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February, 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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February, 2008

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    How robust does a laptop for education have to be?


    Imagine. You're designing a laptop specifically for use in education. How robust do you have to make it?


    Is this robust enough? The engineers at RM took theirs into the car park, and then drove cars over one, to see how much abuse it could survive. Three cars later (and car number 2 definitely looks like the one that should inflict most damage) it is still up and running. And just to prove it isn't a trick, they take it back into the office and plug it into a monitor too, to show it's still alive and well.

    Pretty impressive. Might also match up to some of the abuse a student might cause a laptop.

    Perhaps their "laptop drop" game isn't just for fun!

    I know this isn't just an overnight wonder either. In 2003, I took a career break and went around the world with my family (4 people, 3 backpacks, 2 grown ups, 1 year - and a Tablet PC). For a year I had a Tablet PC in my backpack, and it took some pretty bad treatment - I even dropped it on the street one day, when I was carrying it in my hands, without a case. Somehow it made it through all of that, allowing me to write a website about our trip for our relatives and friends, and (more importantly) for my children to use it to keep up to date with their school work.

    The Tablet managed to make it round a dozen countries, travelled at least 1,000 miles strapped to the tops of buses in my rucksack, on some very bumpy and dusty Asian roads, and was hauled through inhospitable conditions. That Tablet was made by RM, so I know that they've been making pretty robust mobile PCs for quite a while now!


  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Shift Happens and Freezing Frogs


    One of the most popular pages on this blog is the Shift Happens presentation, which I tailored for a UK audience. The original US version has been viewed on over 3 million times on YouTube now, and I am regularly coming across people who have seen my UK version at conferences and meetings.

    You can download a video of the presentation, or a PowerPoint version, from this blog

    When I'm working, I'm constantly reminded of some of the references it makes to a changing world. This morning's reminder was actually from my children. And the slide it reminded me of is the one where it says "There are 2.7 billion searches performed on Google each month", and then asks "To whom were these questions asked before Google?".

    I'm working at home today, and it's half-term. Normally the two are compatible - I settle down in the study, close the door, and can carry on uninterrupted. But this morning was different. About half an hour ago, my children were battering down the door to tell me about the frogs. Frozen solid in our garden water feature. Encased in a 2-foot-square block of ice. And they were worried that these six frogs were dead. (When you see a frog soup in the middle of the country's largest ice cube, you kind of get that sinking feeling). But a quick search on the Internet (Live Search of course) revealed that frogs can freeze solid, and then when they defrost, they carry on life as normal. And so a few buckets of warm water later, we've got six happy defrosted frogs hopping around the garden.

    How would I have known that before Internet search engines?

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    SkyDrive - 5GB of free storage


    I like SkyDrive. Before it was invented, I used to have to load any files I wanted to share onto an FTP site somewhere, and then write clunky links to them. Now, I just drag my files onto my SkyDrive, and then provide a nice graphical link to them, like this:

    But up until now, it's been called Windows Live SkyDrive Beta. I've just received an email telling me that it's been officially released, and the size has been increased to 5GB of free storage!

    Anybody can get a SkyDrive, as it's free - just sign up for it using your Windows Live/Passport ID, and you too can have 5GB of file storage online, with file storage areas for private, shared and public files. Gone are the days of moving files between home and work with a USB drive (which inevitably got lost somewhere between the two places).


    Imagine - all of your students currently carrying their data around on a USB memory stick (and busily plugging them into USB ports all around your school?), could be using this. What would it cost you to give every one of your students 5GB of Internet-accessible storage on your network?

    More info on SkyDrive

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    What are you responsible for?



    This might seem like a bizarre subject, because I would guess that most of us have an idea of the scope of our responsibilities. But a recent conversation with Tim Roots from IT Vision was a bit of a surprise for me. We were talking about software licensing - Tim's a director of a software company which produces software to help schools and education authorities manage their software licences.


    We were talking about where the responsibility sits for ensuring that software installed on school's computers is properly licensed. And what surprised me was when he told me about the situation with computers provided under the 'Computers for Pupils' (CfP) scheme - the ones that schools allocate to students and give them to take home. Because they are still owned by the school, not the pupil, apparently the school is responsible for proper licensing of these computers, even once they've been handed over to pupils. I found this difficult to believe, but apparently it's no different to employees' computers provided by an employer - for example, your staff laptops. So if you're students go installing additional software, and it's not properly licensed, you're held accountable!

    Tim quoted Becta's words to me: "As the device is actually owned by the school the licence issues are the responsibility of the school. Our advice to schools is that they have a stringent acceptable use policy that should contain policy with regards downloading software onto a device owned by the school."

    Parago licence management software - screen shot We were talking about this as Tim was telling me about Parago - a web-based software suite which allows you to monitor hardware and software changes to a PC, whether they are in school or at home. I don't profess to understand how the software works - it sounded too good to be true, until I saw it. It has been developed in conjunction with schools, who've provided feedback on what features they want to see in it.

    But it isn't just designed to track down illicit software - it can be used to track any assets (like whiteboards, projectors etc) - and the software tracking feature can also be used to ensure that software installed on a school PC is appropriate - which might come in handy with both student and staff laptops!

    You can find out more about the software on the IT Vision website, which includes case studies of both primary and secondary schools.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Accessible Technology - A guide for teachers


    We have recently published a worldwide guide which provides information about accessibility and accessible technology resources, to help teachers ensure that all students have equal access to learning with technology.

    For teachers new to accessibility and working with students with disabilities, accessibility can seem overwhelming. To help teach students with all types of abilities, this guide includes information about accessibility and how to successfully and more simply bring it into the classroom.

    This guide provides
    • An understanding of accessibility and how it impacts the classroom
    • Definitions of impairment types and technology solutions for each type of impairment
    • Guidance on choosing accessible technology solutions
    • Resources for more information

     Download the guide directly

    For more resources, take a look at the accessibility tutorials on our main web site.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    RM Asus Minibook news


    A short snippet - the Windows XP version of the RM Asus minibook (also known as the Asus eeePC) was announced at BETT 2008, with availability scheduled for April.

    Well the RM website is now accepting orders for them. It comes with a decent specification - 8GB of storage and 1GB of RAM - meaning that there'll be enough space for students work. People considering the original version (4GB of storage and 512MB of RAM) see that as a "browser only" device for students, whereas with Windows etc, it becomes a full-blown (albeit mini-size) student laptop.

    More details and specifications on the RM website.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Virtualising IT in Warwickshire


    I have to admit that I feel a bit of a Luddite when it comes to some of the more technical sides of IT - and my mind was pre-programmed to believe that things that involved "virtualising" anything were too technical for me. But, over the last year I've come to realise that I've missed the change that has gone on with the world of virtualisation - the idea of running multiple mini-computers within one bigger one; or running an application on one computer, but displaying the screens on another. It's the kind of dark art that I had thought was reserved for big datacentres (do people still wear white coats in them?), but more and more I come across it in more 'normal' situations.

    Chris Page, at Warwickshire local authority, is obviously a fan of it - he's using it to provide support for schools, and their pupils, across the county. What it allows the IT team to do is distribute new software applications across the schools, without having to send a technician out to visit them. So, if a new version of SIMS arrives, they can make it available for users quickly, or if they find a new bit of software for teaching, they can make it available to teachers for evaluation - all without going near the computers of the schools and teachers involved. It helps them improve the managed ICT service for schools by streamlining application delivery and improving security for remote access to school networks. And IT technicians are freed up to focus on delivering better support, while teachers can easily evaluate innovative new software on school computers.

    It uses a clever bit of software, called SoftGrid Application Virtualization. In a nutshell, it allows you to install an application on one central machine, and then "stream" it down to other PCs when they want to use it - without having to install it on those PCs. So, a teacher could use a virtual version of Office 2007 for training, but still have Office 2003 installed on their laptop.

    According to David Banton, the Network Manager at Avon Valley School “SoftGrid has made our IT environment extremely flexible and saved us significant costs. Once an application has been sequenced it can be accessed by users anywhere in minutes.”

    Chris and David worked with us to produce a case study, which explains how it helps the school and the local authority, which is available on our worldwide case studies website.

    Chris also published a more detailed case study on Avon Valley School, on the Warwickshire team's website

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Partners in Learning Progress report


    The Partners in Learning (PiL) programme from Microsoft has been running for 5 years now (and 3 years in the UK), and has supported a wide range of educational projects in conjunction with government and educational agencies worldwide. In the UK, we've been working with organisations including the TDA, Childline, Becta and Futurelab on a wide range of projects (you can read about some of them on this blog, by searching on the PiL tag on the left).

    I was reading the worldwide 2007 PiL Progress Report. With case studies themes of professional development, the developing world, ICT skills, innovative learning, collaboration and leadership, it appears there's something for everybody. Amongst all of the examples of projects around the world, there was a profile of a couple of UK specific parts that I thought you'd be interested in. What grabbed me was how the UK education system, and the changes we're undergoing are described to a worldwide audience:

    The Enquiring Minds programme, which was designed by Futurelab, and which we support (not least with a a £1M PiL grant), was profiled within the report in the "Innovative Learning" section. I'll quote the author of the report:

    FirstquotesThe British education system has produced some of the greatest writers, scientists, and thinkers of the modern world. In recent years, however, educators and policymakers in the UK have begun to question whether the country's highly structured national curriculum and focus on examinations are developing the knowledge and skills that students need for the 21st century. Enquiring Minds, an innovative new approach to learning designed by UK research organisation Futurelab, and supported by a US$2 million grant from Partners in Learning, looks beyond test results toward a different goal: enabling children to become effective researchers, innovators, and creators of knowledgeEndquotes

    The other article on the UK was about the Education Evidence Portal (EEP), which is a website designed to help teachers, and teacher trainers, find research on effective teaching and learning practice. Again, I'll lift directly from the introduction of the report:


    A growing volume of research is identifying more effective teaching and school administration practices, but finding that information can be a major challenge for teachers, administrators and policymakers. As part of a government effort in the UK to support such "evidence-based practice," Microsoft UK is providing funding and technical support to help create an Education Evidence Portal and an E-librarian service that will enable educators, teacher educators, school administrators, and policymakers to quickly find the data they need to improve the quality, efficiency, and accessibility of education scholarship.Endquotes

    I'm all for this - it always strikes me that there's plenty of research going on, but it's difficult to find. So I went there and put in "whiteboards", and on the first page of results, got five research reports published by Becta on their contribution to teaching and learning, three Teachernet articles (including a "how to use whiteboards" article, and a Q&A) and one research report from the Economic & Social Research Council. That's pretty good, but what amazed me was that I didn't get anything else. No adverts for whiteboards, no sponsored links, no link to ebay to "Get great prices for whiteboards". Only quality educationally-relevant results. There's even a downloadable desktop search toolbar. Personally, I wish I'd discovered the EEP website years ago.

    You can download the full Partners in Learning 2007 Progress Report, or read individual sections of the report on the website. Case studies from around the world include stories about what is happening in Brazil, Argentina, India, Colombia, Estonia, Hungary, Eqypt, Singapore, Australia, Cambodia, Thailand and the US.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Freeing Education from the Rigid Box

    Nobody can ever accuse Stephen Heppell from stepping back from the brink...or avoiding difficult subjects. And reading through the Partners in Learning 2007 Progress Report (page 102) I noticed that he's at it again. His first two sentences under the heading "Moving Beyond the Factory School Model" grabs attention:


    Looking back, it is likely that we will view the era from 1950 to 2000 as something of an aberration in the history of learning. The "factory schools" built around the world of during that era saw learning confined to rigid boxes.Endquotes

    And then, when the heading changes to "New Learning Strategies Fueled by Technology", he says:

    FirstquotesIn the 21st century, education is embracing a new, exciting, engaging, effective future. New technology has played a huge part in this, not only because of the new opportunities it brings to the classroom through personalisation, but also because it allows students and teachers to quickly and effectively swap great ideas with one another.Endquotes

    His last paragraph concludes:

    FirstquotesLike Dorothy and Toto in The Wizard of Oz, learning is being whisked away on a whirlwind of change and imagination. When it touches back down to earth in another 10 years, the education landscape will certainly look significantly different than it does today. This report provides some intriguing clues as to what we might see instead.Endquotes

    You can download the full report, or just read sections. Stephen's views are in the "Innovative Learning" section of the full report, on page 102, but the whole report contains a global insight into projects which are supporting the changing model of learning we're seeing everywhere.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Learning2Go in Wolverhampton



    Dave Whyley, in the Wolverhampton E Services team, is well-known in the education community for his passion for projects with mobile learning. The Learning2Go team have been active in Wolverhampton since 2003, and each year they've produced an annual report on the progress. This year's report contains a number of case studies in which teachers, parents and pupils reflect on what it means for them. Dave is always keen to impress that the project is not about experimentation with a particular mobile device, but instead is all about a new approach to learning in the 21st Century. After 5 years, the project team is looking forward to moving out of 'project' status, to become a fully-fledged, and fully-embedded part of Wolverhampton's BSF project.

    You can download the current, and previous reports from the Learning2Go website

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