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January, 2009 - 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, 2009

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Home Access Programme Approved Suppliers


    This post refers to the pilot of the Home Access Programme, for 2009, which has now finished.

    There's now an updated blog post all about the Home Access Programme Suppliers for 2010, which is much more useful to you!

    A little earlier I got my “Dummy’s Guide to the Home Access Programme” done, which I realised I had to do before I could start this next subject.

    It was only an hour ago, so you’ll remember the basics:

    1. Government gives grants to low-income families
    2. Families take Grant card to approved supplier, and swap it for approved computer package
    3. Everybody’s happy
      1. Family is happy because they’ve got a free computer
      2. Kids are happy because they can now IM all their mates, get online, and connect to the school Learning Platform (uhm, well there’s bound to be one or two happy with that bit)
      3. Government are happy because they’re finally getting the last 15% of households with children but no computer, online
      4. Suppliers are happy because after working on the programme (in some cases for 18 months), they’ve finally got a computer off the shelves (which in today’s economy is important, and only fair enough)
      5. Schools are happy because you can now move on from wondering “what could we do with our Learning Platform if we could be sure every pupil had access from home”. Soon, you’ll be able to just do it (imagine, no more letters home, printed worksheets and ‘the dog ate my homework’ * )
    4. And you’ll remember we’re still in the pilot phase until the autumn

    The list of Home Access Approved Suppliers

    On Monday Becta announced the suppliers who had been approved for the pilot programme. Their announcement is here, but the summary info is that the approved suppliers are:

    • Centerprise International Ltd
    • Positive IT Solutions
    • RM Education plc
    • Stone Computers Ltd
    • XMA Ltd

    So this means that from the end of next month, parents in Oldham and Suffolk (the two trial areas) will be able to go to these suppliers to get their approved Next Generation Learning @ Home packages (Name change number 3? We’ve gone from Universal Home Access, to Home Access Programme, perhaps to Next Generation Learning @ Home?)

    I know it’s a pilot, and the purpose of the pilot is to learn things, but one of the early learnings I’m hoping to spot is that some of these suppliers will create partnerships with retail suppliers. I don’t want to stereotype the bottom 15% of income households, but I’m willing to bet that 99% of them have never heard of these suppliers. But they have heard of the main supermarkets, the mobile phone suppliers and the major electrical chains. So perhaps we’ll see these packages offered through these kind of stores. These families don’t have a computer, so they’re not going to be ordering online. And I think it’s unlikely they will turn to the school for advice (again, trying to avoid stereotype, but the demographic research implies that typically these families will not have a lot of contact their local school). So that means the scheme really does need these computers to be on the shelves at their local Tesco or Comet, or another local retailer they would be confident walking into.

    * Now for some fun. If this programme does away with “the dog ate my homework”, what are going to be the new excuses that your pupils will come up with, when they have to submit their homework online. And I’m not talking about the real ones, like ‘Couldn’t get a 3G signal’, or ‘The Internet wasn’t working’. I’m looking for the truly creatively inspired ones. Pop them into the Comment box below (you’ll need to register or login), and I’ll give a prize to the most creative by next Friday (small print, small print, and some more small print. Not valid in Quebec).

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Taking a road trip


    Yesterday we were out and about on a West Midlands road trip with a gaggle of colleagues from the global education team. The aim of the trip was to see some of the things that are happening in UK schools, to inform our future directions and policies.

    It was a little bit like a school trip, as I checked at each stage we hadn’t lost anybody on our way. The ‘Tour Party’ was:

    • Steve Beswick, the Microsoft UK Director of Education
    • Anoop Gupta, Corporate Vice President for Microsoft globally
    • Michael Golden, Corporate Vice President for our Education Products Group
    • Stephen Coller, Senior Director of Technology, Policy and Strategy

    It is unusual to be able to get a couple of days of time from all of these people, and it was really nice that we were able to spend that time visiting schools, rather than stuck in the meeting rooms at our offices in Reading. It has been a busy fortnight for the HQ colleagues from Seattle, as they were over for BETT, then onto other European countries. Finally, they landed back in Birmingham on Wednesday night, flying in from Portugal via Germany! They would probably have appreciated a break from the pace and energy of travel, but no let up in the Midlands.

    Great Barr School

    We started our visit at Great Barr School, with a packed 3 hour agenda, sitting in lessons, taking maths tests (eek!), meeting teachers and governors as well as the leadership team and the IT team. It was good to be in a classroom to see the reality of teaching today.

    GeographyClassroomNeil Morland’s Geography Lesson

    Perhaps it’s because Geography was my favourite subject at school, but I really enjoyed sitting in a Geography lesson with Neil Morland. The lesson was one China’s ‘One Child per Family’ policy, and although it wasn’t an ICT rich lesson, Neil had created a PowerPoint presentation using pictures, music & text to get across an important message to introduce the lesson. When I watch people presenting in business, using PowerPoint, it is amazing how often I see them tripped up by the technology, or simply unfamiliar with what the mouse buttons do. Whereas Neil was confidently using a remote mouse pointer to pause the the PowerPoint and music, in order to discuss a point, before carrying on. I don’t know how many teachers have a remote mouse (or similar remote gadget) but it made a real difference to the way that the lesson flowed, and conversation could be constructed.

    The biggest thing I noticed in the classroom layout was that every single surface was covered in learning resources. Not just the walls, cupboards and windows – it is the first classroom I’ve visited that you can’t escape from learning by staring at the ceiling – covered in national flags.

    Wandering around the classrooms

    MathsClassroomAnother hour was spent wandering the school, dropping into lessons – into the science labs, the IT Support offices and the multimedia labs – and getting a sense of how learning is delivered in Great Barr, and how teachers are supported. There was one anxious moment (left), when a Year 8 Maths Group challenged us to a Maths Quiz, using Brain Trainer, to see who could get the highest score in 100 mental maths questions. Fortunately we had Anoop on our side, a professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering from Stanford University, and a holder of the President’s Gold Medal. Unfortunately, I was on our side too. And obviously the Year 8’s have had plenty of practice on their Nintendo’s – so in the end it was an unequal fight and we lost gracefully.

    The other anxious moment was when we were in the corridors as the bell went (did I mention that Great Barr has 2,400 students and 350 staff?). The building guidelines that schools use – BB98 – define standard corridor dimensions for schools, and these are irrespective of the number of students. Even so, 2,400 students turning out on onto the standard narrow-corridors turned out to be okay – although we obviously had no choice about where we were going – we just had to go with the flow of the thousands!

    In the conversations during the hour, we learnt a lot about the students and the school. 85% of the students have a broadband connection and computer at home, compared to 53% nationally. And that every teacher has their own laptop and every classroom has a projector (is there any school in the country where this isn’t yet true?)

    And then the management side

    After the tour, we all made it into one of their conference rooms, where we were able to spend some time discussing the school’s ICT strategies and how it was being used to support learning. There were some things that jumped out from this discussion - as this was a fast-paced discussion that kept changing direction, I’ll summarise some of the key bullets:

    • The Becta Self-Review Framework (SRF) had been really useful in deciding on priorities and to do an analysis of the starting position. At the first pass, in November 2007, the Red/Amber/Green analysis it produced showed just 53% of areas were green, whereas this month it shows 100% green.
    • The SRF revealed that the two development focus areas were ICT across the curriculum, and staff confidence with ICT.
    • The school has built a parental reporting gateway, to meet the online reporting targets, and currently have 900 parents using it. At around 40%, that seemed good compared to other schools I have talked with, but Great Barr were aiming for higher, and so have a range of initiatives in place to increase this, for example by promoting it heavily to the Year 7 intake this year.
    • Since May 2008, the school’s added 13 new servers – and because they are using virtualisation, that has meant only 4 new physical servers. That’s saving money as well as reducing the carbon footprint.
    • They use blogging in various parts of the curriculum, and the staff can use their choice of tool for this (the example we saw in History was a blog created in Blogger, but then the IT team brought that content directly into the school’s Learning Gateway. This seemed a great way to enable innovation and spread ownership, but maintaining a central way of accessing the whole set of teaching resources.
    • In German they use blogging to enable peer feedback – a student is able to create a blog post in German and then other students can add their comments (On a side note, it also illustrated the use of different writing styles – from formal to straight-forward ‘txt spk’ in the comments)
    • Alex Pearce, the “Learning Gateway and ICT Manager” at the school had done a really straightforward, and powerful, analysis of the linkage between ICT investment projects and the learning goals of the school. This allowed people to see how the current project (flood wireless) linked back to the Teaching and Learning objectives for the school.
      (I’ll see if I can get a copy from Alex, or ask him to pop it onto his blog)

    Where next?

    Technologically, Alex and Dan talked about how they want to provide support for students using ICT at home. One of their aims is to take advantage of the high broadband usage to provide Internet telephony (using Office Communications Server, which is now my default phone system when sitting at a desk). The other is how they can help students personally use ICT more in their learning, and using OneNote for supporting learning. (If you don’t know about OneNote, read Mike’s OneNote in Education blog)

    Finally, after three hours had passed in a flash, we had to jump in a minibus to get to our next visit. Without a shadow of a doubt, we had all learnt a lot more than we expected at Great Barr School, and as we drove away, the buzz was already starting about what could happen if lots of other schools were making similar changes at a similar pace.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    The London Grid makes a move


    We made a few announcements in BETT week – and during the course of this week, I’ll make sure I write about them all (if you’re impatient, you can see them all here).

    One of the most significant from a product/service perspective was that we announced the launch of the London Grid for Learning’s new email service. I’ve snipped some of the detail from the press release below:

    LONDON — 14 Jan 2009 — London Grid for Learning (LGfL), a consortium of all London’s local authorities, has today launched Microsoft Live@edu services for up to one million students across London. This is the first network of its scale for schools, and the LGfL is the only network globally providing fibre optic connections to every school, positioning London at the forefront of 21st-century collaborative education worldwide.

    Branded “London Mail” by LGfL, the new service will incorporate 33 local authorities and 2,500 schools, and is the largest potential deployment of Microsoft’s Live@edu mail services worldwide. Schools will be making significant cost savings using the hosted service, as Live@edu includes applications such as mobile, desktop and web-based e-mail — encouraging students to collaborate, create online communities, and make learning and the sharing of information easier.


    The Live@edu service has been around for a while, and is widely used across universities to provide their student email service, and this is the first implementation for schools in the UK.

    Students get a 10GB inbox, and they also get to use the latest Office webmail client – which is in effect the next version of Office. As Brian Durrant, the CEO of London Grid for Learning said in the press release:


    Part of our responsibility within education is to bridge that gap between school and the world of work; London Mail gives students an e-mail experience in line with what they will use when they graduate. Amongst the 25,000 students we have been piloting the system with, we have enabled an increase in teamwork across schools, which is extremely positive. And, practically speaking, using this service has helped schools make significant savings. We estimate the average secondary school could save around £18,000 a year using London Mail, so across the 2,500 schools in London, it’s a multi-million-Endquotespound reduction in costs.

    For LGfL and the schools, there are further benefits. Firstly the fact that we provide the core service free, means that you should be less cost for a better service. And secondly, we carry the full responsibility for running the datacentres and the backup and disaster recovery plans etc.

    To comply with the Information Security guidance from Becta, we run the datacentres for the Live@edu service in Dublin, meaning that the student data is stored within the EU. For those who visited Olympia last week, imagine a data centre three times bigger than the Grand Hall, which runs this and other services.

    Now that this service is live in LGfL, we’re not expecting a rush of individual schools outside of London to sign up for the service. Instead, we’re in conversation with some of the Regional Broadband Consortia over their email provision. (If you’re interested in the service in your school, you can find out more here, but rather than asking us to provide the service, we’d prefer it if you asked your broadband consortium what their plans are to update their email services!)

    Email has become such a big tool for students’ lives, and the need for ever-more powerful email services is creating a demand for education establishments to provide more powerful services. Although most students aren’t going to need a 10GB inbox and 25GB of collaborative storage space on the Internet, providing it removes a few barriers for years to come!

    ps You might also be interested to see what the press said about the announcement, on ComputerWeekly and Softpedia,  and on Merlin John’s blog

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Road Trip Part 4 - Broadclyst


    Phew, after the hiccups at the end of the first day of this road trip, I’m still here and writing :-)

    We awoke in Devon on Friday, to a sunny day and blue skies – and plenty of countryside. Friday’s visit was the polar opposite of Thursday’s , when we visited one of the biggest secondary schools in the country in Birmingham. Today we’re at a tiny village school in Broadclyst, just north of Exeter. The village still has red phone boxes and a thatched bus shelter. And a Victorian primary school that dates from 1810.

    I’ve written about Broadclyst Community Primary School before, and you can also see their story in depth, told by the head, senior leadership team, teachers, pupils and parents in the Innovative School video case studies, so I’m not going to dwell in detail on their story. As this was my second visit, I wasn’t struck dumb as I walked into the main classroom, which closely resembles the Enterprise from Star Trek. Instead, I spent a lot of time talking with, and answering questions from, individual pupils. The thing that is very obvious is how independent the learners have become during their journey through Broadclyst school, and so each pupil seems to be working on a different piece of work. One pair were working on a flyer to save a local fictional wood, whilst the pair next door were working on the financial position of their fictional international business (and they wanted to know what a “good” profit margin was).

    image At one point the classroom started overflowing as the local BBC & ITV news crews turned up, and a photographer from the local press, but this didn’t seem to faze the class – they carried on working, ignoring the mayhem around them.

    You can see the short report from BBC Spotlight here that was broadcast in their regional news (and the Exeter Express & Echo’s report). Anoop Gupta (right) our worldwide Vice-President for Education, spent 15 minutes happily answering questions from the pupils, as they went searching for Bill Gates house on the web, and talking about what it was like working for him directly (Anoop used to be Bill Gates Technology Assistant)

    And if the interviews by the TV crews weren’t bad enough, Michael & Anoop were then shuffled off to the BTV studios (Broadclyst TV) run by the pupils. Without doubt, this was one of the most professional setups hat I’ve seen in a primary school, and they asked much tougher questions than the real TV crews. Hopefully I’ll be able to get a copy of the programme, and share the link with you.

    Broadclyst_School_Bus BroadclystMinibusSuddenly, two hours had gone, and we had to head back to the station – Annop, Michael & Stephen had a plane to catch back to Seattle, so there was no leeway for extra time. But the final journey of the trip was down to the station in the school’s minibus. (After two weeks travelling constantly around Europe, I’m not sure if our party looked quite as neat as the school’s own minibus photo)

    Looking back, the two days had been really useful, to hear from others, and to see for ourselves, the reality of our model of ICT in schools, and to talk about how the UK approach differed from that in other countries. I’ll dwell on the thoughts for a few days before I share some of the discussion and conclusions!

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Home Access Programme – the basics


    I was just starting a blog post to update everybody on the Home Access Programme, and the latest news. But then I stopped. I wondered “Well, do people know what the Home Access Programme is?” – and a couple of quick phone calls to schools and I realised that there’s a big gap between what most people know, and what ‘the powers that be’ assume everybody knows.

    So here’s my “Dummy’s Guide to the Home Access Programme"* (although, if I was from across the Atlantic, this would be tagged “Home Access Programme 101”.

    Took me ages to work out what 101 meant, until I discovered it was the first module in any course – eg Science 101. Microsoft seems to have taken this to a higher level still, with all of our training tagged 100, 200, 300 or 400 Level. For me, I have a simple inverse rule:

    • I will understand 100% of a Level 100 course
    • I will understand 50% of a Level 200 course
    • I will understand 25% of a Level 300 course
    • On a Level 400 course, I will not even understand the course title

    Anyway, back to Home Access…

    What is the Home Access Programme?

    • A Government programme for England, implemented by Becta, to give children in low-income households access to a computer, support and Internet access
    • It was announced last September that the Government will be funding it with £300m over the next couple of years
    • Parents of children who qualify will be able to claim a “Home Access Grant”, which they can exchange for an approved computer package at one of the approved suppliers
    • Around 1 million children will qualify (the bottom 15% of households by income)

    When does the Home Access Programme start?

    Like all of these schemes, there’s a pilot phase first, from now until the summer:

    • English Local Authorities have already been given the funding to buy computers for ‘looked after’ children only, and they’ll be providing them before April
    • Two local authorities, Oldham and Suffolk, are running the wider pilot, for all qualifying children in their authorities. So families in these two areas will be able to apply for the Home Access Grant from the end of February, and they can then go and choose one of the approved packages from one of the approved suppliers

    The main roll out of the scheme starts in the Autumn, probably from November:

    • All families who qualify will then have the chance to apply for the Home Access Grant, and can then rush down to their nearest approved supplier and walk away with their new computer.
    • The family own the computer – it doesn’t belong to the school or local authority.
    • The grant period lasts for two years (ie that’s when the current money runs out).

    Some people confuse the Home Access Programme with Computers for Pupils (CFP), but it’s quite different, as the CFP programme used education (local authorities and schools) as a channel to families. The Home Access Programme is very different – it is mostly about parents buying directly from an approved supplier, using their Grant – the school isn’t directly involved.

    How are schools involved in the Home Access Programme?

    • The model for purchase – parent applies for the grant, the government provides it, and then the family buy from a supplier – means that schools aren’t directly involved.
    • However, lots of good practice from community ICT access programmes, including CFP, shows that schools can make a significant contribution to the effective use of the computer, by providing remote access to the schools learning platform, supporting parental ICT skills development etc
    • I think we’re going to see some schools choosing to get involved – such as providing advice for parents on how to choose the right package, and how to ensure it is compatible with the school’s systems & learning platform (and this would be especially true if the school is considering allowing pupils to connect their own laptops to the school network)

    I’ll stop there, because that’s quite enough info for a Dummy’s Guide, but over the next couple of days I’ll write more about the programme…

    * "Dummy's Guide" rather than "Guide for Dummies" because the first version refers to the writer (me) being the dummy!
  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Road Trip Part 2 – Shireland Academy


    imageAfter spending last Thursday morning at Great Barr School, our merry band hopped into a minibus straight over to Shireland Collegiate Academy, on the other side of northern Birmingham, in Smethwick.

    I’ve written about Shireland before on this blog, and their development of a Learning Gateway which is used not just within the Academy, but by over 100 other schools. To avoid repetition, I won’t repeat any of those stories – but you can read it all for yourself in this article, or download a set of PowerPoint slides from BETT 2008.

    The Shireland Learning Gateway team

    Our visit gave us the chance to spend some time in class, and then meet the developers of the Learning Gateway. Anoop and Michael got the chance to chat with three ex-Shireland students (Natalie, Stephen & Ian), who had been hired by the team to develop learning resources on behalf of the schools who are using the Gateway. This is an employment model that I have seen before – successful students being employed by their school to provide ICT support services. Not only is it good for them, in continuing to build future employability, heads have told me that it is also motivational for other students still in school, as it is an aspirational goal for current students. Fr

    Meanwhile I was chatting with Ryan Guest, one of the team responsible for running the Gateway for Shireland’s academy, and got the chance to ask about their measures of success. If you’re running a Learning Gateway in a school, what are the ways that you measure your own success? I’m not sure if Ryan intended that I should share his answer, but I thought it would be useful comparison if you’re doing the same in your school. First and foremost, the success measure is learners’ attainment (and exam results). Of course, that means you may only know once a year if you’re being successful, so the everyday measures that are used are:

    • Website traffic increases
      The Learning Gateway team produce a daily report for Heads of Departments of traffic to their sections
    • Weekly Head of Department meetings
      To discuss feedback on usage, issues encountered, and developments (eg what assignments are to be uploaded, what changes are to be needed)
    • Informal feedback and requests from students
      Shireland’s Learning Gateway has a lot of quizzes and competitions on it, using learning games with leader boards. From the sound of it, Ryan regularly gets requested by students to design new games (often based on quiz shows on TV!) and/or requests to reset leader boards on existing competitions, so everyone can have another go. This bit was intriguing – students wanting to regularly take tests in order to prove their knowledge!

    A little later we met a head of a local primary school that had used the Gateway to keep in touch with parents whilst the pupils were away at a residential week. Travis Latham, who’s Head of Shireland Hall Primary School, told us about the way that a simple blog on the Gateway had engaged pupils and parents, with some parents logging on several times a day to get updates on how their children were doing. It made me wonder if it was a trojan horse for improving the engagement of parents with school work, as well as encouraging them to get more involved in the use of ICT to support learning.

    Time for discussions and questions

    Heading towards the end of the afternoon, we then got a chance to talk with a parent and to find out their views on home-school learning links, then a group of students who’d made it into last term’s 100% Attendance club. Once a term they have a reward meeting, with cakes and doughnuts to reward all of those in each year group that had attended every session. And this group of Year 8’s were given the chance to ask any questions they wanted of the visitors. I’ve been involved in a few of these now, and know that some questions will always come up every time - “Have you met Bill Gates”, “Did you design the XBox” and “How much do you earn” are favourites. This time around, with Anoop in the room (“Yes, I used to work directly for Bill”) the answers were a little more exciting, but next time we really must take somebody from the XBox team on tour!

    The thing that happened in this session, that has never happened before, was that the 100% club wanted to collect autographs from their visitors. I can’t imagine that they’ll ever have the same cachet as a footballer’s signature, but they’ll have something to talk about for the next couple of days.

    Finally, we had to jump back in the minibus to get to New Street Station, ready for our trip down to Devon. Armed with another set of interesting stories and different perspectives, we left with a debate going all the way back to the station (this time the discussion with the leadership team about different pools of data in the education system led us to a debate about what we could do to help all schools could effectively use their data sets to raise performance).

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    The netbook Wall of Cool at BETT


    One of the things that is new on our BETT stand this year is a netbook “Wall of Cool”, with a dozen netbooks to look at and compare. Although there are loads of suppliers at BETT, all showing off their latest mini laptops, you can’t visit a stand elsewhere where they are all lined up together. So you can compare them side by side, and you’ll be able to see how their speed, graphics, weight and design vary between manufacturers and price brackets.

    Side by side netbook comparison

    And last night, we thought we’d do a true Top-Gear style road test. We loaded as many as we could get into a laptop bag (a big laptop bag, but could still only fit 7) and trundled them down to a local hostelry with a group of teachers and network managers.

    They passed the first test – they were all working still when we got there!

    And after we’d achieved the necessary preparation (minimum 2 glasses of wine/beer in order to judge!) we set off trying to arrange them from Seriously UnCool to Sub Zero.

    There was plenty of debate as I handed them around – with lots of opinions on keyboard size, style, colour, which paint job was best/worst etc. And although the middle of the chart moved around during the debate, there was no serious debate about the winner and the loser in this discussion:


    Our hero turned out to be the Samsung NC10 (Link), which people thought looked good, felt good, and had the right keyboard and screen. One of the schools there had decided to standardise on it for next year (but kept that quiet until after the judging!), and we could all certainly see why.

    And then in order, came:

    • The Asus Eee PC 1000H (Link) which pipped all of the other similar devices because of its smart pearlescent paint job.
    • The Toshiba NB100 (Link) which divided opinion – some complaining the keyboard and screen was too small (noticeably smaller than the others), but others thinking that made it more convenient.
    • Then the Elonex Webbook in Black (Link), with a flecky metallic finish, followed closely by,
    • The Elonex Webbook in White (Link) which was exactly the same spec, but didn’t have street cred of the black one.
    • Falling a little further behind was the HiGrade Notino L100 (Link), which wasn’t saved by its “England” football team branding.
      (The lone voice of the Welsh on the panel didn’t shift the vote too far backwards!)

    But the device that created the most discussion (but not debate) was the Fizzbook from Zoostorm (Link)

    It started off well, with somebody observing that it looked like it might be good primary schools, because it “looked like it could take a battering”, and its in-built carrying handle would be “natural to take to class”. But then opinion moved around quickly. After the observation, put kindly, that it is “astonishingly retro”, and looked a little too “Fisher Price”, one of the teachers observed that in the hands of secondary school students, the handle would be a problem “The kids will feel like they’re being told to carry it by the handle, so they simply wont”. And the final nail in the coffin came as one panellist loudly declared “I’m not touching that, it looks like a handbag”. So Fizzbook, you might have a cooler name than some, but the panel simply couldn’t pull you out of the ‘Seriously Uncool’ box!

    So well done Samsung NC10, you stood out a mile. And sorry Fizzbook, better luck next time.

    This wasn’t the most scientific process, and we might even have been unfair to our losers. But it did illustrate that there are netbooks, and there are netbooks, and it pays to look around before deciding which one is right for your students.

    Thanks to the panelist – Mike, Dave, Dave, Alan, Sharee, Mark, Pippa, Stuart, Chris and Rory. And thanks to all of the people that lent us the netbooks.

    Oh, and sorry for the beer stains on the keyboards…

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    The Microsoft Home Learning Package for Home Access


    Keeping up on the Home Access Programme? Am I making sense so far? Wondering what’s next? Asking what exactly we’re going to do about it? Wonder no longer!

    Along with a number of other companies, we’ve been involved in the Ministerial Task Force for the Home Access Programme over the last year and a half. I don’t know the exact reasons for choosing us, but I’m guessing it’s because we are involved in education, and also involved in the consumer world of IT, and we’re intricately involved in the way that young people use IT in their social life (If you’ve got a teenager, you already know about that it’s easier to IM them down for tea than shouting up the stairs).

    And so we’ve been thinking about the programme for a while. We work with organisations involved with learning in schools, online safety, ICT skills for families and students, and a whole range of other things. So it seemed obvious to bring all of this work together to create what we’ve called the Microsoft “Home Learning Package”. In a nutshell, it means that a parent choosing one of the Home Access computers can opt for a software suite which has all of the key items pre-installed. And ‘key’ in this context means the things that pupils are using across their learning and social life (or, to fit with the trendy marketing moment, their “digital lifestyle and digital workstyle”).

    The package contains the Ultimate edition of Office 2007 (the version that includes Access and Publisher, which is handy for secondary-age pupils) plus the Windows Live Essentials pack, plus access to some of the other key online software and resources (Photosynth, SkyDrive, Virtual Earth, Worldwide Telescope), and then a range of resources to help families who are potentially getting their first online computer:

    • Family Safety Settings – which will allow parents to set limits on their children’s use of the Internet, Messenger contacts, time limits etc
    • Digital Literacy Curriculum – a set of skills training courses covering everything from using word processors, e-mail and the Internet through to digital photography and music.
    • KnowITAll for Parents, a set of award winning resources to help parents keep their children safer online, with a special section for children

    Now some of these resources are free to download, but the bit we’ve done as part of the Home Learning Package is to ensure that parents can get them all pre-installed as one simple package, and to be honest I think that’s pretty useful. Whenever I get a new computer, I’m used to downloading my favourite utilities and add-ons, but for most people, having it all in the box to go on day one makes a difference.

    I haven’t seen the price of any of these computers yet, because the shortlist of approved suppliers has only just been announced, but I’m hoping that the price will be pretty compelling (fingers crossed that the price will be as good, or better than, simply buying a copy of Office Home & Student, even though Office Ultimate has got tons more in it).

    Anyway, the details of our software are on our Home Access section on the Education website, which has got a handy FAQ section too

    (If you spot anything missing from the FAQ, let me know and I’ll pass it on to be added)

    And if you’re wondering whether having the Home Access Programme really can make a difference, and you’ve got 3 minutes, take a look at the Broadclyst story below – filmed last summer, it’s staff, pupils and parents talking about the way that learning has changed through having access to ICT at home and at school, and how it is connecting up their learning. There are plenty of other stories like this on the Innovative Schools website

    Reading in RSS? Download the video on this link

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    The Internet isn’t working


    My favourite humbug phrase is “The Internet is down”. It’s a phrase people use, but it winds me up. Somebody walks in and says “The Internet is down” or “The Internet isn’t working”. I ask you? Like 3 billion nodes, millions of switches/hubs/routers, thousands of undersea cables. They’re broken? I can see it may come across as tetchy when I say “No. It is not. The Internet is fine. I think what you mean is that our connection to it may be down/broken.

    The Internet’s down

    It happened twice this week, while at BETT. The first time was on Tuesday night, when I was walking back from Olympia to the hotel. I phoned home to say goodnight to my kids – and my eldest said it - “Dad, the Internet isn’t working”. Give me a gold star, because I resisted the temptation to correct her. Instead I had to talk her through counting green lights on the wireless router, and then I had to ask her to crawl under the desk and find the mains plug to reset it. Over 5 years with Zen Internet, this has only happened twice, and the first time was when a BT Exchange burnt down, so it’s the kind of problem I can live with – I switch on/off every 30 months is pretty good.

    The second time was a little more serious, and a lot less professional.

    The Internet’s down at BETT

    On the first day of the BETT Show we were having a great time. The stand was packed with people. The Surface at BETT was drawing crowds. Jonathan Bishop of Broadclyst Primary School was having a wonderful chat with one of his pupils at school via video conference, and another in a hospital who was still being included in teaching and learning via a video link. And suddenly something went wrong. The video conference died, and for the life of us, the techies couldn’t solve it.

    Jim Knight, the Schools Minister, was due onto the stand shortly, and was going to join in the video conference, and have a chat with the pupils. It would have been a nice moment. And that is when Gordon whispered in my ear “The Internet’s down”. This time I wasn’t even focused enough to correct the statement, instead I just asked “Can you fix it?”. (Following my previous logic, I can now see that it wasn’t reasonable for me to ask Gordon to “fix the Internet”)

    It turned out that the Internet service provider at BETT, to all of the stands, had switched over their Internet provider mid-way through the morning, and suddenly all of the server gateways had changed. Everybody we spoke with had the same problem – their Internet connection suddenly died. It took us about half an hour to get everything reactived, and a little longer for the video conferencing as new IP addresses were configured.

    imageLots of kerfuffle followed, and the end result was that the Internet connection simply wasn’t stable enough to let us video conference reliably. And sadly the children down at Broadclyst school didn’t get the chance to talk with Jim Knight (and they’d shined their shoes specially). Instead, Jim had a hands-on demonstration of the Surface using Finquistics, which you can see on the Teachers TV website.

    The moral of the story?

    1. If you’re providing a communication service, proper change management means making changes when there’s lowest risk of causing disruption, not highest.
      Change your service the day before BETT, or even better during the Practical Caravanning Show! Just like schools make big system changes during the holidays and weekends. Not during Period 2 on a Monday morning…
    2. If you’re running a stand at a show, always have Plan B (and Plan C) ready, because something outside of your control will mean you need it.
  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Photosynths made at points in history



    Having lived through BETT last week, I had to relive it again this morning when Mark A’Bear showed me his Photosynth of the BETT stand. He’d snapped 278 photos of Olympia, and Photosynth had them stitched them together into an explorable photo model.

    It’s just like being there – but without the noise, crowds and freebies.

    imageI couldn’t help noticing that CNN had created a big inauguration Photosynth too, were they had asked members of the public to send in their photos, and they’d then popped them all into Photosynth to make a massive diorama that you can browse around and explore. And on the main Photosynth site, there are piles of others, some created by individual people from a single perspective, others by groups of people together. And they’re all overlayed on a map of Washington so that you can navigate amongst them.

    This is a big step for social networking and digital photography, because it is more than just people sharing photographs on a site like Flickr or FaceBook, but actually ties the images together to create perspectives that no single person could have seen.

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