We just wanted to wish all of our readers a fabulous Christmas before the holiday period, which will hopefully be a relaxing mince pie and mulled wine filled break for everyone. We’ll also be taking a break over the festive week, well from the blog anyway, so I thought this was the perfect time to wish you Season’s Greetings and to reflect on some of the happenings in 2012 for Microsoft in education.
It’s been an amazing year for Microsoft in education, particularly recently with the release of the much anticipated Windows 8 and its devices, including Surface. We had an excellent Windows 8 in education launch day a couple of months back with Lenovo at QPR football ground, with some informative speakers and some lovely celebration drinks to finish. This year we also published one of our most popular eBooks yet – Windows 8 in Education, written by leading practitioners to show many of the great features of Windows 8 from an education perspective. And as far as Surface is concerned, we’ve already had some awesome feedback about Surface being used in education, with schools taking a big interest in the new device. We look forward to lots more on Surface in education in 2013.
Going back to earlier in the year it was also exciting times, with much of our focus on growing digital learning trends, such as Computer Games in Education (eBook) and Bring Your Own Device. Innovative learning technology themes like these are sure to expand further in 2013, so watch this blog space to stay up to speed.
Not forgetting other 2012 announcements back in the summer months, when Microsoft officially launched Office 365 for education, providing schools with improved communications and collaboration experiences at no cost. This has enabled many education institutions to migrate to the cloud, enabling massive cost-saving opportunities and many other advantages. There are also a good number of schools and universities successfully upgrading from live @ edu to Office 365 for education which is fantastic news, bringing more efficient teaching and learning to education.
Shape the Future was also born this year, with an outstanding launch event in November at Shirelands Collegiate Academy in Smethwick. Shape the Future is an innovative, simple and cost effective way to get students using 1:1 devices at home and in the classroom. The affordability of this PC and software package is supported by Microsoft’s global digital inclusion programme, in collaboration with RM Education and Intel. Only available from RM Education, this device and software package has been speciﬁcally designed to help provide a great value 1:1 device programme for all students and their teachers.
So it’s been a busy old year, and it’s looking like a busy year to come! We’ll be back on the blog in early January, kicking off with loads of stories and information about what we’re doing at Bett 2013. With the new venue of the ExCel, it’s going to be brilliant year for us at Bett 2013 with exciting opportunities. I won’t give much away now, but with our core theme of a 'New Era in Digital Learning’, our presence will include elements around how technology can help create more engaging and emotional connections with learning that is steeped in real world problem solving. More on that in 2013!
The Digital Classroom Framework
Acer’s goal is to provide the education environment with the digital framework to enable a new way of interaction and exploration. Digital learning refers to creating real-world 21st-century learning environments that break through conventional barriers - an approach that combines the best of traditional classroom teaching with digital learning tools and methods to make learning more fun and improve academic results.
To create a digital classroom framework, Acer provides a suite of products and services to serve the education community, from portable devices (tablets, notebooks and netbooks) to facilitate intelligent classrooms and mobile learning, to fixed solutions (desktops, monitors, projectors) designed to provide reliable classroom solutions.
Service and warranty
Acer’s customer service and support always offers the highest standards. Acer Service is well organized to complete repairs efficiently and quickly, while the Acer call centers can give users all the information they need. Specialised technicians perform repairs with the best tools on the market. Moreover, each Acer Repair Center has a quality control team that tests repaired products and replaced parts as well as the chassis to ensure the machine was correctly assembled.
All Acer products come with a standard Warranty*. On top of it, Acer offers on the whole product range the Acer Advantage, a warranty extension program that can be purchased and grants a priority repair service. Notebooks can even be covered by the Accidental Damage Insurance, which takes care of any accidental and unforeseen damage to the product.
Mobility at school
Tablets are a new category of products that can answer very well the Educational needs due to their portable design and interactive capabilities. Thanks to tablets, teachers can develop innovative pedagogical approaches: prepare lessons, improve learning resources and use them in class or outdoor. The use of tablets can motivate and encourage learning. Tablets can easily display high-resolution video, illustrate and reinforce concepts, and with online assignments, students gain the ability to interact with the topics they’re learning.
Notebooks A complete line up of notebooks with different configurations and sizes allows to find the solution that meets everyday classroom demands. Acer’s notebooks offer full connectivity, manageability and security and are ideal for both content creation and consumption.
Acer notebooks are also equipped with Education software either pre-installed or free to download, that is specifically designed to provide teachers with the ability to instruct, monitor and interact with their students in class.
Taken from the Acer in Education brochure.
Guest post Gerald Haigh
At the end of November I paid a short visit to the University of Loughborough, where Microsoft Gold Partner Capita SIMS were hosting their annual SIMS Partnership Schools Conference. SIMS, with Microsoft SQL Server at its heart, is far and away the market leader in school management information systems with 22,000 users, and their Partnership Schools Programme enables them to build a close and mutually beneficial relationship with forty or so schools using the SIMS suite to the full. For me, that means the Conference is a good place to go to find out about SIMS products, talk about technology more generally, and above all, meet enthusiastic and innovative teachers and network managers – people like Network Manager Scott Lynch, and Helen Williams, Vice Principal Quality and Standards, from Minsthorpe Academy in Pontefract. Over the years I’ve visited Minsthorpe and seen how they’re using technology and pupil data to drive achievement in an area of post-industrial deprivation. Relatively new in post, Scott, together with Helen and the senior team continues onward progress by overseeing a radical overhaul of the network infrastructure prior to a full deployment of Windows 8 across the school next Spring.
‘We’re aiming at building an infrastructure that will take anything we throw at it,’ says Scott. ‘The management have given us their backing to allow us to do that.’
This is clearly one to watch, so before too long, I’ll be on Minsthorpe’s doorstep again, made welcome as always, and ready to blog about their progress.
At the Conference, I also learned a little more about developments in SIMS. One that I found particularly interesting is their totally new product ‘Agora’ which is cloud-based, hosted by Microsoft’s ‘Windows Azure’.
Briefly, ‘Agora’ (in Ancient Greece it was a gathering place or market apparently) is an online payment system that allows parents to buy school meals, order uniform items, pay for trips using a credit or debit card for online payment. It’s integrated with the management information system, so administrators can assign payments to particular classes or groups.
The main attraction, I guess, is that the experience of using it is exactly akin to that of using any online shopping site such as ‘Amazon’. But there are lots of other features that parents will like – the fact that they can see all their children’s accounts in a single view, for example, even if they’re in different schools. Every parent who’s had to start scratching about late on Sunday night for cash or a rarely used cheque-book because dinner or trip money is due next day will enjoy the convenience of Agora. And every head teacher or administrator who’s had the headache of dealing with piles of cash, trying to balance it all and maintain a secure audit trail will be equally delighted.
What is particularly interesting to me, though, wearing my Microsoft hat, is that ‘Agora’ is a cloud service, hosted by Microsoft’s ‘Windows Azure’ platform. After the Conference, I talked a little more about this to Graham Cooper, Capita SIMS Head of Product Strategy. ‘Why Azure?’ I wondered.
‘We’re a gold partner with Microsoft of course, working closely with them all the time,’ said Graham. ‘Azure’ as well as bringing all the benefits of their expertise, provides security, backup, and up-time availability.’
In particular, he pointed out, a product like ‘Agora’ suddenly brings large numbers of parents into the picture, which means that the system has to be reliably available whenever it’s needed.
‘You just need to know it’s going to be there. You can’t have it not taking a payment – I paid my son’s dinner money late last night for example.’
Given that degree of confidence in the resilience, security and reliability of ‘Azure’, I wondered what other parts of the SIMS suite might be considered for migrating there, and Graham mentioned SIMS ‘InTouch’, a comprehensive system of home-school communication that draws on SIMS data to keep parents – and staff – fully informed by text and/or email about everything related to a child’s school life such as exam reminders, school closures, student successes, behaviour issues, emergency alerts. So where the usual parent portal or gateway, (such as SIMS Learning Gateway) makes data passively available to parents, ‘InTouch’ actually ‘pushes’ the information to them.
‘At the moment ‘InTouch’ is not hosted in Azure, but it will be at some point within the next year,’ says Graham, explaining that the reasons for the move are much the same as with the hosting of ‘Agora’
‘”InTouch” is now handling large numbers of texts and emails and it’s a matter of scaleability. ‘Azure’ gives us that and, again, that expertise and resilience.’
Finally, one thing that really struck me at the Conference, was the way that SIMS is increasingly moving into the hands of teachers. The key theme of any discussion of any MIS is summed up by the phrase, ‘Intelligent and responsive use of data’. In other words, the data’s no good sitting in the administrator’s office. It needs to be with the teachers, presented intelligibly in a form that allows them to respond to it. So over the years we’ve seen SIMS move from the school office to the departmental PC, then to the teachers’ laptops. And now, inevitably, it’s moving to tablets. At lunch I sat with a group of teachers who were excitedly passing round a tablet which had essential parts of SIMS available, with key pupil data, and it was very clear that this was the way they wanted to go. It struck me that there’s a clear role here for the flexibility and power of Microsoft Surface, and it’s going to be interesting to see SIMS and Surface working together. As we say, ‘Watch this space’.
Guest post by Mark Reynolds, Schools Business Manager (@themarkreynolds)
Last year I was asked to join the Advisory Board of SAFE, a project that gives pupils a real-life way of learning e-safety through social networking. At the time, they were looking to expand from their established base in Primary Schools, up into Secondary – where pupils not only needed e-safety advice, but would also benefit from understanding the positive impact that social networking can have and the opportunities it could create for them. As well as me representing Microsoft on the board, there are also people from Facebook, the SSAT and school groups like the United Learning Trust and we are working together with schools across the UK to create a positive new approach to digital wellbeing education and social media projects for learning.
At a recent board meeting, I was being told all about Digital Badges and the work which the SAFE team have planned for Safer Internet Day. As they know much more about it than I do, here is a guest post from Kate Valentine that originally appeared on the DigitalME website:
Safe and Makewaves introduce the Safe SID Badge to reward young people who ‘Connect with Respect’ on Safer Internet Day 2013.
Digital Badges are being awarded to young people who ‘Connect with Respect’ as part of a Safer Internet Day campaign being run by Safe the Certificate in Social Networking, and Makewaves, the award winning social learning environment.
The Safe SID Badge will be awarded to young people who follow the 2013 Safer Internet Day (SID) theme by commenting on debates and uploading their own media to a dedicated channel on the Safe Network on Makewaves.
Digital badges are an innovative way of rewarding safe and positive use of social networking. The accreditation system will use Mozilla’s exciting Open Badges technology, which was launched in 2011 and has the potential for officially recognising the skills and achievements gained by learners (students and teachers) both in school and beyond.
Schools will be able to explore the issues around online rights and responsibilities with pupils and students, and the digital Safe SID Badge 2013 will be awarded and displayed on successful reporters’ profile pages on Makewaves.
Leading e-safety expert Alan Mackenzie believes "sitting children and young people in a classroom and "teaching" e-safety is an ineffective way of empowering a life-skill. Safe and Makewaves have taken this to the next level by creating a learning environment where the safe use of digital media is the cornerstone of learning. The landmark tenth year of Safer Internet Day on 5th February 2013, Safe and Makewaves are encouraging children and young people to "Connect with Respect"; working collaboratively to create, upload and share digital content and at the same time earn a fabulous digital badge for all their hard work. What better way to reward children and young people for sharing, safely!"
Schools new to Makewaves can sign up for free social media tools to enable safe and easy publishing of podcasts, videos and blogs. Teachers can moderate students’ work and control who can see it. By joining the Safe Network, schools can also access video tutorials, resources to download and certificates to award on completion of the Safe activities.
The 10th annual Safer Internet Day will be celebrated on February 5th 2013, with organisers Insafe hoping to make the event “bigger and better than ever before”.
If you or your school would like to get involved in the SAFE program, please contact Kate and the team on firstname.lastname@example.org or find them on twitter @DigitalMe_Safe
Guest post from Gerald Haigh. Gerald is a freelance writer who regularly writes for the Microsoft UK education blogs.
This term I’ve been looking at the arrival of Windows 8 in education. The story for most institutions, as you’d expect, is that it’s early days. As 2012 comes to an end, a school, typically, will have Windows 8 installed on a few desktops in the network team’s area. Here the network manager and the technicians are carrying out a detailed evaluation, methodically working through to ensure all the school’s regular software is compatible and making plans for full rollout. At the same time, other members of staff will have been coming in to sample the new experience and give their feedback. The usual plan in these cases is to move steadily to full rollout of Windows 8 during the first half of 2013. As one network manager explained to me:
‘We’ve not set a timescale, we’ve probably 50 or 60 applications and we’re testing every one to make sure it works.’
He adds, going some way to explain why that methodical approach to Windows 8 adoption is possible:
‘Windows 7 is so reliable.’
We’ll be following some of these schools with a series of blogs that pay attention to the experience of students, staff, administrators and senior leaders – with, of course, particular emphasis on the impact on teaching and learning.
Already, though, in some schools and universities there’s enough progress to provide significant pointers to the possibilities opened up by Windows 8.
There is, for example, the prospect of using Microsoft development tools for building Windows 8 apps and deploying them in Windows Store. Here, higher education is leading the way, with schools planning to follow. Derby University’s Computer Science Department has deployed Windows 8 in its computer labs and is including Windows app development in its courses. Then there’s our recent case study blog on the work in progress at University College London, which shows a particularly striking example of what’s possible.
This creative work in higher education sends a strong signal to schools about what’s possible in computer science, particularly given the ready availability of sophisticated development tools within ‘Dreamspark’. The schools themselves are undoubtedly aware of this.
‘Once the app development starts, we’ll see some interesting things,’ says a school network manager.
Dr Dean Mohamedally, one of the leading figures in the developments at UCL, draws attention in the case study to the importance to his graduate and postgraduate courses, of touch screen and multi-monitor capability (both strong features in Windows 8) in enhancing interaction and visualisation. That, surely, is food for thought for those who up to now have seen touch technology as primarily useful in class with younger children and students who lack fine motor skills.
That’s certainly very much the case, but it’s also true that collaborative work with students gathered round tablets or working together on a large touch screen, is a scenario that will work with every age group. On a conventional desktop in that situation, the mouse, ‘owned’ by one person, becomes a barrier to direct collaborative and creative interaction with the screen.
We’ve encountered two schools already that are exploiting touch screen technology with secondary school children. At Shireland Collegiate Academy in Sandwell, fourteen Windows 8 Acer touch screen tablets have been in classroom action for some months now, proving their worth as tools for collaborative learning. And at Royal Wootton Bassett Academy, thirty touch screen desktop PCs are, at the time of writing, are going live with Windows 8. We’ll be reporting here on developments in these schools, in some detail, quite soon.
Windows 8 tablets and hybrids
Up to now not many schools have had the opportunity to try out ‘Surface’ or third party Windows 8 touch screen tablets in the classroom. There are plans to do so, however, and we’ll be keeping up with developments. Where individuals have been able to evaluate them, however, the response is very favourable. Network managers appreciate the availability of Microsoft Office, and the sheer manageability of a Windows 8 tablet that will save student-created work to the school network.
One of our recent blog posts ‘Surface Reviews from IT Education Staff’ gives a flavour of what we’ll later be reporting on as experience spreads across schools.
Students are the key
Time and again, network managers report that students expect to see the latest technology in schools and will take easily to Windows 8.
‘Students will love Windows 8,’ says one network manager.
‘Some may have an Xbox. They know the interface, they will soon have Windows 8 on their computers at home.’
And, without doubt, they’ll be quick to exploit all the Windows 8 features to the full.
Acer for Education is the investment in tomorrow! Acer’s mission of breaking down barriers between people and technology makes the company the appropriate partner for education institutions. Acer believes the world would be a better place if more people had better access to technology, and that the most valuable part of computing is its power to spread knowledge. For this reason, Acer is dedicated to making technology affordable and accessible to all, providing innovative and extremely easy solutions for the global community. Acer sees as its responsibility to equip today’s generation with the knowledge they need for tomorrow. Creating innovative technology for the classroom, Acer helps students explore beyond limits providing access to new paths of communication and interaction. Empowering educators to keep pace with today’s high-tech world, Acer’s trusted solutions are easy to use for teachers and students alike. Confident of their technology, teachers can concentrate on their pupils’ learning. This new approach to education will make today’s students, grown up in an era in which young people live and breath technology, feel closer to their everyday life.
Why Acer for Education?
The Education sector cannot stay still. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) investment in Education is considered a key way to fuel economic development, increase workforce competitiveness, transition to a knowledge-based economy, and drive job creation.
By September 2013, all Live@edu customers will need to complete the upgrade to Office 365 for education. Microsoft will start to schedule your institution for the upgrade soon. By completing the upgrade process prior to the scheduled date, you control the upgrade timeline.
Live@edu administrative changes coming December 2012
While we work to improve the upgrade experience, starting December 3, 2012, these administrative features will not be available until your institution upgrade is complete:
• Add or remove accepted domains to your institution subscription
• Change your institution mailing address and phone number within the Service Management Portal (SMP)
• Modify co-branding. Note: Co-branding is not supported in the Office 365 Exchange Online service.
Consider making these changes prior to December 3, if you need to take any actions.
Get Started Today
The Office 365 upgrade builds on your existing Live@edu deployment—mailboxes, calendars, and contacts do not move, and there is no need to re-provision accounts. We provide the tools and guidance at each stage—simply follow along by using the upgrade planning worksheet. Use it to estimate how much time you will need for the key tasks required before, during and after the upgrade.
1. Download the Upgrade Planning Worksheet. This tool provides customized guidance to plan each phase of the upgrade. Start by selecting the scenarios that apply to your Live@edu configuration.
2. Prepare for the upgrade. Review the outcome of the upgrade planning worksheet and visit the upgrade center to better understand each step in the upgrade process.
3. Start the upgrade to Office 365.
The Microsoft Accessibility team run a wide range of initiatives, including a global network of Accessibility centres, an online Accessbility tutorial programme for Windows, Office and Office 365, which includes Office 365 for education. They also publish a comprehensive range of general guides for specific types of impairments:
The precise details of the accessibility features available to you will depend on which components of Office 365 for education that you use, and which web browsers your users select, but I've summarised the accessibility for the key components and features below:
There's plenty of detailed information on the Microsoft Accessibility website but perhaps better still, a handy downloadable handout, "Accessibility in Microsoft Office 365" for education, to share with colleagues who are starting to use Office 365 for education.
Most organisations are looking to save money but academic institutions are under particular pressure as they cope with the pressure of trying to do less with more. Universities have increasingly turned to virtualisation in a bid to cut costs and the savings can be dramatic.
Coventry University looked to adopt this approach, by taking on board Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter and has managed to save about £1 million through virtualisation. It was part of a long-term plan to improve technological facilities within Coventry. The university has invested significantly in developing its facilities, spending £160 million on improving research and learning facilities in a 10-year plan that included the opening of a new £55 million Engineering and Computing building in September 2012. Providing students with modern information and communications technology tools—such as streamlined, high-performing student computing labs and consistent access to a virtual learning environment—is a major focus of improvements.
Coventry University has saved about £1 million through virtualisation
Coventry University has saved about £1 million through virtualisation
Two years ago, the University started on its plan to improve university services. The team looked at Hyper-V, Citrix VirtualBox, and VMware, comparing each product and evaluating the best combination of price, performance, and tools. As part of its strategic plan, the university wanted to centralise IT to support efficient management.
The university chose to virtualise its infrastructure using Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter, which helps staff manage all IT services from one place.
"With Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter, we gained precisely the features we needed to achieve savings, standardisation, and greater control over the network," said Steve Rogers, Server Team Leader at Coventry University
The evaluation resulted in the university choosing to deploy a virtualised infrastructure based on Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter and Hyper-V. “There was no question that it was the best total infrastructure solution for Coventry University,” says Steve Booth, head of Computing Service at Coventry University. “Not only is the licensing cost-effective, but we can also use Microsoft System Center tools to manage the infrastructure efficiently from one location.”
The licensing structure for Hyper-V meant that Coventry University bought just one license for the host machine, but is entitled to run as many virtual machines as it needs. This is included as part of Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter and provided the team with dozens of tools to manage infrastructure, including those needed for live migration and clustering, from a graphical user interface.
"Although we were initially a bit skeptical about Hyper-V, we played around with it to get the best configuration for our needs. We started to think it was a good fit for us in terms of features and a more cost-effective solution for our environment than VMware," said Booth. Coventry University configured each host operating system with 32 gigabytes of random access memory and four processors, to ensure it met its stringent requirements for memory and performance.
As part of the plan, the university used Microsoft System Center 2012 - Operations Manager and Virtual Machine Manager to ensure that applications kept on working in the same way they did prior to moving to the cloud.
For example, Operations Manager detects failures automatically and re-configures server failover so that users don’t experience downtime. With Virtual Machine Manager, the IT team can manage and configure all machines onto the virtual network.
"Virtual Machine Manager manages more than 280 of our servers. That’s around 85 per cent of our server infrastructure,” said Booth. “Applications managed in the new environment include business-critical services such as human resources, Exchange Server, and payroll. Rather than having one of our team managing servers physically, we can do this from a central console.
The university also wanted to centralise IT to support efficient management. It’s now achieved this with a virtualised server infrastructure based on Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter. This has helped staff manage all IT services from one place. The team avoids downtime through automated, proactive monitoring in Microsoft System Center and its ability to configure thresholds to meet university network demands.
This has enabled the organisation to deliver new business services quickly. Booth said that the IT organisation was able to aligns IT delivery to business needs. “It takes us just one day to provision a standard server, compared to three months in our previous environment,” he said.
The move to virtualise infrastructure has mean that the university has managed to save £1 million in the first year of deployment. The virtualisation of the organisation’s infrastructure has made on-going savings through improved control and has reduced its requirement for IT staff, saving the university one full-time staff member’s salary a year. Power and cooling costs have also been cut because the university has reduced the number of physical servers it needs and has made a corresponding reduction in floor space requirements within the data centre.
Booth said that savings of £129,000 in licensing had been made, “plus we avoid costs for further investment and gain greater control with the Microsoft System Center tools in Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter,” he added.
The university has reduced power and cooling costs by around £28,000 each year. This has mean that it has also cut carbon emissions by 20 per cent. Rogers said that had the university not managed to achieve this goal it would have received a hefty fine. "Virtualisation and centralised management is helping us to avoid these costs too," said Rogers.
As well as savings in IT, the university also has reduced costs in research. As an applied research institution, Coventry University often needs to set up and support short-term projects quickly. The virtualised infrastructure will help avoid unnecessary costs by making it easier to take advantage of managed cloud services where it can provision servers, applications, and capacity fast.
"We can embrace the cloud business model in the future, either for our entire infrastructure or for specific department projects, such as those that need an on-demand computing service. Before, we had to buy physical servers—now, we can ‘rent’ virtual server instances from our central provision for a project’s duration," said Booth.
The university has reduced power and cooling costs by around £28,000 and cut carbon emissions by 20 percent
The university has reduced power and cooling costs by around £28,000 and cut carbon emissions by 20 percent
The university now plans to tackle the business continuity issue, replicating its data at another location with the tools in Windows Server 2012 Datacenter.
"It’s very straight forward to configure our data to be replicated at another site that we are in control of. We currently use a managed storage service with our data carried off-site every day but we’re now equipped to organise our own disaster recovery solution," said Rogers.
Originally posted on Cloud Pro by Rene Milman.