadd

    The same independence of spirit has led to the College’s in-house Managed Learning Environment (“Emily”) with Microsoft SQL Server 2008 at its heart and a .NET application, which brings together data and systems including student records, attendance, targets, enabling staff to monitor and support students.

    Although this in-house approach is not cost free, especially at the development stage,  Robin’s take on this, though, is that there are benefits in the longer term.

    “You don’t always get the response you need from external suppliers. We have to adopt their way of working.”

    An often-raised problem of how to sustain any in-house system is what happens when key developers leave? Robin’s answer really is to be aware of the problem and plan for it.

    “It’s risk management, with careful documentation, with source codes, and resilient back ups.”

    At the same time, the focus on in-house solutions has its limits. In common with many universities and colleges, Robin and his team were, discovering four or five years ago, that their in-house email system was no longer fit for purpose. Inboxes and file storage were limited to 200MB, and the consequent proliferation of memory sticks was causing all the obvious problems of loss and failure. Unsurprisingly, students were turning away from using the system. The answer was to move to the cloud, and to Microsoft Live@Edu which both provides a hugely improved experience for students. With 10GB inboxes, 25GB storage, reliable uptime, built in anti-virus and anti-spam all made the choice for Robin, “A no brainer”. The very real icing on the cake, of course, is the saving in costs to the college which, over a period of four years from the adoption of Live@edu will add up to approx. £73,000.

    Saving on Capital Expenditure

    Server Hardware £2,500

    Licensing £1,250

    Installation £500

    Setup/Configuration £500

    AV & Antispam £1,250

    SSL £125

    Saving on Operating Costs

    Backup £1,000

    Admin (5 hrs/wk) £9,100


    (admin, helpdesk, end users) £2,000

    Total saving each year for 4 years, £18,225

    Efficiency savings

    Arguably, the real savings from the kind of work being done at Brockenhurst is the extensive use of SharePoint, the development of an in-house MLE for example, and the move to Live@edu.  With improved efficiency, which has direct impact on student experience and student success will then leads to improved student recruitment and retention, which do have visible cost benefits.

    Measuring efficiency cost savings, is however difficult and an interesting attempt to do exactly this was undertaken at Brockenhurst in 2009 by Becta and their consultancy partner Atkins.

    The chosen target for assessing saving was the College’s innovative electronic Self Assessment Reports (eSAR) system which enables staff to contribute, online, to what becomes the whole college Self Assessment Report, using Ofsted criteria.

    The full description of the cost saving analysis is lengthy and detailed, but it’s estimated that eSAR at Brockenhurst will, over an eight year lifespan from 2006 to 2014  have saved the College £127,323. More than half of this comes from streamlining management processes by removing duplication of meetings and documentation. Just over a quarter comes from administration and just less than that from teaching staff time saving. On top of that there’s a saving on the printing of 2,700 sheets of paper each year!

    Are efficiency savings cashable?

    It’s not difficult to point to efficiency savings. Actually seeing any or even most them come to life as money in the budget is, of course another issue. The short term cutting back of jobs, for example, in anything other than the most pressing of circumstances, isn’t part of any educational institution’s culture – not just for humanitarian reasons but because of factors such as the loss of expertise, and effects on the continuity of courses and services. Students join with the expectation of planned progress over several years.

    That said, it’s possible to envisage, in any institution, that quantified efficiency savings could be realised at least in part over a period of time as courses and administrative systems change and also as individuals move on. For that reason, an exercise such as the one undertaken at Brockenhurst is very worthwhile as a benchmark setter.

  • FE blog

    Smartphone access to the Intranet–another step forward for Birmingham City University

    Windows mobile 7

    Last week, I posted a blog on how Biz Talk at Birmingham City University had been integrated to support both staff and students as well as cost save. Along with Biz Talk, the university is now using Windows Phone 7 to enable staff and students to have everything they need to have together, not just through their pc and laptop.

    Gerald Haigh, independent writer to Microsoft looked at how Birmingham City University has taken the Windows Phone 7 to create an app that does just ‘’bring it all together.’’

    It’s one thing to use your phone to tell your university friends where you are (“On the bus, running late…” ) It’s quite something else for your phone to tell you where you should be. But think smartphone working with a personalised web-based university intranet that knows your timetable and recognizes your log-in and you can see what I mean.

    Smartphones are taking over from PCs we’re told. 100.9 million smartphones sold in the last quarter of 2010, against 92.1 million PCs. You can argue about whether that’s a true like-for-like comparison but it’s a readily observable truth that there’s a hugely increasing demand for on-the-hoof smartphone access to all the services we love and cherish.

    And in education, that includes being able to look, on your phone, at the intranet that has your timetable, departmental messages, coursework due dates and the like, with maybe at least a glance at the VLE.

    The IT team at Birmingham City University, whose superb Biz Talk enabled and highly personalised iCity intranet, were quick to realise the importance of smartphone access to it. In 2009 came the issuing of iPhones to all senior staff, together with the in-house development of an ‘iBCU’ app first for iOS then for Android and now for Microsoft Windows Phone 7. (Direct web access to iCity is possible, of course, but the ‘app approach’ takes full advantage of phone functionality).

    As a result the number of mobile hits on iCity has grown exponentially over the past year.  Between Easter and September 2010 there were approx. 2000 visits. From then to February of this year the number shot to 250,000!

    It’s a hit rate that can only keep on growing, helped now with the arrival on the system of the Windows Phone 7, a smartphone which, described by Paul Aspel, Head of Integration and Development, is ideally suited to the task.

    “It has the brilliant new Metro interface. As soon as we saw it we knew we had to include it, and we used all that we’ve learned on other smartphones and came up with iBCU for Windows Phone 7.”

    A quick look at Windows Phone 7 with iBCU made me realise, in fact, that among its other qualities, it very neatly overcomes what I’ve always thought as “The Dashboard Dilemma”. It goes like this, if you think of the home page , as a dashboard,  your first contact, bleary eyed in the morning, the challenge is to put enough information on it to be useful but not so much as to make it unwieldy. (In that respect it is just like designing a car dashboard)

    Birmingham City University’s iCity, as seen on a PC, deals with this beautifully, partly by a considerable degree of personalization – as far as possible you see your own stuff, pushed and sumarised and partly through clever scrolling windows within the page.

    Smartphone access, though, with iBCU introduces the further challenge of putting the home page on to a small screen. And it’s here where Windows Phone 7 really comes into its own, with two related killer features available to an app developer. One of these, “Panorama”, means you can appear to be sliding the phone’s screen left and right across a wider area, so if what you want to look at is just off screen to the left or right, more of the text you’re reading for example, you just use your thumb to slide across. The other feature, “Pivot” enables the developer to put related pages together so you can again flick through them. Taken together, features like this take to a new level the smartphone’s ability to handle big and multiple pages in a way that’s quick intuitive and clear. It’s ideal, in fact, for smartphone access to a school, college or university intranet.

    Paul Aspel’s visibly excited at what’s being achieved with iCity, iBCU, Live@edu and smartphone access.

    “Students can download iBCU before they get here, and get some up to date background, and directions how to get here from the station. Then they can see the courses, with videos of students giving their impressions. They can even contact lecturers and fill in course applications.”

    Contact, of course, is something that the smartphone makes easy. Where a website says, ‘contact us’, you can actually press the button and make the call.

    The underlying theme here, of course, is ‘Bringing it all together”,making everything available to the student or staff member– including social networking sites through one single sign in. Biz Talk made this possible at desktop and laptop level. Now smartphone is providing a step change in terms of anywhere, anytime access, and Windows Phone 7 is adding its own considerable momentum to the process.

  • FE blog

    Interesting Links – 8th July


    Collection of interesting edtech related links from the last week or so.

    Have you come across any interesting stories in the last week?

    Have a great weekend!

  • FE blog

    Saving money and improve support to students and staff with Microsoft Biz Talk


    Square-Logo-Web-PreviewFor all new students, starting their first term at college or semester at university, can be both an exiting and daunting time. Moving out of home for the first time, getting to grips with new surroundings, making new friends, and to know which room, building or even campus is which can be a little overwhelming. On top of this, technology has grown and developed so much, how can colleges and universities ensure that all these factors of taking education to the next level is a smooth smooth and uncomplicated?

    Recently Gerald Haigh, freelance writer to Microsoft,  visited Birmingham City University to see how they have improved their support to both students and staff and save money with the application of Microsoft Biz Talk.

    Lost in cyberspace

    As a student, you need to be confident with your virtual surroundings, finding your own faculty, the library, the department that deals with accommodation. Then there’s the university’s Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) and the separate site that tells you where you are with your course work. Oh, and you want an electronic card to get you into that building you haven’t found yet? That’ll be yet another website. Then on top of this, in most cases you’ll need to remember and use login details for all of them.

    The same goes for staff members, except there’ll be other important sites you need to visit regularly, such as human resources who know all about your employment details and whether or not you’ve used up all your holiday entitlement.

    Up until 2009, this is how it was a Birmingham City University, and how it probably is now in some institutions.

    The university had 68 different faculty and departmental web sites, with multiple log ins. Not only was it all a pain to navigate and use, but it was difficult to gather data together in a way that would provide useful information for staff and students. Servicing all of the sites, too, was a considerable challenge, involving a number of development teams

    Finding a solution

    Eventually, and perhaps inevitably, there came a time for the university to say enough is enough, and to seek a solution that would bring everything together – a single portal with the coveted stamp of “access all areas”.

    The task fell largely into the domain of Paul Aspel, Head of  Integration and Development, and Team Leader, Rich Caine.

    “We’d already had some experience of integration,” says Paul, “Because we’d developed an in-house intranet at the University’s Technology Innovation Centre (TIC) .Basically, that work showed us the principle of integration.”

    Doing the same thing for the whole university, though, was a task of a different order. Making in-house links at database level would be difficult and the result would be inadequate. The job called for the implementation of a Service Orientated Architecture (SOA)

    “We looked at various solutions, including open source and also some very expensive products, but we found we could get enterprise level Biz Talk at a substantial educational discount for around £34,000, which represented best value for money.”

    Having accomplished the integration of multiple websites and enterprise systems, the next step was to provide staff and students with a university intranet with a “single sign on” (SSO). The result is ‘iCity’, giving the user a bespoke home page tailored to the person who’s logged in. The SOA feature called “Orchestration”  ensures that when a user logs in, the system “knows” who they are. Armed with that knowledge, it will pull together a wealth of information including their print account, notices about their courses, books they have on loan (and whether any are overdue) and a list of unread mail (Birmingham City University is one of a number of HE institutions to have discovered the benefits for students, staff and IT teams of replacing in-house email with Microsoft’s Live@Edu)

    All is displayed to the user in summary form on the home page, from where they can click through for the detail. Without that level of service, much of the information a student or staff member needs would only be accessible through a positive effort to find it on one of a large number of websites, each with its own log-in requirements.

    As Rich says, “ You’d only know you had a library book accumulating fines if you happened to log on to the library system for some reason. Instead, it’s there on your home page in iCity.”

    Very importantly in terms of recruitment and retention of students, the systems, including Biz Talk, which support the iCity portal make it possible to engage prospective students not just before they arrive but before they enrol.

    “Once they have a firm offer they have access to some iCity features, and fill in some pre-enrolment details. Then once enrolled we expand their access. Then when they come to face to face enrolment there’s a lot less to do.”

    Benefits to students

    In a year when Birmingham City University, along with others, is announcing its scale of forthcoming tuition fees, demonstrating value to students is clearly very important. The importance in which students place on their access to iCity is seen in the extent to which it is used. Having gone on line for the first time in Summer 2010, iCity is now having 8000 unique visitors each weekday, and almost half that number on Saturdays and Sundays. (When iCity went off line briefly just after midnight on a Sunday recently, there were instant email complaints from 60 users who worked through the night)

    “It’s become the way they work,” says Rich Caine.

    Confirming the quality of the service, Birmingham City University was awarded the 2010 Times Higher Education Award for Outstanding Support for Students.

    Benefits for IT staff

    The integration of multiple sites with Biz Talk has meant that instead of up to 25 IT developers working across a range of platforms the whole service is now looked after by a team of 12.

    Cost Benefits

    Had Biz Talk not been available, the choice would have been between a proprietary alternative on the one hand and tailoring an open source or entirely in-house system on the other. Either would have been considerably more expensive than using Biz Talk – Paul Aspel estimates that developing an in-house integration would have cost the university half a million pounds, and the end result wouldn’t have been as good.

    Looking to the future

    With the arrival of cloud services and the possibility of using Biz Talk for integration beyond the university, the sky’s the limit for Birmingham City University. Students and staff are also being given smartphone access to iCity, soon to be written about in a future blog post.

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