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September, 2009 - The UK Higher Education Blog - Site Home - MSDN Blogs
The HE Blog
News and views from the Microsoft UK Education Team
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September, 2009

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 – in Tony Hart mode


    This collection of videos is very clever – as you work your way through it, you’ll see that you eventually end up with some screencasts showing particular features of Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2. But what is riveting on the journey is the way that you navigate your way around the videos – using hand drawn animations and hotspots on each video to give you a route to learn more.

    It comes from the team of DeepFat and JamesOne (some of you will have met James at our Windows for Education event) who are part of our evangelism team. They have been exploring the features of Windows 7 and Window Server 2008 R2 via the medium of art, some YouTube annotations and then some screencast videos. You can start here and then click through to the stuff you're interested in.

    I wonder if this has also got potential in education for learning resources – basically linking a series of videos together, with some navigation – rather than the conventional channel/menu approach.

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    Online learning is better than face-to-face learning?


    The US Department of Education sponsored the Center for Technology in Learning to look into the effectiveness of online learning – and to specifically compare the effectiveness of using online learning compared to face to face learning. The results, published in May, are on the website, for all to see.

    What I’ve seen of the reporting seems to take the simple line that “online learning is better than face-to-face learning”. Hmmm, having read more than the first highlighted sentence in the abstract, I think there’s a lot more to it!

    The inescapable conclusion is that with students changing, and their lives changing, methods of supporting online and blended learning are not only more convenient for many different types of students, but also more effective at ensuring that the student achieves the required learning outcomes.

    What the researchers did

    The researchers looked at 1,000 pieces of research, over the last 12 years, of online learning. After throwing out those pieces that didn’t compare online and face-to-face learning, or didn’t measure the impact on student learning, or didn’t take a rigorous approach to the research, they were left with 51 pieces of research – which is a large enough group to make effective comparisons.

    Then they crunched all the conclusions together from all of the reports, to arrive at an overarching conclusion – answering the question “What do we know about the effectiveness of online learning compared to conventional, face-to-face learning?

    The headline conclusions

    The simple conclusion was:


    students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction Endquotes

    Which is the bit that has been reported widely.

    But read on a little further, and the report went on to say:


    The difference between student outcomes for online and face-to-face classes…was larger in those studies contrasting conditions that blended elements of online and face-to-face instruction with conditions taught entirely face-to-faceEndquotes

    Which is saying that a combination of online and face-to-face learning (ie blended learning) is more effective than online learning alone.

    Although there are some provisos around this finding – eg theories that blended learning often includes additional learning time and additional face-to-face learning not included in standard courses – it is still significant.

    Key Findings

    Further in (starting on page xiv, if you’re following along) are some key findings that are good summary conclusions:

    • Students who took all or part of their class online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction
      This conclusion speaks for itself
    • Instruction combining online and face-to-face elements had a larger advantage relative to purely face-to-face instruction than did purely online instruction
      Which may result from the approach a teacher takes – do they feel more engaged too, when the learning is mixed?
    • Studies in which learners in the online condition spent more time on task than students in the face-to-face condition found a greater benefit for online learning
      I’d suspect this is a factor of students being able to each learn at their own pace, and pause or repeat sections of their learning – something that’s all but impossible in face-to-face learning.
    • Most of the variations in the way in which different studies implemented online learning did not affect student learning outcomes significantly
      I suspect that if we had the data for all e-learning in UK universities we’d see something similar – that the biggest difference in learning outcomes is achieved by a decision to support blended online learning effectively, however that happens. The two factors that did make a difference were the use of blended learning (as opposed to online only) and the amount of time students spent on task.
    • The effectiveness of online learning approaches appears quite broad across different content and learner types
      Although, because the schools research sample was so small, there are few strong conclusions for school-age learning specifically.
    • Effect sizes were larger for studies in which the online and face-to-face conditions varied in terms of curriculum materials and aspects of instructional approach in addition to the medium of instruction
      ie don’t just put your existing course materials onto a website – you need to plan to deliver your course differently
    • Few rigorous research studies of the effectiveness of online learning for K–12 (school) students have been published
      "K-12" is ‘Kindergarten to 12th Grade’, which is American for "schools"
      Of all the research completed, there was none on school use of online learning between 1994 and 2006 that met their quality criteria, and only five in total up to 2008.
      Personally, I think in the UK we need to improve this situation. We’re mandating online learning platforms in every school in the UK, without there being a robust set of research to prove that it works?

    Although this report was produced in the US, for the US education system, the conclusions are relevant to the UK. Whatever your strategy is to support e-learning within your university, could this report provide some compelling support to help you to work with less IT-friendly academics?

    You can read the full 93-pages of the report on the US Department of Education website

    It’s also interesting to read the Comments debate on the New York Times website, which started when it reported the findings.

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    How fast can Windows 7 go?


    Earlier in the week PC Pro ran an article stating that Windows 7 is “already used on 1% of PCs”. This was lifted from some Internet metrics measured by NetApplications. It’s easy to do – each time you visit a website, your browser tells the website what version it is, and what operating system it is running on.

    image Given the buzz this summer about Windows 7, I thought I’d have a quick look at the stats for this blog. And the answer has truly surprised me. (Or at least it did once I’d learned from Wikipedia that Windows 7 reports itself as Windows NT 6.1)

    What this table shows is the last 1,000 visitors to the blog – and 1 in 6 are running Windows 7!

    Now I reckon that this is partly because the readers are more technical, and there’s been quite a buzz about Windows 7 – and lots of early deployments in education. Given that there have already been half a dozen schools who’ve told me they’ve rolled out Windows 7 to all their desktops, and plenty of experiments in universities, perhaps Windows 7 is going to overtake even Windows 95 in it’s speed of adoption.

    I was genuinely surprised at what I saw. Are you?

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    Exchange 2010 review


    I came across a review of Exchange 2010 on my travels today and thought it worth sharing.  Not least because there are already dozens of UK institutions using Exchange 2010 as part of their student email service where it is hosted by Microsoft in the Cloud as part of live@edu.  Also, I’ve been working with a Russell Group university over the summer on a deployment of Exchange 2010 for its staff, hosted on premise in its own data centre ready for the start of this academic year.  I can’t ‘out’ them yet but I’m really looking forward to this becoming a public story.

    BTW, Here’s the review:

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    Business Intelligence – seminar


    Microsoft partner, Blueprint, is hosting a seminar on Microsoft Business Intelligence on Tuesday 6 October.The Agenda is:

    • Deploying successful BI Projects: Blueprint's approach, and project delivery strategy for a successful BI project.
    • An Introduction to the Microsoft BI Stack: Overview of Microsoft's approach to BI. Along with a product demonstration of SSIS, Reporting Services & Report Builder, Excel, Performance Point Services and SharePoint.
    • Introduction to SharePoint & BI: See how SharePoint can improve collaborative working and information sharing- extending the traditional notion of BI into everyday tasks.
    • Microsoft BI Roadmap: A unique opportunity to hear from Microsoft and learn about future products and services.

    Blueprint will already be known to many in Higher Education and will be spending much of this briefing focusing on the sector.

    To register and for more information please follow this link.

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