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April, 2007 - Microsoft UK Schools blog - Site Home - MSDN Blogs
The UK Schools Blog
News and views from the Microsoft UK Education Team
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April, 2007

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Sidebar gadgets on Windows Vista


    I've been using Windows Vista for a while now, and have become increasingly attached to the Windows Sidebar (it sits on the right hand side of the screen, and contains little tools and basic applications). Until yesterday, my Sidebar consisted of the following things:

    • An electronic version of Post-It notes, for me to write a simple reminder
    • Wikipedia search - mainly for helping me to translate from educational or technical jargon into real English
    • My Pictures - I pop some of my favourite holiday pictures there, to get me through the Winter
    • An Outlook gadget, which shows my calendar (but please not my number of unread emails!)
    • A BBC Radio gadget - to play Five Live in the evenings, if I'm stuck in my study

    On Wednesday, when I visited Long Eaton school, Alan Richards mentioned the "Say It" gadget, which converts text to speech. And he talked about a teacher who'd simply typed in "Come on. Settle down class" into the gadget, and just kept hitting Enter until they did. Okay, it's a whimsical way to solve the historical issue of teachers and sore throats, but it made me smile. So now I've got the gadget sitting on my Sidebar. I think I'm going to annoy some colleagues....

    Get the gadget here

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Wow! A school I'd really like my children to go to...


    I have been lucky enough to visit lots of schools in my time working in education ICT. And I have often found that within a few minutes of walking in the door, you can quickly decide whether it is a "good" school or not. The benchmark for me has always been "Would I like my children to go here?"

     Yesterday, I went to visit a school in Nottingham (for those reading this outside of our sunny UK shores, that's in the middle of England, and coincidentally my birthplace) called Long Eaton School. The visit was to hear about, and discuss, how they were using technology in the school, and what drives them to prioritise the use of ICT across the school. I already knew that their development plan was to invest something like five times the national secondary school average on ICT, in order to provide widespread provision for all of their pupils. But as I arrived, it was the small things that started to make an immediate impression. And also supporting the environmental agenda by becoming the first school in the East Midlands to get "eco school" status.

    When we drove into the car park, there was a parking space (normally you end up on a verge, because there are always more cars than spaces, and the visitor spots have always gone). There was a special parking area for students (and clearly some of the students had shinier cars than staff & visitors!). The bike racks were the biggest and fullest I'd ever seen (turned out that they had the highest % of students cycling to school in the country). And the school reception had two comfortable sofas for visitors. It turns out that the school was newly built, and opened last year, but it was not simply a case of pouring an old school into new buildings. Everybody we met had a positive persona, and a very "can do" attitude.

    Technologically, what they have is amazing - over 400 computers, with every single desktop and most laptops running Windows Vista and Office 2007. A SharePoint 2007 server, which they will use to deliver e-learning, provide links pupils to access resources from outside of school, and for parents to be able to see information on their children (like checking the portal to see that they've turned up at school this morning). All made possible by Alan Richards, the network manager, and his team.

    Richard Vasey, the head teacher, was passionate about his school, and like most heads was enthusiastic about the future that they were going to make for their students. We talked about achievement, examinations and learning. For a school in a disadvantaged area, their 'value added' achievement is great - ensuring that the improvement in pupils' abilities is in the top 100 secondary schools in the country. And so, all of those reasons made me think that if I lived in the area, this would be the school where my children would go. But what I remembered really clearly was Richard's statement that no matter what the student's ability "if they will come to school, I'll guarantee that they'll get 5 A-G grades at GCSE". I've never heard other heads talking about an education guarantee before, but it made me realise that they have high expectations of all of their students - and therefore of their staff.

    I'll write more about their technology in the future, but for now, maybe take a look at their website for a flavour of the school.


  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Is this the end for Windows XP? Or the wrong end of the stick?


    When I read this BBC News story a week ago, I didn't really think about it much. Entitled "Windows XP to be retired in 2008" the first five lines said:

    "Windows XP will stop being available on new PCs from the end of January 2008. Microsoft is keeping to a plan to stop selling the operating system..."

    And the reason I didn't think about it was that I understood the underlying message - from January next year new PCs could only be shipped with Windows Vista.

    But since then, I've had a few queries about what's going on, and people thinking that from next year, you can't install or run Windows XP on a PC, and that we are stopping supporting it. 

    So back to the original story - I knew that this wouldn't be an issue for education customers, many of whom buy Windows Upgrade licences under one of the Academic Volume Licensing (VL) Schemes. This means that they (a) pay less for their software and (b) have more flexibility with their licensing. For example, they can buy a PC with Windows Vista Home Basic, and upgrade the licence using the VL schemes to, for example, Windows Vista Business or Windows Vista Ultimate. This often saves them money, and also gives them "downgrade rights" - the ability to use a previous version of the software (like Windows XP).

    The benefit is that they can buy the latest licences, and then run an older version of the software until they want to move across to the latest (a typical scenario when you have a classroom/school full of Windows XP machines, and you want to move them all together, rather than have a mix of operating system). The alternative to this is buying old versions of software, and then having to upgrade the licences later (which overall costs more...).

    If you are worried that from next year you'll not be able to run PCs on Windows XP, then that's not the case. If you've got hundreds of lesson plans that you don't want to change just yet, panic not. You can still run any version, and we'll keep on providing support for Windows XP for quite a few years yet. But if you buy a new PC next year, then it will have WIndows Vista on it, and if you want to run Windows XP, you'll need to have a downgradeable licence for it.

    Licensing is complicated - and I admit to not fully, fully understanding it - so take a look at our licensing pages for education, and if you have any questions, then email our licensing team (the email address is on the website)


  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Official: Stoke College was the first school in Europe to deploy Office 2007 for staff and students


    Hey, it says it in the case study. And what's more, the school Head Teacher, John Gibson says: “The Office 2007 system will revolutionise teaching. It’s as simple as that."

    David Moss, the ICT Co-ordinator at the school, goes on to say “I’ve been involved with beta testing computer software since the early 1990s, and try to keep the school at the forefront of technology. I don’t like change for change’s sake, but I do like change that is productive. And I believe the 2007 Office System offers the ease of use that makes it a wonderful tool for schools.”

    ps There are two views on the Office 2007 System - the view from people in education, like John & David above, and the views of the Government's agency for ICT in Education, Becta. They seem to think that there are no new things in it for education. Perhaps they should talk to some of the teachers I meet!

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    SharePoint Learning Kit on SharePoint


    Yesterday I wrote about using Moodle on SharePoint, and today I feel the need to share another option for running a Virtual Learning Environment on SharePoint.

    This is the SharePoint Learning Kit, which is a SCORM 2004-conformant e-learning delivery and tracking application (that sounds good doesn't it!). It works on Microsoft Office SharePoint server (the one you buy...), or Windows SharePoint services (the one that's free...).  Basically, it's a kit for you to build your own VLE, and like Moodle it's free...

    The blurb says that it supports SCORM 1.2, SCORM 2004, and Class Server content and allows assignment, tracking and grading of both e-learning and non-e-learning content

    You can download it from the Codeplex website too

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Moodle on SharePoint


    A recent survey, by Becta, showed that around 40% of colleges are using Moodle for their virtual learning environment (VLE).
    I don't know of published figures for schools, but believe that the use is significantly lower - single digit percentages. If you are one of those who use it, are you aware that there are a bunch of webparts available that integrate it into SharePoint? What's the point of that, you may ask? Well, for the same reason that lots of other VLE providers are building web parts for SharePoint. It means that a school can choose a single portal architecture (ie SharePoint) and integrate their different systems into it - email, management information system (MIS), VLE etc. And if at some point they want to change one of those systems, they can do that by changing their webparts, not their whole portal.

    You can find the Moodle webparts on Codeplex, a 'community source' initiative.

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