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January, 2010 - 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, 2010

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Looking for another Microsoft blog – take a look at the directory


    My colleague Daniel Good, keeps a directory of all of the Microsoft team blogs – those that are run by, or on behalf of, Microsoft teams. It’s a really handy reference if you’ve got a burning interest in a subject, product or programme. It’s just been updated, and checking it out today I realised we have blogs for all kinds of stuff, like:

    Of course, they’re not all as regularly updated as this one, or as beautiful Smile. But I bet that 99% of them are more technical. And the ones I’ve highlighted answer about 1/3 of the regular questions I get asked (and especially “How do I get a job at Microsoft?” question).

    For individual blogs, then take a look at the Microsoft Technical Communities website – as well as pointing towards all the places you can go to discuss and get self-help, the blogs page lets you search all of the blogs written by individual Microsoft people, with just one search box. I only found that today, but already I’m addicted.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Top 10 ICT Money Saving Tips – 6 – Stop buying every laptop


    Part six of the series of Top 10 ICT Money Saving Tips for schools, based on my BETT 2010 presentation.

    Okay, the first five tips have concentrated on the idea of you making a ‘switch’ in the way that you do things.

    • Tip 1, on virtualisation, is saving Wootton Bassett School over £80,000 over three years
    • Tip 2, on desktop power management, could save a typical secondary school about £30,000 over three years
    • Tip 3, on low energy PCs, could save a further £15,000 over three years, as old computers are replaced
    • Tip 4, on switching the way you communicate, is saving Wootton Bassett School £160-£180 per day, per supply teacher
    • Tip 5, on changing remote access systems, will save Dean Close School £15,000-£25,000 on software

    imageAnd we’ve so far only covered one of my three strategies – Switch – and hopefully we’ll find some more savings in the Stop strategy.

    Tip 6 – Stop buying every laptop in your school

    Although some schools have already taken this step, for the majority of schools, I think this is something to think about for a medium term strategy. The basic principle of this cost saving idea is to think about how you can take advantage of the fact that most of your pupils already have a device – home computer, laptop, mobile phone – and that they are constantly getting more powerful. And we are just about to enter a new stage of this growth, as the government continues to promote the idea that having a computer is pre-requisite for learning.

    Jim Knight, in September 2008, as Schools Minister said:

    Having a computer with internet access should be seen as equally essential as having a school bag, uniform or pen and paper….It is unacceptable that the digital divide is growing with 35% of families having no access to the internet and around a million children having no computer at home.

    At university, over 95% of students now arrive on campus with a laptop, and the majority of universities now provide some form of network connectivity for them, to allow students to use their own laptops to support their learning. It has meant that universities need to buy less computers for every day tasks, and instead they can focus on specific needs for computers – eg in design or programming courses and in resource centres. Would that same model also work in schools in the future?

    What are the potential savings?

    According to recent BESA research, primary schools spend 41% of their ICT budget on desktops and laptops and secondary schools spend 48%. That’s a potential saving of over £6,000 a year for an average primary school, and £37,000 a year for an average secondary school. In total, that’s over £300M a year for all schools. Whilst it’s not likely that you can save the whole £300M, it is conceivable that half that amount could be saved by switching to allowing students to use their own laptops in school, making a potential annual saving of around £20,000 in a secondary school.

    The Home Access Programme

    On the 11th January, Gordon Brown announced the full roll-out of the Home Access Programme, with the words

    We want every family to become a broadband family, and we want every home linked to a school.

    The BBC ran the story as “Poorer pupils to be given free laptops”, and that’s a pretty clear explanation of the scheme – 270,000 families in England, with children between 7-14 can get a free computer with a broadband connection, if they qualify for Free School Meals. The reason for this targeted group is that the DCSF research shows that almost every other student has already got a home computer.

    If for some reason you’ve not heard about this scheme, you can find out more on the Home Access website. And if you’ve not already notified your parents about the scheme, then you should as soon as possible, as there are less grants than people who qualify. All the details of how parents apply is on the website, but in a nutshell you should encourage all of your parents who qualify for FSM with a child in years 3-9 to call 0333 200 1004 and apply for the grant. If they qualify they get a grant card, which they can go and redeem in specific shops, like Comet, for their choice of certified computer.
    You won’t be surprised to learn that the most common question my friends in the village ask is “What’s the catch?” – and there isn’t one. It’s a free computer, and a free one-year Internet connection. The computer belongs to the family for life – if they want to continue the Internet connection at the end of the year, they can if you want to, or switch/stop.

    Which means that pretty soon, you can make the assumption that every child in your school has a computer and Internet at home. And if you encourage the choice of laptops over desktops, does that mean that in a few years time, you could reduce the numbers of computers you have to buy out of your school budget, and instead allow students to bring in their own and use them on your network?

    What are the implications?

    Of course, there are quite a few implications for making a change like this. For example, ensuring your network and data is still safe and secure. And that students have the right software on their laptops. However, as you plan your strategy for the future, it is possible to make changes that allow students to connect their own laptops.

    • Network security: Now that many schools have Learning Platforms that students can connect to when they are out of school, is there a way to allow that within school in the same way? And what extra protection can you add to your network to make sure that you aren’t compromising your security (eg ensuring that all laptops connected to your network have up-to-date virus protection and the latest operating system updates)
    • Software: Is there a standard set of software that you need your students to have, and are there cost effective ways for you to buy on their behalf? Is there advice you can offer students about the choices they make?
    • Unsuitable activities: What are the kinds of things you need to ensure that students don’t do with their laptops – in school, and at home – and are there safeguards you can introduce to help parents and add further protection in school?

    Obviously this cost-saving idea isn’t for everybody, and many schools won’t have the necessary technical capabilities, or student profile to be able to make this switch. But I think it is something that should feature in your questions about your school’s ICT strategy for the future. Although there’s a cost and time implication for doing this, there’s a significant saving possible which more than offsets it.

    Want more information on how universities are doing this, from a technical point of view? There’s a case study on La Trobe University’s use of Network Access Protection, which includes a video overview too. There’s also a recording of a technical(!) webcast where the Microsoft team talked about how they manage this kind of system within Microsoft

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Top 10 ICT Money Saving Tips – 5 – Switch the way you do remote access


    Part five of the series of Top 10 ICT Money Saving Tips for schools, based on my BETT 2010 presentation.

    Every time we release a new version of our software, and you upgrade to it, it is well worth doing a review of what extra features it includes that may be able to save you money. Typically I find more and more facilities in Office that mean I need less third party software.

    One example for me is that I found that I could use PowerPoint to create a picture with text, images and gradients, and then save it as a jpeg (just Group the items, and right click for “Save As Picture”). It means that I don’t use Photoshop anymore, because that was the main use I had for it. The previous version of the header graphic for this blog was created in Photoshop, this one was created in PowerPoint.

    Remote Access to your school network

    The example that I used at BETT was the capabilities built into the latest release of Windows – Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 – which allow you to improve secure remote access to your network from outside of the school. Although remote access used to be something that was only used by big businesses, it has become increasingly common for secondary schools to need secure access to the school network for staff working from home, or when they are at meetings at the local authority. In fact Becta’s advice for schools in Keeping data secure, safe and legal now stipulates that staff should not have copies of sensitive pupil data on their own laptops even when off-site, but always connect securely to the school network to get access (eg for SIMS access).

    Traditionally, this has been done by use a Virtual Private Network (VPN), which means a combination of special hardware on your network, and special software installed on your computers. But if you’re updating to Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 you can do away with all of this additional software and hardware, and use the in-built capabilities of Windows, called DirectAccess, to create a secure and seamless connection. The potential money saving here is not just in hardware and software costs, but also in the support costs that VPNs require, and the additional management time needed to maintain another system in your school.

    You can find out more about DirectAccess on this blog post

    Removing the need for other software licences – and saving up to £25,000

    imageDean Close School, in Cheltenham, were one of the early adopters of Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2, and since they have been using it, they’ve found a number of ways it can save them money – including using DirectAccess above. They also have their eye on their Citrix software, which is used for staff and students to get remote access to their software. By using DirectAccess, the school will rely less on the Citrix software it currently uses to manage information and access. Nyall Monkton, the school’s IT Manager expects to save £15,000-£25,000 a year by switching to using Direct Access instead of Citrix.

    You can read more about what Dean Close School have done in their case study, which was done with their Microsoft partner, Bechtle.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Help my writers block – are you a teacher, educator or practitioner


    For years I’ve always written “teacher” when I’m writing about somebody who works in the classroom teaching.

    eg ‘Resources for teachers are here’, ‘Whenever I stand up to talk to teachers…’

    A few years back, with the arrival of teaching assistants, I decided to stick with it, because although there’s a ‘legal’ definition of a teacher which excludes TAs, the word teacher just seemed to continue to fit.

    But I’ve noticed over time that official documents have moved more and more to either ‘educator’ or ‘practitioner’. But I’m still doggedly writing ‘teacher’, because I’m foolish enough to think that it means more to more people, and it is easier to read (ie your head doesn’t have to do the translation).

    And this morning I noticed on Twitter people I respect saying ‘Educator’ or ‘Practitioner’ when I’d have said ‘teacher’. So I think I may be way out of line, and it’s time to follow the policy documents. So here’s my question:

    And once there’s a clear winner, then I’m going with it

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Ribbon Hero – combining games and learning


    It seems that one of the trendy topics discussed at education conferences these days is the combination of gaming and learning. Most of the time, it’s discussed in the context of the classroom or of students, but I’ve just learnt that we’ve now applied it to product training, in one of our experimental Office Labs releases


    Today Microsoft Office Labs released Ribbon Hero, a free prototype app that works with Office 2007 and with Office 2010 beta. The new prototype is designed to test the effectiveness, feasibility and appeal of delivering Office training in a game-like setting.  The heart of Ribbon Hero is a set of challenges that users play right in the Office applications. These challenges expose users to features that they might not be aware of and which can help users get their work done faster.

    In addition, Ribbon Hero awards points for using both basic features, such as, Bold and Italic, and for using the features introduced in the challenges.  Ribbon Hero does some analysis of the person’s usage patterns to prioritise the order in which it presents challenges.Endquotes

    image And then to add the competitive element, Ribbon Hero integrates with Facebook so you can share your success (or in my case, failures) with your friends.  Ribbon Hero offers to post an update to your Facebook profile when impressive point levels have been reached.  This feature enables you to compare your success with Ribbon Hero with your friends and compete for bragging rights.

    Ribbon Hero is a free download, and has got to be a big step up from conventional training ideas and manuals. Having heard Sir Mark Grundy of Shireland Collegiate Academy talk about the way they get their students learning by having a leader table for educational games, I can imagine the same kind of thing happening with this.

    And timely too, as Office 2010 approaches, it’s another useful tool to help with the migration from Office 2003. (Even if you’re on Office 2003 at school for a while, most students at home will be using the 2007 version, so perhaps a cheeky homework assignment!)

    You can read more about it on the Office Labs blog, or watch the short videos to see how it works.

    And finally, to download free Office 2010 beta visit

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Top 10 ICT Money Saving Tips – 4 – Switch your communications


    Part four of the series of Top 10 ICT Money Saving Tips for schools, based on my BETT 2010 presentation.

    So far, the first three money savings tips could save a secondary school over £100,000 over three years (and a primary school £20-£25,000). And this tip doesn’t shirk at saving money either, but I think it has further implications, because it brings opportunities to more fundamentally change the way that things in happen in your school – with lifelong savings and transformation opportunities. But enough waffle, on to the detail…

    Change the way your staff communicate and teach

    By a combination of Office Communications Server, and Office Live Meeting, there are a number of schools who’ve discovered that they can save money, as well as add new facilities in school.

    Here’s my summary of the two systems in a nutshell:

    • Office Communications Server (OCS) gives you internet phone calls within and outside of school, a conference calling system, secure instant messaging within your school and/or local authority and remote desktop sharing.
      Read more about OCS on our website
    • Office Live Meeting adds the ability to deliver training or lesson materials through any software, including PowerPoint, to groups (eg students) who can be anywhere as long as they have an Internet connection.
      Read more about Office Live Meeting on our website

    By putting these two things together, you have a way of managing your school communications more effectively, and it also gives you ways to switch around your teaching resources. For example, you can use it to deliver a lesson to students across a number of schools at the same time (eg where you have small groups of students in individual schools, who are currently moving between schools for courses), or where you have a cover lesson, and an experienced subject teacher is used to start the lesson off, and then the lesson is managed by a cover supervisor.

    The availability of instant messages, but within the secure context of your own school only, means that you can allow teacher-to-teacher messaging, or student support outside of lesson hours, without having to have your staff and students using public systems like Windows Live Messenger. (And because you control the system, you can keep a record of all conversations).

    imageSteven Gillott, at Wootton Bassett School in Wiltshire, used OCS and Live Meeting to improve staff-to-staff communication, allowing staff to choose the right medium – phone, mobile, instant message, email or video conferencing – at the right time. And it also allows staff to quickly escalate a conversation, by bringing in others, or changing from an IM Chat to a full video conference. The school also use it to help deliver more flexible accelerated learning for their students, and the changes that it allows in covering lessons means that they are saving between £160 and £180 per day per supply teacher – at the same time as allowing greater educational continuity.

    Wootton Bassett School worked with Microsoft partner Eurodata Systems to implement their system, and you can read more about it in the case study on their website

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    What to do if you get supplied with fake software


    After reading a post on Dave Morrison’s blog (I have no idea whether he’s right or wrong about having bought fake software, but the pricing certainly seems too,too low!) I found out a bit more about the Product Identification Service that our licensing team run here in the UK.

    It’s ideal if you’ve bought a copy of software (for example, if a student in your school has a query, or if you’re a primary school and just received a new computer with software) and although it looks legit, you think there might be something be wrong.

    Basically, what you can do is send it in to our team, and they’ll check it out.

    • If it is legitimate, they’ll send it straight back to you, along with a letter confirming it is genuine.
    • If it is a fake copy, then they will replace it with a legitimate replacement.

    Of course, it has to be a sophisticated fake – if you knew it was a fake when you were buying it, then we’re not going to swap it for a legitimate version! But if you’ve genuinely been taken in, then its your route to rescue!

    Take a look at the “Product Identification Service” and perhaps keep a bookmark for it – even if you don’t need it, I’m sure one day a student might need your help.

    What’s in it for you? Well, if somebody has scammed you, you get a full legit copy in return. (And avoid the risk of viruses & trojans that exist in fake copies, or the risk that at some future point your fake version stops running)

    What’s in it for us? We get some help in trying to track down the suppliers of fake software, because it’s bad for us and our legitimate Microsoft partners.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Top 10 ICT Money Saving Tips – 3 – Switch to Low Energy PCs


    Part three of the series of Top 10 ICT Money Saving Tips for schools, based on my BETT 2010 presentation.

    My next tip is to think about the energy usage of your computers in school. According to the latest research from BESA, primary schools have an average of 50 computers per school, and secondary schools have an average of 328 – a huge increase over a decade ago, and also one of the reasons why schools are now typically spending more on energy than on ICT. As well as the big savings that can be made on servers, and through more effective power management settings on your computers, it is worth considering energy usage when you replace your computers.

    In the past, schools have considered thin clients, but have recognised that there are limitations with their use – for example, with complex multimedia applications, or for advanced graphic design work. But there are now things that you can do that very effectively reduce your school’s electricity bill and give you a fully functioning computer.

    The cost savings possible mean that this is something you should consider as you replace or buy new computers – it wouldn’t make financial sense to throw out existing computers that don’t need replacing yet.

    Switch to laptops

    Although laptops have other benefits of mobility and the chance to use them at home, one of the things that’s been rarely discussed is the fact that they use less power. A power supply for a laptop is typically rated at 50-70 watts (Although it’s important to say “YMMV” here – Your Mileage May Vary!), which is significantly lower than a typical desktop PC.

    So as you bring more laptops into your school, and replace old desktops, you are reducing your electricity bill. Savings will vary depending on your current computers, and the easiest way to work it out could be to plug in a power monitor.

    Switch to lower power computers

    image A number of manufacturers have introduced lower-power desktop computers, which are based on conventional desktop computer design. The example I used when talking at BETT was the RM ecoquiet range, which are full desktop PCs consuming less energy than a traditional lightbulb. The picture on the right is a bit small to see, but it shows a computer and a lamp plugged into power monitors, and the complete PC including the monitor is using less than 50w. You can read an independent review of the ecoquiet range on Merlin John’s blog.

    Switch to ultra-mini, lower power computers

    imageOne step further is to switch to a different format, ultra-low power desktop. PARS Technology have a device called the I-Cute 270Q, which runs Windows 7 well, has 1GB of RAM and a 160GB hard disk, but only uses 18 watts of power. I’m sure we’ll see more of these kind of devices in the future, as they are not only energy-efficient, but also space-efficient.

    In your classroom, they have a practical advantage, because you can just attach it to the back of the monitor (it’s the little black box in the picture on the left) and get rid of the computer boxes on top of, or underneath, desks. The monitor, keyboard and mice plug into the system (which has 3 USB ports and an SD Card reader), and you’ve got yourself a very neat, fully functioning PC.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    BETT 2010 - Riding the BETT rollercoaster


    It's the last day of BETT, and it's the morning after the night before (in this case, our annual BETT staff party). After three exhausting days it felt we needed a completely different style of "staff briefing", to get everybody awake and feeling perky.

    If you're not quite sure what's going on here, then this is what was on the screen, and playing through the speakers

    (Saturday at BETT has been getting quieter over the last few years, but with this year's travel problems earlier in the week, I'm expecting that we'll probably see record crowds - and most of them will be heading to our stand on Saturday)

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Top 10 ICT Money Saving Tips – 2 – Cutting your electricity bills


    Part two of the money saving tips, based on my BETT 2010 presentation

    Yesterday, I covered saving money by server virtualisation. Today, let’s go outside of the server room and consider all of the computers right around you school. With the rapid growth in the number of computers (an average secondary school has more than 300 according the recent research) has also come a rapid growth in the electricity bills associated with them. However, that’s often invisible to the ICT team in the school, because the energy bills come from some other budget in the school, not from the ICT budget (I can imagine a few of you saying “Phew!” at this point)

    But what about making some changes to reduce the energy usage – because not only would it help your overall school budget – and perhaps use it as an opportunity to demonstrate that an investment in parts of your ICT budget can save significant amounts of school budget.

    The tip is to use upgrade your workstations to a later version of Windows – if you upgrade to Windows 7, you will find that you can typically save between £23 and £46 per computer per year. So an ‘average’ secondary school is going to save up to £10,000 a year, and a primary school up to £3,000.

    The reason is that within Windows 7 the standard configuration of Windows is set to use the power saving features more often, and especially during periods of low or non-activity. For example, Windows 7 makes more use of:

    • Switching off the display after inactivity, reducing the monitor power usage
    • Using Sleep mode, to put the PC into an extremely low-power mode, but with rapid restart
    • Using Hibernate mode, to put the PC into a zero-power mode, with rapid restart

    And within Windows 7 it is easier to manage this across your whole set of PCs at once – as a network manager, you can make a Group Policy change on power settings (eg changing how many minutes of inactivity to allow before switching off the display) to every machine in the school with one setting change. In Windows XP you may have to visit every single machine to make a change.

    Dave Coleman at Twynham SchoolDave Coleman, Network Manager at Twynham School, has worked to minimise the electricity bills in his school using Windows 7, and is potentially going to save this promises to pay back the decision to upgrade very quickly. In Dave’s case, he found out the energy usage of his PCs and monitors from a bit of Internet searching, but perhaps an easier way is to pop into B&Q or Homebase and pick up a power monitor plug. They typically cost a tenner, and if you plug it into the wall, and plug your computer and/or monitor into it, you can very quickly see how much money they cost to run on an hourly, daily or weekly basis. A couple of days of research should help you to estimate your potential savings.

    You can read a lot more about this in the PC Pro report from 2007, when the power saving settings were first introduced in Windows Vista. And the report will help you to work out your own power savings in your school.

    After all, if you can go to your head teacher and explain that a software upgrade could save you more money in the first year than it will cost, it’s a pretty compelling case!

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