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April, 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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April, 2010

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Problem solving with ICT – the language barrier solved?


    A few times recently I’ve talked at conferences about the future of technology, and what the world will look like when today’s Year 7 students arrive in the workplace. I’ve shown our Productivity Future Vision video, and then discussed the technology and ideas behind the scenarios, including looking at some of the work going on in research labs around the world that contribute to our views of what the world will look like in a decade.

    In the first ten seconds of the video, it shows two students, on different continents, talking and having their words translated in real-time. But this was a “vision”, of how the world might look in ten years’ time. But technological change is moving faster than I imagined. Take a look at the video below (or use this link) which shows a project underway in the Microsoft Research labs. Two users, one phone call, two languages – and a simultaneous live translation.

    If you look carefully, it’s obviously not foolproof yet, but as this is a very early prototype, its astonishing in its current accuracy. Having watched my daughter use web translation tools to help her with her MFL homework, I can’t imagine what she’s going to do with this kind of technology.

    As for me, I’m hoping that it will help translate from “Call Centre English” to “English English”, and also from “American English” to “English English” (especially if it can also automatically translate meanings – like when a US colleague talks about his new pants).

    There’s an interesting article on the TechFest 2010 event (which is where this was shown) with much more about the Translating! Telephone project.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Home Access Suppliers 2010 – recommended Home Access suppliers


    When the Home Access Programme was first announced by Becta, in January 2010, there were six suppliers on the scheme, where parents could spend their grant cards. And Becta have recently announced an additional four suppliers. Which means that your parents have ten different suppliers they can turn to.

    However, it’s unlikely that a parent who doesn’t have a computer is going to want to shop around ten different websites or call ten call centres, or visit ten shops, in order to decide which computer is best. Especially as many of the suppliers focus on gigabytes and gigahertz, rather than talking in language that first-time computer buyers will understand.

    I’ve spent some time trawling through the different Home Access suppliers’ websites, and come up with my recommendation of the best Home Access Suppliers. Although there are ten suppliers, each offering between one and four base models, there are only seven different computers – although some offer a different software specification, or purchasable options.

    What makes the Home Access Suppliers different?

    Before I give you my recommendations, let me explain some of the reasons I’ve chosen them, which are important to parents choosing a first home computer for their children, to support their school work. I’ve given a great big green tick to specific suppliers for the following reasons:

    • See it in store, and take it away: Only Comet offer this, but I think they’ve hit the nail on the head. Walk into a store, look at your new computer, and then take it home straight away. Although some other suppliers have high-street partners where you can see one of their computers, you still have to order and wait for it to be delivered. So I’ve given Comet a bonus mark for having made the right decision. And I’ve also unilaterally given XMA half a bonus point, because you can see their devices in T-Mobile stores nationally, even if you can’t take it with you.
    • Windows: Although they all come with Windows, I’ve noticed that some suppliers are offering computers with Windows XP still. I don’t think that’s a good idea for a brand new computer, so I’ve put them lower down the list.
    • Microsoft Office: Of course I’m going to believe that it’s right to have a copy of Microsoft Office on the computer. It’s what students use in the classroom, and it’s what their parents will use in the workplace. And it is what they’ll need for homework.
      And more importantly, if it’s the same computer, at the same price, and one supplier includes a copy of Microsoft Office, and the other doesn’t – which one would you choose?
    • Home Learning Package: We’ve put together a suite of additional applications, and even programming tools, for students. Some suppliers are pre-installing it free. So that’s a good thing. Why wouldn’t your parents want more free software?
    • Microsoft Security Essentials: All of the Home Access computers include anti-virus protection. But if they’ve chosen the Security Essentials, then it means that the parents won’t ever have to fork out for an anti-virus subscription in the future. Whereas some of the others will cost money in 3 years time.

    The Home Access computer choices

    • Laptops: Across ten suppliers, there are just 4 models of laptop – Acer Extensa 5235, Toshiba L450, Samsung R519 or Lenovo G530.
    • Netbooks: There’s only one netbook on offer, offered by nine of the ten suppliers, which is the Samsung N130. But four of the suppliers only supply it with Windows XP, whereas the rest supply it with Windows 7 – at the same price. So if you’re going to choose a netbook, make sure you get a Windows 7 one!
    • Desktops: There are just two desktops on offer currently – a Zoostorm tower, and an MSI AP1900 All-In-One. Personally, I think a laptop is a better choice, as families have more choice about where to put/use it, and students can also use it at school in the future.

    So based on everything above, here’s my recommended Home Access suppliers list

    1. imageComet – because you can go into one of their 200 stores, take your computer away with you, and they’ve put all of the things above on it – Windows 7, Microsoft Office etc etc. They’re the only supplier offering the Acer laptop too (although that’s the only one they offer).

      • imageXMA – all of their models include Windows 7 and Office, Microsoft Security Essentials and the Home Learning Package. And you can go to a T-Mobile shop to see it in the high street (but unfortunately, have to then wait for delivery). The good news is that you’ve got a choice of 2 Samsungs and a Toshiba (and they do put Windows 7 on the Samsung netbook).
      • NS Optimum, Misco  and DA Computers – They have all the right software on their computers, including Windows 7, Microsoft Office, Microsoft Security Essentials and the Home Learning Package. And they all offer a desktop option too. Unfortunately NS Optimum & Misco are phone/web only, but DA do have a couple of stores in Leicester and Rugby.

        • Stone Computers – all of their models include Microsoft Office, and the bigger laptops include Windows 7 too. One small snag is that their Samsung N130 netbook has Windows XP, so I’m rating them a little lower Sad

        • Although it may seem unfair lumping everybody else together, these are the suppliers who have Windows XP on some computers, and don’t include Microsoft Office within the grant-value computer. Or all the other free software mentioned above. These are Centerprise, BLi, Micro-P and Positive IT.

        Note that this is done by trawling through suppliers’ Home Access websites - I’ll try and keep it up to date as I see/hear of changes. It’s probably not foolproof or completely error-free, but the only way to not make a mistake would be to not write this blog post!

        imageQuickly find all the other Home Access Programme posts on this blog

      • Microsoft UK Schools blog

        Chemistry Add-In for Word 2007/2010


        The Microsoft Research (MSR) teams around the world are always cooking up clever new bits of code, and many of them get incorporated into new products as they roll off production lines in the future. However, they aren’t part of the product teams in the conventional sense – they have much more latitude to play with ideas, and come up with ideas which aren’t solely linked to products. (As opposed to the developers, eg in the Office team, who’s job it is to make sure they build new features into their specific products).

        imageBut sometimes the two worlds come together – as with the Chemistry Add-In for Word from the team in Microsoft Research Cambridge. Working with the Unilever Centre for Molecular Science Informatics, they’ve come up with an add-in that makes it easier for students and researchers to include chemical information – such as labels, formulas and 2-D depictions, within a Word document. And easy to edit afterwards.

        And the bonus news is that this is free. So you can delight your science department at no cost.

        imageFound out more about, and download, the Chemistry Add-In for Word

        If you want to find out if your science teachers would find this useful, there’s a short video to demonstrate what it does, and a User Guide (which, intriguingly, on page 15 has advice on how to “Edit an Atom” – perhaps the software’s more powerful than I imagined!)

        ps You can find all of the other published downloads from Microsoft Research on their download page

      • Microsoft UK Schools blog

        How the Office Add-In for Moodle works


        I’ve found a couple of interesting videos for the Office Add-In for Moodle, which are worth watching if you’re considering whether it will help you in your school:

        They’re both short videos – around 3 minutes – and it quickly shows how easy it becomes for your staff to be able to save work in your Moodle system, directly from within Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

      • Microsoft UK Schools blog

        Becta Home Access Scheme – free computers going fast


        I’ve mentioned a few times that the Becta Home Access scheme has started rapidly, and that you need to encourage your qualifying students to take up their grants quickly, before they all go (the simple qualifying criteria is Year 3-9 pupils who have Free School Meals. But read all the small print here).

        Well, there’s a bit more information on the success of the scheme that’s been released by Becta under an FOI request, which shows that they have had over 330,000 applications for grant packs (which is far more than the 285,000 grants available), and have processed, so far, 158,000 applications. Assuming that parents return the forms pretty quickly, then it is likely that all the grants will be gone fairly soon.

        There’s also an analysis of grant applications by local authority area (Birmingham are racing ahead, chased by Norfolk and Essex).

        The other thing that is interesting is that it gives an approximate (if two decimal places can be called approximate!) breakdown of the grants redeemed by each of the Home Access Suppliers. Comet have got the lion’s share – over half of all of the families have chosen them – with XMA in second place. I’m not surprised that Comet are leading, because they are the only supplier where you can walk into the shop, and walk out with the computer. With everybody else, you either have to order it from a high-street partner, and get it delivered, or order it over the phone/web.

        I’m also not surprised that in the first wave of suppliers, the only two that were supplying all of their computers with Windows 7, Microsoft Office AND Microsoft Security Essentials (ie free anti-virus for life) have done significantly better than the suppliers who weren’t including it..

        You can read all of the data yourself on the What Do They Know website

        Time for a final parental reminder

        If there are parents in your school that still haven’t applied, then they should act soon. Given more application packs have gone out than grants are available, then time is definitely running out.  And given all the rhetoric about budget cuts after the election, there’s no guarantee of future funding for the scheme.

        imageHere's the info you need to help your parents apply

      • Microsoft UK Schools blog

        More Moodle advice – The Moodle on SharePoint white paper


        The team over at the Microsoft Education Labs have been busy over the last few weeks. If you’re new to it, Education Labs was created by the Microsoft Education Products Group to build and release new product prototypes and useful add-ons, specifically for education use.

        Following on from the Office Add-In for Moodle earlier in the week, there’s some further advice and support from the Education Labs team for Moodle that may be useful to you. If you’re either using Moodle, or considering it, then you may want to consider how you set it up. Because Moodle is an open source product, it’s often assumed that it should be installed on an open source server – like a Linux box. But the challenge with doing that for many schools is that it doesn’t therefore easily integrate with their existing ICT systems – for example, managing users and files on your existing school file servers.

        However, there’s a more positive way to deploy Moodle, which is to install it on your existing infrastructure, rather than having to add additional complications. The most powerful bit of your infrastructure to add it to is your SharePoint – because it fills in some of the gaps of a conventional Moodle system. First, it helps prevent data loss. For example, if a teacher deletes a file by mistake and wants to get it back, you’ll easily be able to go into SharePoint and restore it from the recycling bin – rather than it being lost forever. Secondly, you can take advantage of versioning in SharePoint. If a teacher or student overwrites a file by mistake, it can be restored to a previous version from SharePoint.  Finally you can use SharePoint’s search capabilities to search across the content of all of your content, whether it is in your SharePoint file storage, or in your Moodle system (currently there is no equivalent file search capability in Moodle).  Perhaps most importantly, teachers can get these benefits while continuing to use the Moodle user interface they are accustomed to, meaning no new training.

        How do you install Moodle on SharePoint?

        So if it makes so much sense to run your Moodle on top of your SharePoint, how do you do it? Well, we’ve published a white paper that explains how to set up SharePoint as the file system for Moodle. It doesn’t need any special code – if you have SharePoint and Moodle, it is a matter of configuration. 

        You can download the full white paper here (click on the Read It link) which can help you plan your strategy.

        imageQuickly find all the other Moodle posts on this blog

      • Microsoft UK Schools blog

        Launch Announcement - New Moodle Integration for Office


        The Microsoft Education Labs team have just launched the Office Add-in for Moodle (or should it be the Moodle Add-in for Office?). This launch builds upon the success of the availability of the Microsoft Live Services Plug-in for Moodle which launched last July. 

        The idea behind the add-in is simple. Now, when you got to Open or Save a file in Office 2003 or 2007, you can select to Open from Moodle or Save to Moodle directly. This makes it easier for your teachers to use Moodle natively, and hopefully will encourage them to make better use of your in-school learning platform. (If you have a SharePoint-based learning platform, you get similar functionality in Office 2010)

        The “Office Add-in for Moodle”

        View Slide ShowUploading files to Moodle is now much easier.  The Office Add-in for Moodle (OAM) is an add-in for Microsoft Office (versions 2003 and 2007) that allows teachers to open and save Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents to a Moodle website. Today, teachers who use Office and Moodle have to switch back and forth between their web browser and Office applications.  With the OAM, teachers can create, open, edit, and save Moodle documents from within the Office applications.  You no longer need to use your web browser when working with Office documents stored in Moodle.

        So what do you need in order to start using the add-in?  OAM does not require anything to be installed on the Moodle server (note we only tested against Moodle versions 1.8-1.9).  Anyone who is the teacher or owner of a Moodle course can install the add-in and access their documents.  Once installed, the add-in adds two menu items to your File menu (Office 2003) or the Office Button menu: Open from Moodle and Save to Moodle.  In order to browse course files on your Moodle you will need to first tell the add-in the address of your Moodle and the credentials you use to log in.  Once added you can view the list of courses you are enrolled in.  Naturally, students and others can access the content directly from Moodle as they normally would.

        We focused on teachers and content specialists first, since we know most documents posted to Moodles come from teachers. We’ve gotten some requests already about adding support for students and assignments, but we want to hear from you.  So check it out, and let the EducationLabs team know what you think and if there’s anything you want them to work on.  In order to get this beta tool in your hands right away and to get feedback before this gets fully locked down, we decided to roll this out before embarking on synchronization with other add-ins and other Moodle functionality. 

        It’s worth browsing on the Education Labs site for other projects recently released

        imageFind out more about, and download, the free Moodle add-in

      • Microsoft UK Schools blog

        Twynham School and the Learning Gateway – free e-book and web part


        clip_image002Twynham School has increasingly developed a reputation for their use of SharePoint to create a Learning Gateway for their students, parents and staff. They have been using SharePoint since 2007 and in early 2008 the systems team at Twynham School wrote a guide to the work they were doing with their Learning Gateway (which they simply called ‘the pdf’). This showed all of the early work in the first year and, along with speaking at dozens of conferences, has led to over 800 schools contacting them in the last two years to find out more.

        Three years on, Mike Herrity from Twynham, has let me know of a complete update to the e-book – recording all of the their experiences. As Mike put it “With the launch of SharePoint 2010 being just two months away it makes sense to record everything we managed to do with SharePoint 2007”.

        What the e-book is and is not

        The main aim of the book is to give an overview of the development of the Learning Gateway over the last three years. It is not intended to give a detailed account of how and why everything was done. A version with all this detail would be over 100 pages and is perhaps a proposition for another time. The e-book is also not very text heavy and contains over 60 screenshots and is only 6,000 words so it hopefully isn’t too heavy a read. It hopefully shows what is possible for schools who are starting on their journey to SharePoint.

        So now there are plenty of ways of finding out about the Twynham journey, including Mike’s excellent SharePoint in Education blog, and Chris & Dave’s technical SharePoint blog, as well as the e-book download:

        imageDownload the Twynham School Learning Gateway e-book 

        ps Mike also mentions that there is a free Picture Viewer webpart on page 43 of the book, which is handy for anybody who’s running SharePoint already.

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