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June, 2013

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    Communication, democracy and a good old sing. Microsoft’s enterprise social networking tool ‘Yammer’ at the UCAS Annual Admissions Conference


    A member-focussed organisation uses Yammer as part of a general drive to make its annual Admissions conference more interactive, responsive and democratic. In the process, members and staff come to appreciate what Yammer can do for their organisation as a whole.

    Admissions Officers Annual Conference

    Every year, over 400 college and university admissions officers from across the UK come together in the annual admissions conference of UCAS, the UK Universities and Colleges Admissions Service. The aim is to bring members up to date with the always fast-moving changes in the HE sector, enable them to exchange best practice, and feed back their views to UCAS leadership. The ultimate purpose, of course, is to provide the best possible service to the young people whose contact with UCAS comes at one of the most anxious and important periods of their lives.

    The conference this year (2013) was held in March at the Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, South Wales, and it was clear from the outset that the organisers were intent on making the event as interactive, and responsive to membership needs, as possible. Preliminary information said,

    ‘The more interactive style of this year’s event will include increased opportunities for group-based discussion and workshops, and more networking opportunities’

    The point, says UCAS Communications Manager Kay Harper, is that ‘It was so important to give our members the voice that they wanted.’

    And on that theme of ‘giving voice’, delegates would also have the chance to join the ‘Only Admissions Aloud’ choir, led by Craig Yates, member of the ‘Only Men Aloud’ Choir (winners of BBC's Last Choir Standing in 2008). Final performance from the conference below.

    Technology adds the key ingredient

    Structural changes, though, could only go part way to achieving what the members wanted. The clear need was for a technological underpinning – a way by which delegates, presenters and organisers could interact, respond, provide feedback and achieve a sense of participation, all in real time.

    At many conferences, of course, existing social media, such as ‘Twitter’ are extensively deployed ‘bottom up’ by the delegates, and sometimes encouraged. In this case, though, something more was needed -- a core communication channel, established by the organisation, to be used by everyone. It had to be confined securely within the event, providing confidentiality and be in keeping with the UCAS brand.

    ‘We were looking at the various available options, and it was looking really expensive,’ says Kay Harper. ‘We were under real time pressure, and while waiting for a budget decision we wondered why we couldn’t use Yammer. We already had it in use for communication among our own employees so decided to extend that into an external network.'

    Once that decision was made, the UCAS technical team swung into action and with Microsoft support provided what was needed, cost effectively, efficiently and on time.

    ‘Microsoft provided fifty loan laptops for the event, which was a great help and a lovely surprise,’ says Kay Harper.

    A possible question here is why the laptops were needed. Could delegates not be left to use their own devices?

    Kay Harper says,

    ‘We had three weeks to plan using Yammer and we couldn’t be certain that someone at every single table in the business sessions would bring a device or download the Yammer app. Too much margin for error!’

    What was Yammer used for at the conference?

    • Ahead of the opening of the conference, to build early links between delegates and permit continuing agenda adjustments
    • During the conference, to encourage interaction between members, speakers and the UCAS communications team, enabling the proceedings to be fluid and responsive to demand
    • To enable anonymous feedback, comments, questions and voting by delegates
    • To gather and share in real time agreed responses from tables/groups in the table discussions in the business sessions. The feedback was from a table account and not a named individual which allowed for more frank and honest feedback. This also eliminated the need for time-consuming and often repetitive ‘report back’ sessions

    The Yammer network opened three days before the conference, and a majority of delegates became immediate users, building links with other participants, asking questions about workshops, effectively giving the conference something of a rolling start. Similarly, it was possible for non-attending members to have a virtual presence at the Conference.

    An important additional feature was the use of the third party application ‘Yammerfall’ which allows a stream of Yammer comments and questions to be displayed to delegates on screens and monitors.

    That the Yammer installation was embarked upon at such short notice might be construed as a calculated high-risk strategy and its completion was a remarkable achievement by the technical and administrative team at UCAS.


    The impact

    The whole culture of this Conference was changed and enhanced by the immediacy and interactivity provided by Yammer. Steve Crompton, a Customer Success Manager for Yammer, who was responsible for Microsoft’s input, including the fifty loan laptops, points out, for example, that the agility of communication at and around the Conference enabled changes to the agenda and the programme to be made right up to the last minute.

    ‘It takes three months to plan the event, but with Yammer in place the agenda could change at a micro level in response to changing news. And we saw presenters messaging each other behind the scenes, making last minute script alterations.’

    UCAS senior managers were enthusiastic about the success of Conference, and the part played by the interactivity and immediacy of an effective networking tool which enabled them to have direct contact with the delegates. CEO Mary Curnock Cook sums up the general feeling,

    ‘The Admissions Conference this year was great - really constructive. Yammer worked extremely well to get everyone engaged without having to stand up in front of 300 people.’

    UCAS Stakeholder Communications Manager Paul Dring adds,

    ‘We were delighted that our conference delegates embraced Yammer with so much enthusiasm. We were keen to embrace social media at our conference but wanted something more bespoke than Twitter could provide. Yammer was the ideal solution and having Yammerfall visible on the big stage screens meant that delegates could share their thoughts, and comment on the postings of their colleagues as well.’

    Paul Dring also mentions Yammerfall, which, he says,

    ‘…proved to be a fantastic way of using technology to allow delegates to see feedback from other tables in real time and helped to stimulate conversation which created a palpable buzz to the business sessions. Although participation and feedback were our primary aims in using the tool, Yammer actually provided so much more. The Yammer network was used before, during and after the event and helped to create a real community feel to this year’s conference.’

    Dominic Green, Chair of the 2013 UCAS Annual Admissions Conference, also kindly shared his thoughts on Yammer via this short video.

    What the delegates thought

    In the business sessions of the conference, delegates worked in groups – tables – of about twelve people. Each table had its discussion and then posted an agreed response on Yammer. It was a popular solution to what, in a large conference, can be a problem. Feedback comments centred on the much improved interaction, the simultaneous expression of multiple viewpoints, and the remarkable experience of being able to hold a meaningful discussion involving such a large number of people. One delegate said it was ‘Like a family’. (The success and popularity of the ‘Only Admissions Aloud’ choir is a marker here. It couldn’t have happened in quite the same way had delegates not felt so included, in touch and comfortable with each other.)

    Several feedback posters, too, emphasised the way that Yammer allowed each delegate the same opportunity to have their say, a point well summed up by these two comments,

    ‘It was great, there are many people that turn up to these events and don't get their opinion across because they don't like shouting out in a large room full of people. This offered everyone a fair say.’

    ‘Yammer provided an opportunity for people who are not comfortable with making comments in large groups to put across their point. Excellent idea.’

    After the conference

    The success of Yammer at the conference continues to resonate. The network remains open and the discussion continues. At the practical level, as Paul Dring puts it.

    ‘Now that the conference is over, we are able to use the captured feedback and conversations to inform our work going forward – without having to decipher pages of minutes first!’

    Following the success at the conference UCAS has also started to expand the use of Yammer for various representative groups.

    Even more important is the way that the use of Yammer among UCAS staff has significantly increased. Executive members have established their own online group, and also use Yammer for updates and direct contact with colleagues.

    What are the lessons?

    It’s already known that the use of social media can enhance a traditionally constructed conference by making possible real time comments, communication and feedback. Usually, though, it’s an optional extra. The conference is essentially unchanged, and many attend without using it.

    In this case, however, UCAS have demonstrated that where an effective and appropriate social networking tool is embedded into the structure of the conference from the planning stage, something much more transformational is possible.

    That said, UCAS also demonstrated here another basic principle of technological innovation, which is that you don’t begin with the technology.

    In this case, the starting point was the desire to respond to a need to make the annual conference more inclusive, interactive and democratic. To this end, a number of structural changes were planned -- more networking, more group discussion, more workshops. Once that was decided upon it seemed both natural and inevitable to move to the next step, providing a technological means by which all of those structural changes were immeasurably enriched.

    But perhaps the most significant lesson of all is that a successful, seemingly one-off success like this can – as it has with UCAS – become a transformational moment for the whole organisation. (Steve Crompton actually calls this kind of experience a ‘lightbulb moment’). Yammer was in use at UCAS before March 2013, but the powerful demonstration of its capabilities at the annual conference has resulted in it being used much more extensively and creatively. The full effects of this on the organisation’s culture will emerge over time.


    For at least fifty years, business and enterprise conferences have hardly changed. Sound systems are better, presentation software has appeared and improved. Essentially though the problems have remained the same – how to give each delegate a voice, how to collect and distribute the results of group discussions, how to keep the agenda flexible and up to the minute. Where there’s the will and capacity to address those issues, then an effective, appropriate and purpose-built enterprise networking tool such as Yammer can be a game changer. Not only that, in demonstrating its ability to change the culture of a one-off event, it will, at the same time, show what it can do for the organisation as a whole.

    Guest post from Gerald Haigh. Gerald writes regularly for the Microsoft Education Blogs.

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    Khan Academy on Windows 8 (video)


    Khan Academy is used by students and educators around the world, and the awesome new Windows 8 app allows users to browse topics and playlists and an engaging and intuitive way.

    One of my favourite features of the app is the ability to download content to watch offline, so that students can access their learning materials anytime, anywhere.

    The app also allows students to earn points and badges when they complete modules, which are then featured on the Khan Academy website.

    For a complete overview of the app, including its full integration with Windows 8 features such as the charms, check out the video below.

    Additionally, if you are just starting out on your Windows 8 journey, we are currently running an institution only offer in the UK where the Surface RT (32GB) is available for £133 + VAT.

    Details can be found in the flyer below:

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    Academic pricing on Surface RT


    Microsoft is pleased to offer special pricing on Surface RT directly to schools and universities for a limited time between 19th June 2013 and 31st August 2013. Our mission in education is to help schools and universities, students and educators realise their full potential. One way we do this is by offering software, hardware and services at affordable prices to education institutions.

    Surface RT is a terrific tool for teaching and learning and we want students and educators to have the best technology on the market today.

    Our exclusive direct to institution pricing is as follows:  

    • Surface RT (32GB) - £133 + VAT
    • Surface RT (32GB) with Touch Keyboard Cover - £168 + VAT
    • Surface RT (32GB) with Type Keyboard Cover - £196 + VAT

    Please note, this offer is exclusively available direct to institutions, and not to students or educators directly. If you have any questions regarding the offer, or would like to place an order, please contact

    The order form can be viewed/downloaded here.


  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    University of the West of Scotland: IT Academy Spotlight


    Great video highlighting the fantastic work that the University of the West of Scotland has done around offering courses and certifications that meet the needs of local employers.

    Microsoft’s ITA programme was embraced as the foundation of this work as it offered a more holistic approach to learning, from base concepts through to actual implementation and trouble shooting methodologies.

    Based on real world fundamentals, the materials offered through ITA are well suited to the universities flexible approach to learning and offers graduates a ‘currency’ that students can take out into the workplace that helps their employability prospects.

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    Surface Set-up (video)


    If you are currently looking at the Surface RT, the following video gives some useful hints and tips to help get you up and running in no time.

    The video also covers some of the key features of the Surface device, such as a highly durable VaporMg casing, integrated kickstand and great connectivity via USB, HD video and Micro SD.

    From personalisation, connecting your device to the network for the first time and navigating Windows 8 using touch, with the video below you are going to be clicked in and multitasking in no time.

    We hope you have fun with your new device!

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    Harnessing the power of Microsoft’s Office 365 to provide a better social learning environment - Free event


    In the summer of 2012 The University of West London set out to harness the immense potential of the free Cloud-based suite of collaboration tools, provided by Office 365, to create a personalised, interactive, social platform to support the institution’s mission to raise aspiration through the pursuit of excellence and allow students to combine social learning with academic study.  The University won the UCISA Award for Excellence, 2012 for the service they have created.

    This event will provide detail on what UWL wanted to achieve, how they accomplished it and a demonstration of capability and features. In addition, Microsoft will share the latest features and roadmap for Office 365.


    9:30am - Arrival and Refreshments

    9:50am – Welcome to Microsoft

    10:00am –  Introduction by VC of UWL – Professor Peter John

    10:15am – Office 365 latest information– Microsoft

    10:45am – UWL –Approach to Development of a better Social Learning Environment – Adrian Ellison, Director of Information Technology

    11:30am – Break

    11:45am - UWL – Demonstration of UWL’s Award winning Student Portal – Mauli Arora (UWL)

    12:45pm – Lunch and networking

    1:45pm – Fulcrum – Developing the portal (partner who worked with UWL)

    2:30pm- Open Questions on UWL environment and Office 365

    2:45pm- Break

    3:00pm- Janet Amendments for Office 365 and Janet/Microsoft Alliance Agreement

    3:20pm – Office 365 user group – introduction – Group discussion                          

    3:45pm- Close


    To register, please visit the registration page, and use invitation code 7EA736

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    Task Manager in Windows 8 (video)


    For Windows 8, the Task Manager got a major overhaul that includes a lot of great new features. The video below walks you through some of these new features and enhancements, and also touches on some of the lesser-known tips and tricks.

    Regardless of whether you are an educator, network manager or IT director, the Task Manager in Windows 8 offers an easy to use tool where you can manage running apps and services, and also monitor high-level performance stats.

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    GetOnline@Home £24 PC initiative: what the scheme offers


    Further to our recent blog post on the GetOnline@Home initiative, Go ON UK looked further into the deal to see what the scheme offers.

    Originally posted on the Go On UK website.

    Following the launch of the amazing new initiative from Get Online @ Home, we got Go ON UK's resident tech expert, Aaron Donnell, to see what all the fuss was about. 


    The cost of buying and connecting a PC can be a huge barrier for many of the 16 million Brits without Basic Online Skills. 

    That’s why this June, Get Online @ Home’s offering a £24 refurbished PC or £74 refurbished laptop with broadband from £2.99 per month for those on certain benefits.  Aimed at those with low or no digital skills, it’s designed to help more people get online with cheap but high quality refurbished computers and broadband.

    Prices are low, but what hardware do you get and how good is it for beginners?  Here's Aaron's verdict:

    Tech spec

    The laptop I’ve reviewed is a refurbished Dell Latitude D630 with a 14 inch screen. They won’t all be the same, but will have a minimum of 2GHz CPU, a 60GB HDD, a CD drive and a 14” screen.  Plus they’ll be Wi-Fi enabled for wireless web access, have a webcam and a 12 month warranty.

    Out of the box

    The laptop comes nicely boxed up, with power brick, webcam and setup and licensing guides.  A reassuringly hand filled and signed quality check sheet is also included alongside guides. It’s very clean and in as-new condition. It’s also light and the screen’s clear and crisp – it has a high 1280 x 800 pixel resolution.  This is fine for most uses such as viewing photos, browsing, video chat and viewing videos (as long as you don’t require full HD).


    The laptop is powerful enough for all but highly intensive use, with a 2 GHz processor and 2GB of RAM memory. A 75 GB hard drive could be on the small side for those that save large files such as videos or music, but capacity could easily and cheaply be expanded by adding external memory to one of the 4 USB ports.  Alternatively, old files can be transferred to DVD via the built-in DVD Rewritable drive. Wi-Fi is built in for wireless access to the Internet.

    Getting started

    As the laptop comes with genuine Microsoft software licensing, Windows 7 requires initial setup. The included step by step guide will help inexperienced users through the process.

    What’s it like for basic online activities?

    Once set up is complete, the first window that appears is to set-up the Anti-Virus software, Microsoft Security Essentials.  This gives a layer of protection from malicious software right from the start, helping new users stay safe online. Internet Explorer 9 is installed to access the Internet and use search engines.  Plus users can easily connect to Outlook for e-mail and calendars (all you need is an e-mail address and password). A fully licenced version of Microsoft Office Basic 2007 (Excel, Outlook, Word) is included.

    The verdict

    This laptop is superb value, especially considering full licences are provided for both Windows 7 and Office 2007 Basic. It’s quiet, portable and powerful enough for everyday tasks such as creating and saving documents, e-mailing and web access; great for beginners and people looking to boost their Basic Online Skills.

     *Both deals must include broadband signup, which is not reviewed here.

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    Office 365 Education Starter Manual (free download)


    This fantastic starter manual, written by SharePoint MVP Alex Pearce, will give you a step by step guide to implementing Office 365 Education for your school, college or university. The guide covers the subscription process, how to register your first domain to some simple Exchange, Lync and SharePoint housekeeping.

    The full starter manual can be viewed/downloaded below. If you have a question about the guide, please do not hesitate to leave an update in the comments below or reach out directly to Alex.

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    Microsoft Unified Communications user group


    Microsoft Lync helps you communicate with ease, and gives you the ability to adapt your workflow allowing you to get more work done - whether in the office, at home, or on the go.

    Lync 2013 has some great new features, not to mention the fact that it’s modern, quick and personalised! Below are just a few of the fantastic new features which make 2013 that much better:

    • Favourites group – lets you build a list of the people who you contact most often.
    • Tabbed conversations – keep all calls, IMs and chat rooms in one conversation window, making it easier to navigate from one conversation to another.
    • Join meetings with ease – one-click joining options from an Outlook meeting reminder or calendar on Windows Phone, iOS or Android devices.

    If you want to see Lync in action, the Microsoft UC user group are hitting the road with a number of events across June. Find out more about what they’ll be doing here.

    Check out when they’re coming to you:

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