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March, 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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March, 2009

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Free DreamSpark software downloads for school students


    DreamSpark logo

    This is one of those “Are you sure? Really sure?” blog posts. Where somebody tells you something, and you ask “Are you sure? Really sure?”

    So I have checked this, and now had it confirmed by the announcement of it in a Bill Gates speech this evening.

    We have announced that the DreamSpark programme is now open for school students. DreamSpark allows students to download, for free, a big pile of developer tools – which they can use for educational purposes.

    Here’s the software, straight from the DreamSpark home page:

    DreamSpark eligible products

    There’s quite a few products, but I think some of the most popular will be Expression Studio, Visual Studio Professional, XNA Game Studio and the Robotics Developer Studio.

    Read the FAQ web page which contains a good summary of the programme, and how to activate it for your school. Basically, somebody in the school registers, and they receive product keys to distribute to students. But students just download the software they want directly from the website – you don’t need to get involved in distribution.


    Free training on Dreamspark There’s also free training courses and materials available for students – including free books, “learning snacks” for Silverlight, Virtualisation, Web 2.0 development, Windows Server, and the free Microsoft IT Academy Student Pass. And there’s even free certification – students can claim a voucher for a free “Microsoft Technical Specialist” exam.

    The free exam offer is especially good if you’ve got any IT students leaving this summer – they can get a head start on students from other schools!

    The free software is good for everyone of your IT students, whatever year they’re in.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Information Security – how the other half live


    This Friday, my colleague Ian McKenzie, is hosting a Live Meeting on “Information Governance and Assurance in the Public Sector”. It’s one of a series that he’s been running, and I thought it would be worth telling you about this one because it has relevance to your challenges. And the good news is that you don’t need to move away from your computer, as it’s run as an online meeting on the web.

    Following on from the various reports about Data Handling and Data Sharing, the aim of the session is to throw some light onto what our technology can do to help you with information security, and some customer examples of how it has been used. I know it won’t all be 100% relevant, but I have found that when talking to people about this issue, there’s a lot of useful information already out there – and that the challenges we’re facing in securing information in schools are often very similar to challenges faced by bigger departments across Whitehall.

    Here’s the details from Ian:

    Header to Live Meeting

    The next Live Meeting in our series on how you can optimise the use of Microsoft technology to improve the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of Public Sector ICT will focus on information governance and assurance.

    This Live Meeting explores the Microsoft technologies that enable Public Sector organisations to address the security requirements of the recent Data Handling (Cabinet Office) and Data Sharing (Information Commissioner’s Office) reviews.  During this Live Meeting our experts will provide you with an overview on:

    • Microsoft technology for establishing a secure ICT infrastructure and protecting confidential information ‘at rest’ on devices and ‘on the move’ for an increasingly mobile workforce
    • Microsoft customers and the benefits they are realising from applying Microsoft technology to their information governance challenges

    Our experts will demonstrate, with practical examples from Public Sector organisations, how Microsoft’s approach to information governance can enable the secure deployment of public services online, including the new services that will be enabled by Government Connect that links local authorities to central Government data via GCSx.

    What the Live Meeting will cover:

    11:00 Opening remarks and Live Meeting guidance

    11:05 Microsoft and Information Governance

    11:45 Questions and Answers

    12:00 More information and next steps

    When the Live Meeting takes place:

    Friday March 20, 2009: 11:00 – 12:00

    How to take part:

    Simply click on the link below for more information and to register to take part. You will automatically be sent your access details to connect to the Live Meeting on Friday March 20th at 11:00:

    Microsoft and Information Governance

    All we need is 1-hour of your time at your desk, in front of your PC/web browser and Microsoft experts will explain how you can get more out of your investment in Microsoft technology by implementing flexible and mobile working solutions that improve information access and increase staff productivity

    If you do attend, come back to this post and add a comment on it’s value – it’ll be helpful to others and to me (eg should I be telling you about some of the other Live Meetings that Ian runs?)

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    The Home Access pilot starts


    You may remember that in January, I wrote about the DCSF’s Home Access Programme – providing free home computers for students from disadvantaged families - and reinforcing to all families the importance of access to an Internet-connected computer to support learning. Just in case you missed , here’s the three articles to read – the basics, the suppliers, and the Microsoft software package. Well, we’re now into the pilot phase – with children in Oldham and Suffolk starting to receive their computers through the scheme.

    imageThe BBC NorthWest film crew followed Jim Knight to Oldham earlier this week, and then all the way to Evan’s house. It must have been a little surreal for the family – sitting in your lounge with the Schools Minister and a TV crew. You can see 10-year old Evan’s interview, with his mum, on their website.

    Anyway, the scheme’s underway as a pilot, and parents are starting to buy computers. They do this by applying for a grant, which arrives in the form of a single-use debit card they can go and spend with one of the 6 approved suppliers.
    The strange thing is that, even though the cheapest computers cost £600, they don’t have Office 2007 on them. Even though we’d been working with the Ministerial Task Force for 18 months, and even though we’d offered our Home Learning Package at a special price (which included Office 2007 Ultimate Edition, plus a range of other learning and family safety resources). In what seems like an even more bizarre twist, I don’t think that the suppliers are allowed to offer it as a pre-installed upgrade – instead, the families have to buy it and install it separately.

    To be honest, this doesn’t make sense to me. The scheme is aimed at families getting their first computer, and the more that’s pre-installed and ready to go, the better. And if their local school is using MS Office, surely it would make sense to offer them the option to have the same software on their home computer. I do understand the decision not to put it onto every computer, but to not even offer it as a pre-installed option?

    Anyway, the cheapest solution for these parents (and for some of your students too?) is that there are a pair of Microsoft partners who run online shops which sell student licences of Office at Academic prices – ie less than you’d normally pay for a copy of Office 2007 if you buy it in a shop.

    Software 4 Students

    RM’s The Basement

    image image

    Office Standard from £35
    Office Pro Plus for £44

    Office Standard from £35
    Office Pro Plus for £44

    You simply order from the site, and they’ll send you the DVD to install, along with the licence key. And you’re off…

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    What do I think?


    Yesterday, a colleague sent me an email asking “Off the top of your head, if there were three things that you’d love to say to a chief education policymaker, what would they be?”

    I was on a train at the time, had 5 minutes to respond, so it’s not terribly well thought out. But I thought I’d share my thoughts, so you could add yours too:

    Number One: Qualifications

    The gap between what students need to do to pass exams (remember lots of facts; work with a pencil and a blank sheet of paper; work alone) and what they need to do to get a job/career (work collaboratively; demonstrate information finding/searching skills; communicate effectively in a variety of media; project manage; deal with challenge and conflict) is increasing. It is possible for ICT to be used effectively to support and assess a new style of learning, but until we start the GCSE journey so that it doesn't all end with a child, a pencil and a blank sheet of paper in May, we're stuck.
    I worry about this professionally as well as personally, because in a few year's’ time, my teenager is going to be that child, sitting in an exam hall, who’s success or failure in her early career may be defined by a migraine or some other uncontrollable event on that day in May.

    Number Two: Use of ICT

    There’s a growing gap between many students' use of ICT and their teacher's/institution's use of ICT. We need a 'Bill of Classroom Rights' that seeks to close the gap and focuses the ICT use of students outside of learning to support ICT use in learning. Sure, YouTube can be a timewaster, but it can also be a massively valuable learning tool. Why ban it completely (would we ban books because they are the same media as comics?). By establishing the rights of students and teachers to access technology (and in the case of teachers to empower them to make professional judgements) we can help to speed up the process of closing the gap, and increasing the relevance of education to life outside (social and workplace)
    This isn’t a plea for anarchy, but a way of upping the level of debate about the use of ICT in the classroom, and why it’s acceptable to remove teachers access to common, everyday ICT resources as soon as they walk into the classroom. If we’re not careful, teachers and students will just start using 3G dongles because their multi-megabyte broadband connections stop them making effective use of ICT in the classroom. Now that would be anarchy.

    Number Three: ICT Funding

    Turns out my number three was a little bit controversial, and the colleague said “But you can’t say that!”.

    What do you think I said?

    If you think that this is very ICT-centric, then I make no apology for that. I’ve spent a couple of decades working in the education ICT market, so I guessed they asked me because I had an opinion about ICT. Either that, or they asked the wrong person…

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Blogging over free breakfast


    The best public sector IT blogsLast year I was surprised and pleased to learn that I’d somehow made it to become the Computer Weekly 2008 Public Sector blogger of the year (for this very blog). And it led to me running a few internal training sessions for Microsoft people, talking about blogging and offering advice for people who are considering starting blogging, or had made some first tentative steps.

    A colleague suggested that I should offer the same session to other people – so here’s the invitation!

    On 15th April, I’m going to run a “Blogging over Breakfast” session at our offices in central London, for unexperienced or less experienced bloggers – if you’ve always itched to tell your story, then this may be for you. It’s not going to be about the technology of blogging, but will focus on generic advice on blogging in the UK Public Sector. I’ll cover a bunch of things from the basics of sitting down to write, to information on the Civil Service code on blogging.

    I’m hoping that we can make the session quite interactive, and limit to a maximum of 14 people. It will be suitable for you if you want to:

    I’ve scheduled it during the Easter holidays, as I think that the kind of people who might find this useful wouldn’t be able to get out of school during term time. It’ll be a small group – and I’ll allocate places on a first-come, first-served basis.

    The details: 15th April, 8:30-10:30 at the Microsoft offices at 100 Victoria Street, London

    If you’d like to come along, then drop me an email.

    If I’ve got it wrong, and you could only make it during term-time, then flame me with an email, and if I get enough requests, I’ll add another date.

    I’ll buy the coffees and the breakfast – you just bring your ideas to contribute to the conversation

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    What’s that icon Dad?


    imageBoth of my children (9 & 13) are fluent with technology – it is simply a part of their life, in the way that TV was a part of mine. It is often a challenge to keep up – they were into interactive online communities before I got truly understood their value.

    Last month, when my youngest daughter was doing a PowerPoint for school, her first question to me was “Dad, can I borrow a memory stick?”. She knew that was the way that you carry files around.

    Neither of my children have ever seen a floppy disk. And I realised this last week, when one of them pointed to the icons in Word and said “What’s that icon Dad?”. Good question, which turned into a history lesson!

    What should we change the icon to? An memory stick?

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Shift Happens to students


    Of course, you’ll have seen the UK version of Shift Happens that I created in 2007 too many times already. But recently, I’ve been asked by various people to create mini-versions for specific events. And finally, the penny has dropped that I can share them with you if I used a copyright-free soundtrack.

    They may be useful for you for parents evenings, or assemblies or staff meetings. This version is the one I created for a recent day for Diploma students in London, in conjunction with e-Skills, and is a two-minute, student focused, story that extracts the part of the story that talks about the world that students are going into.

    You can download it from here

    imageIn case you are interested, I created this version by selecting the slides I wanted from the original PowerPoint presentation, and then saving the presentation as a series of JPEG images (under Save As> Other Formats in PowerPoint 2007).

    Each slide was then a separate image file.

    And then finally I used Photo Story 3 for Windows (which is free) to animate it as moving pictures, with background music, and turn it into a movie. The result is a lot more pleasing than simple PowerPoint slides or animations, and actually takes almost no time at all.

    I’m definitely going to use the same trick for more of my presentations, as it makes it look much better than a series of slides. And it automatically creates a copyright-free soundtrack (which are a pain to find sometimes).

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Another TheyWorkForYou nugget – Thin Client doesn’t equal energy efficient


    I like “They Work for You”, a website which tracks things which go on in Parliament. I use the RSS feeds of education ministers to keep an eye on news I’ve missed (such as new statistics published like these, or progress on big programmes like BSF), and I’ve also used it personally to contact my local MP about an approaching vote on publishing MPs expenses. It has to be said, a lot of what is published is quite dull, but every now and again there’s a nugget.

    Like last Monday, when Jane Kennedy (who is Minister of State for Farming and the Environment at DEFRA) was asked in a written question “What steps the Department is taking to encourage (a) thin computing and (b) environmentally-friendly computing practices in the public sector.”

    And the answer is:

    “DEFRA carefully considered the promotion of 'thin' clients, which are centrally managed computers with most of the function of the system located in a central server room. However, evidence to date has shown that the increased electricity consumption of these server rooms (e.g. through the air conditioning needed to cool the room) renders this technology less attractive than previously thought from an energy efficiency perspective.

    The Government's "Greening ICT Strategy" published last year sets out a strategy for reducing the environmental impact of Government's computer systems. One of their main aims is to make the energy consumption of our ICT systems carbon neutral by 2012. We also mandated a set of minimum environmental standards for commonly-purchased products, including ICT.”

    Read it yourself here. Just in case DEFRA is new to you, the “E” stands for “Environment”, so they’ve definitely got credentials!

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    MasterClass at NAACE 2009


    Last night at the NAACE Conference, my colleague Leighton Searle delivered the Masterclass “What will they think of next? Part 2”, following on from last year’s presentation which I gave with Chris Poole. Although I couldn’t make it this year, Leighton was joined by Steve Gillott of Wootton Bassett School, so the presentation was a mix of “gee whizz new technology” and practical experience from Steve’s school.

    You can download the slides here

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Martin Bean at NAACE 2009


    Martin Bean is my favourite Microsoft presenter. He delivers his presentations with fantastic passion,and really grabs you at an emotional level. In some ways, he always leaves me feeling inadequate, either because I aspire to reach his level of presentation skills, or because I sit thinking “What am I doing every day dealing with details, when I should be transforming something big”.

    This morning, he presented a keynote at the NAACE Conference, and although I was originally scheduled to share the same stage (would have been a big moment for me) that was before I got bumped off NAACE to go and work on another thing. Fortunately a colleague stepped in to help with the demo in Martin’s keynote, but it meant I was only able to follow his presentation at a distance.

    image Martin talked about the journey that we’re on in the use of ICT in education, and increasing student expectations. The slide above is a very neat summary of how ICT can support learning and the education system generally.

    You can download his slides from here (as a PDF), and I’ve heard NAACE will be putting his keynote on YouTube soon (details as soon as I’ve got them)

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