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January, 2008 - 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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January, 2008

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Is your data at risk?

    • 4 Comments

    2008 hasn't really started any better than 2007 finished - a laptop is stolen from the boot of a car, containing 600,000 personal data records - heaping data disaster upon data disaster. Reality says that laptops will be stolen, even when we think they are secure. I've had a laptop stolen from a hotel room, as have many friends and colleagues, and I know of friends and colleagues who've had laptops stolen from cars, or worse*

    While it's wise to do everything to avoid theft (I always use a Kensington lock on my laptop in hotels now), the other important step is to minimise the impact of the loss. According to the BBC news report "Teachers put pupil data at risk", which was prompted by research by RM, teachers in nearly half of England's primary schools back up pupil data on CDs and memory sticks, which they then take out of school. The survey of 933 schools found only 1% of respondents were encrypting the data. And I'm pretty sure that you'll have members of the leadership team in your school who take home a complete copy of your pupil database each night on their laptop (hint: go and look at the laptop belonging to the timetabler first).

    So what can you do to avoid becoming the next headline?

    The information that I wrote last July on data security is still accurate today, and contains an action plan, but here's a very quick reminder of two ends of the scale:

    • It should be absolutely non-negotiable that anybody using a laptop for school work (and which will therefore have some personal data on it) should always have to type in a password at logon. Do all of your school laptops conform? Do all laptops used by staff in school conform, even if they are not school owned? Has anybody 'tweaked' the system to avoid having to type their password in every time. I know it's a pain (I will admit that I used TweakUI to automatically log on to my home PC, but changed that a couple of years ago when I realised what would happen if my computer was stolen) but it's an important basic step.
    • At the other end of the scale, if you have staff taking home personal data which it would embarrass you to lose, then use encryption of one kind of another.

      imageIf it's a spreadsheet or document file, encrypt the file. (Under the "Prepare - Document for Distribution" menu in Office 2007") 

      If it's a complex database, or series of data files, then you should consider encrypting the whole file storage system, stopping people from easily accessing the data. Windows Vista Enterprise Edition (which is the version you normally licence in education) has BitLocker built in, which allows you to ensure that all files are encrypted (without it becoming a hassle for your users - see Russell's video).

    This is potentially quite a boring subject (and can be quite dry, as I discovered researching this), but the alternative to doing nothing is that you go through quite an 'exciting' time, like HMRC.

    We've been through it ourselves - to read our Trustworthy Computing web site for more about our security journey.

    * Worse: One friend took his laptop into a supermarket (to avoid leaving it in his boot) and had it stolen from his trolley. Or so he thought. When the security staff at the supermarket watched the CCTV tapes, to help him find the thief, it appeared he'd walked in with an empty trolley. So where was the laptop? On the roof of his car...  
    Before you laugh to hard, I bet you've heard of people leaving phones on the roof of their car, and driving off...

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    OneNote - an unsung hero?

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    Ask most people what's in the Office suite, and they'll be able to tell you about Word, Excel and PowerPoint. And at a push, they'll mention Access, or Publisher. But most people haven't even heard of OneNote, or even tried it. And yet, of all of the Office programmes, it is the one with most untapped potential for education.

    It's a little scary to start with - for me, with my logical mind, it was a bit of a shock to realise that I could put the cursor anywhere and start writing. When you've always worked on word processors, you get used to the structure which starts at the top left of the page, and you work down and right from that. Structured. Logical. Nice. Whereas with OneNote you can start anywhere, and then move things around, and you can type or handwrite, or draw, and then drag in multimedia objects - pictures, video, weblinks, screen clippings. Which means that it is ideal for students and teachers to collate information, structure ideas, keep notes etc

    I've just finished watching a video, from a school in the US, who talk about using OneNote in their lessons.

    John Phillips, Director of Educational Technology, Forest Ridge School of the Sacred Heart says
    "There’s a relationship, a synergy, that develops between teacher and student with OneNote … and because of this, we’re seeing some exciting things in the classroom that we never would have expected."

    And Maths Teacher, Palie Cantu says
    “I use OneNote to present notes to my class, and it also allows me to keep my own work organized. When I’m done teaching, my work is already filed, organized, and preserved.” When it’s time to prepare for a different class, “it’s literally the click of a mouse and I jump from one classroom set of materials to another. That, to me, is invaluable.”

    Enough from me. You can read their mini-case study, and I'd recommend watching the video to see how they are using it in lessons.
    And you can read more about OneNote, and download a free trial, on the Office website.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    The Shireland Learning Gateway

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    At the BETT show the Schools Minister, Jim Knight, opened the exhibition by laying out the DCSF policy initiatives for the future. One of the foci was on the government target for secondary schools to provide access to real-time reporting information, such as attendance and assessment information, for parents & carers by September 2010. 2010 is also the deadline for all schools to provide a personalised learning platform for their pupils, with access outside of school hours.

    In his opening speech, the Minister demonstrated the Shireland Learning Gateway, a portal which meets these government objectives. It has been developed, over a number of years, on top of the Microsoft Learning Gateway - a framework designed to help schools, colleges and universities to create an interactive portal to support communication, collaboration and learning inside and outside of school. Now their solution is being used by a further 100 schools, providing a Learning Platform for a variety of secondary and primary schools across the country.


    Video: Shireland Learning Gateway

    Earlier in the year, before the college changed name to the Shireland Collegiate Academy, we made a video of the work happening at Shireland, including an illuminating interview with Sir Mark Grundy, the Executive Principal of the Academy. If you haven't seen it before, then either click above to watch the embedded video, or view the printed case study and high resolution video on our worldwide case studies website.

    In the last year, Shireland have teamed up with LP+, to make their learning platform available to more schools, which allows Shireland to focus on creating great interactive learning resources, whilst LP+ concentrate on running the servers and technology in the background. And at BETT, they announced a new partnership with O2, to provide students with a choice of mobile access devices, unlimited internet access and a LP+ subscription - all for a fixed monthly cost. And security and child protection are built in, as each package comes with O2's anti-bullying, controlled browsing and child support, as standard.

    I don't know if this kind of flexibility and access is going to be made available from other learning platform providers, but it certainly provides an interesting way forward for schools to consider - providing students with every part of the solution to using ICT within and outside of the classroom. It is an alternative route to the Universal Home Access model announced by Jim Knight, all of which points to this year being the year of 1:1 access for students.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    New Microsoft Learning Gateway Brochure

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    We released a new brochure at BETT 2008, which is an introduction to the Microsoft Learning Gateway for schools.

    It provides an overview of the way that the Learning Gateway can help to support you with the challenges that teachers and leaders face in schools. In sections, it illustrates how the Learning Gateway can help with:

    • Creating opportunities to deliver individual learning
    • Reducing administrative workloads
    • Giving parents and carers the information they want
    • Supporting the people who help your school

    There is also an excerpt from the Shireland Collegiate Academy case study

    If you already know about the Learning Gateway, this brochure would be helpful for you to explain what it can do if you are spreading the message around your school, or if you're looking for your senior leadership team to invest in a Microsoft Learning Gateway.

    You can download a PDF of the brochure from my SkyDrive.

    If you would like a copy of the brochure, or multiple copies for a school meeting, then please email me directly.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Where is BSF going?

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    Last year LocalGovTV recorded an interview with Tim Byles, Chief Executive of Partnerships for Schools, to discuss progress of the BSF programme in delivering the Government's £45bn investment in secondary education. In the interview her reviewed the various facets and components of BSF, the experiences of local authorities and schools in the first phase of the programme and how BSF is being developed to ensure timely rollout of 3,500 school upgrades and that improved educational outcomes are achieved.

    You can see that video on the LovalGovTV website. You will need to register to watch the video

    He also mentioned the work that Microsoft has done with the BSF Showcase, and so LocalGovTV then pointed their cameras at my colleague Chris Poole, who is in charge of our BSF work. Chris spends a lot of time with a few key local authorities around England who are trying to extend the boundaries of what BSF can deliver - either through radical reform of their school structures, or extending the programme beyond education and into community renewal, or other ways of enhancing the impact. In the following interview, Chris talks about how we are involved.


    Video: Chris Poole on Microsoft's BSF Work

    If you want more information about the BSF programme, our partners, or if you'd like to see some of the resources we've created (I'd especially recommend taking a look at the BSF Showcase videos), then click over to our main Microsoft UK Education website for more.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    IE7 update coming your way - automatically...

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    This isn't specific to education, and I'm sure that if you need to know things like this, you'll automatically be registered to our update and security blogs, but for the network managers out there, here's a quick note:

    Windows Update will automatically deploy Internet Explorer 7 next month, if you are using Windows Server Update Services (WSUS). If you don't want it to, then read more here.

    If you're not a network manager, or you are using Windows Vista, or you don't know what WSUS is, then ignore this - it isn't going to affect you...

    Although this is the kind of generic technical stuff I try to leave off this blog, because I'd rather be talking about education, I am aware that sometimes things like half-term holidays play havoc with your information timescales. This update will come out in half-term for most schools, so you may need to get things sorted before then.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Another BETT Learning Gateway story

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    2008 - it's all about Learning Gateway. And another milestone at BETT was when we released the case study on the Leeds Learning Network. Now, like many of the Learning Gateways that we've talked about, this one has been around a little while - in fact, the Leeds Learning Network (LLN) started in 2000, and switched to Synetrix, one of our partners, using Microsoft Learning Gateway as the platform in 2006. We have always wanted to wait until there's a solid educational story to discuss. Let's face it, talking about a new technology is interesting to some people, but describing what has happened educationally as a result is always better (even if, in this fast paced world of technology, we sometimes forget to look back and say "I wonder what happened with...?").

    Some of the people at LLN have been involved with education ICT for a long term - I remember meeting Patrick Kirk at Leeds about 12 years ago, and David Neighbour at Synetrix about 10 years ago. So at the heart of the work is a clear vision of education. The LLN brings together 259 schools, and 100,000 students and employees, across the borough, and provides a way for all of the schools to collaborate, communicate and to provide home to school learning engagement.

    Imagine managing 100,000 users

    Jason Rousell at Synetrix explained “All of the data is entered into the management information system (MIS). Overnight, a link between the MIS and the system works out whether a pupil in a given school should have access to an e-mail account, a SharePoint site, a personal site, and instant messaging. It also determines the filtering policy for his or her school.”

    In 2007, LLN upgraded its Learning Gateway infrastructure to Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007, and started to use SharePoint Learning Kit, which helps to meet the specific challenges of the education environment. Timetable data from the schools’ MIS system is integrated into the Office SharePoint Server 2007 learning kit component, which forms part of each school’s Web presence. With this system, teachers and students can create collaborative online spaces called My Sites. When teachers log on, they can create a new sub-site that contains all of the students who take a particular class. Teachers can now add all of their students with a single click, instead of having to add them one by one.

    Helping schools and students share and collaborate

    Instant messaging and a consistent e-mail system have enabled better communication and collaboration, but the most popular development is the ability to build online collaboration sites.

    These workspaces are being used at all levels of teaching and learning to extend learning beyond the classroom. Now, for example, educators can instantly exchange ideas and share files, such as lesson plans and administrative documents. So far, 106 collaborative sites have been created for teachers and support staff, with titles such as “Behaviour Management,” “Maths Collaboration Site,” and “Leadership and Teacher Development.” Sites for students include subject study guides such as “A Level Chemistry Guide,” and interest groups such as “The Arts Network.”

    Jason said “With this kind of activity, the concept of collaboration between schools and like-minded groups has really taken off and has grown almost organically without large-scale marketing from LLN. It’s indicative of what’s happening with the Web more generally in terms of increased focus on user-generated content that is driven by users’ needs, rather than by corporate needs.”

    Parents and carers can also access information about their children’s activities and progress at school though the LLN. As Patrick Kirk put it “What we have here is an environment that will support key themes within the national policy agenda—a ‘Gateway to Education services’ and real-time access to parents and carers".

    Personalised Learning in Collaborative Learning Environments

    Greg Perry, ICT Coordinator at Kippax Greenfield Primary School says, “The LLN is already making a huge impact and the benefits to school life are already evident. Students love contributing to the discussion forums, being able to access their work at home, and now have their own personal area that they can contribute to and customise.”

    Green Agenda

    Brigshaw High School and Language College, for example, used LLN to replace the school’s paper diary, giving all teachers in the school immediate access to information on important events and eliminating the use of paper. Key school documents were put into the staff area of the network so that teachers can access documents from home. “The Learning Network will truly reinforce the effectiveness of our school as a learning community for everyone,” says Conrad Romer, Curriculum Area Leader of New Technologies and Learning Resources at Brigshaw.

    You can read the whole case study on our Worldwide Case Study website, and find out more about the Microsoft Learning Gateway on the UK Education website. It is also worth going to look at the Leeds Learning Network website, to see how they present it to schools and students.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Live Meeting - Heavy Workload? Try collaborating for success

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    Collaborative working is seen to be the way forward to help us all work better and more efficiently and ensure that everyone has easy access to the resources they need, wherever they may be.

     

    In schools, that is often more tricky, as individuals are often not available at the same time - some will be teaching, whilst others will be free, and there's bound to be somebody away on a training course. And the diary is already full of meetings that start after 3:30pm, so what are the ways available to collaborate more effectively? With that in mind, this week's Live Meeting focuses on the Microsoft solutions that can help you collaborate and communicate with your colleagues and students more effectively. This session will teach you how to easily share and find information in one centralised location, making it easier to work more efficiently so saving you both time and money.

     

    The Live Meeting, which you can attend online, is on Thursday 24th January, from 3:30-4:15pm and will once again be presented by Steven Audis, Education Technology Adviser in the Microsoft UK Education Team.

    You can register here for this meeting, and also find out about future meeting subjects and dates. If you’d like to see any of our previous Live Meetings, which have covered topics such as Learning Platforms, Virtual Learning Environments and Windows Vista for Education, you can view them here.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Learning Gateway in action in Cheshire

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    I came across an interesting case study on the Teksys website (a Microsoft Gold Certified Partners, and a supplier of the Microsoft Learning Gateway for schools & colleges).

    It features Sir Thomas Boteler school, and talks about their use of the latest version of the Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 (phew, that's a mouthful - perhaps why Teksys refer to it as MOSS all the way through the case study!). Their project is designed to support personalised learning in the school and across the community, through the creation of the Latchford Community Gateway. This allows them to emphasise communication between pupils, staff, governors and the local community.

    Four departments (English, History, ICT and Mathematics) took the role of pilot developers in the first stage of content creation. Two of the key aspects in the development of content were to support

    • Anytime learning; content available 24/7 to any pupil with an internet connection.
    • Personalised learning; course specific content that allows every pupil a unique and fulfilling learning experience.

    Colin Murray, Head of Mathematics, who has been involved in the process of transforming the foundation and higher tiers of the GCSE syllabus into an e-learning resource, talks about some of the benefits

    “Answers are embedded in each resource, so when homework is submitted, the piece is marked instantly, and the homework mark is available immediately to the pupil”

    Simon Taylor-Jones, the school's Network Manager, commented

    “The potential to use the VLE as a communication resource between pupils, staff, parents, governors and the local community is astounding, and something that the school is very eager to capitalise on as much as possible. In conclusion, implementation of MOSS 2007 has given Sir Thomas Boteler the platform to base the majority of its teaching and administrative tasks for years to come, whilst providing a quality, personalised, anytime learning experience for every one of its pupils.”

    You can read the whole case study in PDF format on the Teksys website

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    What's up .Doc?

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    The Burton Group - a US technology research organisation - have released an interesting report into the alternative file standards in use. They compared MIcrosoft's Office Open XML (OOXML!), which is standard in the new versions of Office 2007, with Open Document Format (ODF) which is championed by Sun, IBM and Google. And the conclusion that they reached finds Microsoft’s OOXML document format to be more useful than the rival ODF format.

    Their report is titled "What’s Up, .DOC? ODF, OOXML, and the Revolutionary Implications of XML in Productivity Applications."

    We changed from the previous file formats (like .DOC) because of the flexibility and security needed for document files - especially some of the highly graphical content that can be created in Office 2007. The new versions of Office can read older file formats, and there's a converter for Office 2003 that allows it to read the new files.

    Today ODF is a recognised ISO standard, whereas OOXML is new, and seeking approval. And that's led to a political (with a small 'p') debate about whether there can be two standards. But much of that debate hasn't addressed whether one standard is 'better'. Burton have tackled that head on.

    They said:

    “ODF represents laudable design and standards work. It’s a clean and useful design, but it’s appropriate mostly for relatively unusual scenarios in which full Microsoft Office file format fidelity isn’t a requirement. Overall, ODF addresses only a subset of what most organizations do with productivity applications today.”

    Any debate about file standards is asking for a salvo of commentary - ZDNet wrote about the story  yesterday, and within 18 hours had 180 comments on the blog - mostly with people on both sides of the fence throwing comments at each other!

    But better that you take a look yourself at the report, to weigh up whether the benefits that Burton describe are useful to you.

    Their report is titled "What’s Up, .DOC? ODF, OOXML, and the Revolutionary Implications of XML in Productivity Applications." and is a free download (you'll need to register to download it)

     

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