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News and views from the Microsoft UK Education Team
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  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Kodu Game Lab – using gaming to interest students in programming

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    I know it’s half-term, and therefore most teachers aren’t in school. But then, there’s more time to play with new stuff in half-term! So I thought I’d blog it anyway.

    There aren’t enough students studying computing subjects – this PC Pro article’s chart shows just how bad it is expect to get – and at least part of that is that their is a disjoint between computing and real-world ICT. However, there’s also the issue that it has become increasingly difficult to engage students in programming, especially when they are younger – leading them to want to study computing at A-level or for a degree.

    imageThis explains just two of the reasons that we’ve been working on a visual programming language for a few years now. In January, we announced Kodu for PC, which is designed specifically for children to be able to create games. And made it available as a free Technical Preview. It’s described as “an end-to-end creative environment for designing, building, and playing your own new games”. Originally, Kodu was just for the Xbox, but now there’s a PC version, you can run on it on a standard classroom PC. And then your students can share it on your school network, so that other students can play (and learn).

    As the Kodu team describe it, it’s all about using programming as a creative medium:

    The core of the Kodu project is the programming user interface. The language is simple and entirely icon-based. Programs are composed of pages, which are broken down into rules, which are further divided into conditions and actions. Conditions are evaluated simultaneously.

    The Kodu language is designed specifically for game development and provides specialised primitives derived from gaming scenarios. Programs are expressed in physical terms, using concepts like vision, hearing, and time to control character behavior. While not as general-purpose as classical programming languages, Kodu can express advanced game design concepts in a simple, direct, and intuitive manner.

    It’s already being tried out by some schools in the UK, and there are a number of projects in education worldwide:


    • In the USA, in Detroit, the Explorer Elementary school has been running the Explorer Kodu Club.  Children are showing up early for school to work on their Kodu projects while learning about programming, design, and narrative development. 

     

    imageYou can find out all about Kodu, and download the free Technical Preview version for PC at the Kodu Game Lab







  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Upgrading and virtualising to save money

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    imageThe Microsoft worldwide case studies site always throws up some interesting things to read. But a couple of weeks ago I noticed that a new case study of a UK school had been published by our services team, in partnership with Dell. It’s from Lodge Park Technology College, in Northants, and tells the story of their adoption of Windows 7 and the virtualisation of their servers – and how that saved them money.

    You’ll probably want to read the full case study for the details, but here’s the highlights I picked up on.

    Virtualising Servers saves money

    They are saving £6,000-£10,000 every year on hardware by virtualising their servers. As Stephen Peverett, the Network Manager, says:

    I used to work on a four-year lifecycle for servers alone. With 20 servers, we were replacing six servers a year at approximately £2,000 per server. If I can reduce those 20 servers with six machines running virtual servers I’m cutting my costs by more than half.

    I think the savings are actually greater than Stephen quotes – because it will have saved them around £20,000 a year on electricity – because it’s reduced the need for air-conditioning, and moved to six physical servers from 20.

    And the virtualisation also adds a new capability to update and repair servers with no downtime. This issue has become more and more critical in schools, when students and staff are accessing learning platforms and other systems 24-hours a day. There’s not even a mid-summer break when systems can be shutdown for maintenance.

    Upgrading to Windows 7 extends the life of hardware

    The ability to run Windows 7 on older computers will further increase savings.

    We don’t have to upgrade our hardware to run Windows 7. And it works well with both existing and new hardware. The ICT suites equipped with Windows 7 are extremely popular with students. Windows 7 will be a catalyst for collaboration and help our students work faster

    imageRead the full Lodge Park case study on the Microsoft.com website




  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Creating school websites – guidelines on usability

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    When I wrote the Good Blogging Guide last year, I concentrated on audience, purpose, search and writing like a real person (I hear voices saying “Look at yourself Ray, you’ve forgotten it all already!”). What I spent little time on was the technical side of blogging and the web – navigation, usability, content such as images, and other areas.

    But the COI (Central Office of Information) for the Government have produced an excellent, and easy-to-read, set of usability guidelines for creating usable website in the public sector. It includes technical and design advice, as well as some very good pointers towards writing effective web content.

    image

    If you’re involved in a school website project – whether that’s external for parents, or internal for students and staff, it is a very worthwhile read. Useful too if you’re planning a new SharePoint 2010 project.

    Downloads

    You can download the PDF’s of both guides too:




  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Finding good practice with ICT around the world

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    One of the easiest ways to see what is possible is to look at what other schools have done. We publish lots of 'case studies' on our worldwide website, and I had a quick look to see how many examples are there for UK Education institutions.

    image

    The Microsoft Worldwide Case Studies database is where all of our written case studies are stored - they are available to view online, or download. Currently, there are 35 UK Education case studies in the database, and 14 of them have been produced in the last 12 months. It is pretty easy to search - here's some subsets of the total base of case studies

    And worldwide:

    My favourite case studies of the last year?

    To be honest, I often find myself first reading these because of where they are. And, well, there’s been a pile of case studies of education institutions switching to Live@edu from a wide range of climates, from hot to cold – India to Siberia:

    And then I get drawn to ones in places I’ve been to in my backpacking days, like:

    • Waikato in New Zealand (beautiful town, and also now running Windows 7)
    • Mississauga in Ontario (now solving critical data-centre cooling issues too!)
    • Pune in India (was quite hippy when I was there, but now they are collaborating in the cloud apparently)
    • Melbourne in Australia (which is a very lovely city, and presumably better because of their CRM system)
    • Cairo in Egypt (where the Nile University are not only doing clever things with clusters, but also seem to have a magic phone number “1NILE”)

    I’m sure you’ll find your own favourites on the worldwide case studies site.

    imageQuickly find all the other Case Study posts on this blog





  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Internet Safety – how to get support in school

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    imageLast week I wrote about some of the resources available if you’re running any kind of Internet safety teaching your school. And I mentioned that on we had 100 volunteers out in schools on European Safer Internet Day, delivering training for pupils, parents and staff. And that over the last year the volunteers had trained 12,000 young people and 2,000 teachers on online safety.

    What I forgot to say was how you can get a free-of-charge volunteer to come along to an event for pupils or parents at your school.

    The first choice would be to book through the Think U Know website, where schools can register to receive a “Protect” volunteer. They will put you together with a CEOP trained and CRB-vetted volunteer from Microsoft, Visa or O2.

    If you specifically want a Microsoft volunteer, then the best thing to do is to email my colleague Karina Gibson, who manages all of our Internet Safety Volunteer programmes. She’ll do her best to find a local Microsoft volunteer, and if she can’t she’ll help you connect with a volunteer from the main programme.

    imageQuickly find all the other Internet Safety posts on this blog






  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Windows 7 in Welsh

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    We’ve just released the Language Interface Pack for Windows 7 in Welsh. It’s free as a result of the collaboration between Microsoft and Welsh Language Board. As the press release makes clear, we pay for the work, and the Welsh Language Board provide the translators through the Cymen translation company of Caernarfon. They then get busy translating big swathes of Windows 7 into Welsh for us.

    You can read the announcement from the Welsh Language Board for more details.

    Download the Welsh Language Pack for Windows 7

    I’m told that this page contains the download (well, it certainly looks Welsh, doesn’t it!)

    image

    There's a complete How to Install with Welsh Language pack here

    imageWe have plenty of other things in Welsh too – like Office 2007, Office 2003, Digital Literacy Curriculum and SharePoint ar gael in Gymraeg. And there are 48 other languages for Office here

    Things you didn’t know about Welsh?

    • The longest place name in the United Kingdom, and one of the longest in the world, is
      Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (St Mary's church in the hollow of the white hazel near to the rapid whirlpool and the church of St Tysilio of the red cave).
    • Welsh is spoken by about 25,000 people in the Chubut Valley, a colony of Welsh immigrants in the Patagonia region of Argentina.
    • To secure communications without using complicated cryptography, Welsh regiments serving on peace missions in Bosnia (now known as Bosnia and Herzegovina) simply used their native language.


  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    TechNet webcasts

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    Each month the TechNet and MSDN teams over in the US host a wide range of webcasts on technical subjects. And, of course, next week’s half-term holiday might give you a chance to catch up on some professional development.

    As they are held on Pacific Coast time, they first one of the day is normally timed perfectly for the school day – at 4pm, after the stamping of tiny feet has left the corridors.There are others, later on in the evening, which are also good, but I know that you’re going to need a burning interest in something to turn up for a 9pm webcast.

    You can find this month’s webcasts on this page (all UK times), and also look at the future ones.

    Key February Webcasts

    Here’s the ones I think might be useful for network managers in UK schools. Unfortunately the appropriate February ones all look like 7pm ones. Mind you, maybe you need an excuse to skip out of Corrie.

    Office and Outlook – helping you delegate effectively
    Wednesday 17th, 7pm Microsoft Office System Webcast: Effective Delegation (Level 100)
    This one’s all about managers delegating tasks to their teams. Probably should watch this before your head teacher does!

    SharePoint 2010 and social networking
    Thursday 18th, 7pm Momentum Webcast: Social Computing with SharePoint 2010 (Level 100)
    Ideal to understand how the new social networking features of SharePoint work, to help you plan for their use within your school.

    Exchange 2010 scalability
    Thursday 18th, 7pm TechNet Webcast: Getting the Most Out of Exchange Server 2010: Performance and Scalability (Level 300)
    This looks at the product team’s guidelines on scalability and performance, and what tools are there to help in Exchange 2010.

    Windows 7 deployment
    Monday 22nd, 7pm TechNet Webcast: Everything You Wanted to Know About Windows 7 Deployment in 90 Minutes (Level 200)
    Described as a “whirlwind tour of the tools and methods used to deploy Windows 7”, from manual, to automated light-touch and zero-touch installations.

    What does Level 100/200/300 mean?

    I can’t find an ‘official’ definition, so here’s my scale:

    • Level 100: If you can logon to a webcast, then the content won’t go over your head
    • Level 200: There’ll be some technical content, but the majority will be in plain English
    • Level 300: Propeller-Heads only. Personally, I only get about 30% of the Level 300 session
    • Level 400: As Steve Ballmer would say, “Developers, Developers, Developers”


  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Getting the cold-shoulder the day after Valentine’s Day?

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    W7banner

    From today, if you’re running Windows 7 RC (Release Candidate) - ie the pre-release version from last summer - then your computer will start to remind you that you really, really need to get on with upgrading to a fully released version of Windows 7. I know that quite a few IT people in school installed it on their own netbook or laptop. And some of those have been too busy since last August to get around to putting the released version on.

    So, if you’re running the released version of Windows 7, you’re good. But if you’ve left upgrading too long, then you need to pay attention to it.

    If you don’t, your friendship with the Release Candidate is going to be a bit like a failing relationship in your personal life:

    • From 15th Feb it’ll start by nudging you and dropping hints – like a little message here and there.
    • From 1st March, things will be a little frostier – every two hours you’ll get the silent treatment (well, a controlled shutdown) and when it is talking to you again, it’ll claim to have forgotten everything you’ve said (ie it won’t save your work when it shuts down).
    • And then finally from the first of June it’ll be terminal decline – painting your wallpaper black, announcing “This copy of Windows is not genuine” on your desktop, and refusing to talk to your friends (or at least, your Windows Update server)

    More details, and advice about making the switch, on the Windows Team blog

    This won’t be news to you – it was all covered in depth when we gave you the download for the RC. Just a nudge to get on with it before 1st March




  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Saving money with ICT – Answering the real question "How much money will I save?"

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    So, if you’ve been following the Top ICT Money Saving Tips, how much money could you actually be saving, using my Switch-Stop-Save strategies?

    image

    I thought I’d go back and find out.

    Save £400,000 over 3 years

    If you’re not already doing some of the things in this list, then a secondary school has got a potential to save just under £400,000 over the next 3 years. And a primary school could save just over £100,000 over 3 years.

    How can that be true, when the average school doesn’t spend that much on ICT? Well, let me go back to what I said when I started this blog series:

      The reason for doing this…was that we all know that there’s a bit of a budget crunch going on – and 80% of network managers in a recent survey reported that they’d had their ICT budget cut. But I’ve come across many examples of where a bit of spending on ICT had saved a heap of spending on another part of the school budget. So I had one really simple goal: To help the ICT team in school to explain to the leadership team how they can help out the rest of the school  

    So the savings below aren’t just in your ICT budget, but also in the electricity bill of the school, and the staffing budget, and your phone bill. All things which could be reduced by putting into place some of the advice. And really helping you to have the right conversation in the school – about the way that ICT can save money elsewhere in the school budget. As you get down to the detail for next year’s ICT plans, then I hope this list is helpful in drawing up priorities for your strategic ICT development.

    Specific ICT cost savings

    I based my assumptions on large-ish schools, who are reasonably technology rich - mainly because that’s probably the closest match to you, as a blog reader. (I’ve put my barebones assumptions at the bottom of the table.)

    All of these savings are based on money that could be saved over the next three years, and in most cases, they are based on costs from a real school used in the original blog post.

     

    Secondary School Saving

    Primary School Saving

    Cost/Difficulty to implement
    (1-low, 5-high)

    Assumptions?
    Switch to Virtualisation

    £94,000

    £25,000

    4

    See post

    Switch on Power Management

    £30,000

    £9,000

    2

    See post

    Switch to lower energy devices

    £15,000

    £4,000

    3

    See post

    Switch your communications

    £30,000

    £10,000

    4

    See post

    Switch to remote access

    £15,000

    £3,000

    3

    See post

    Stop buying every computer yourself

    £60,000

    £15,000

    3

    See post

    Stop photocopying/printing

    £100,000

    £20,000

    2

    See post

    Stop buying so much software

    £1,000

    -

    1

    See post

    Stop your email servers

    £30,000

    £7,500

    1

    See post

    Save students money I

    -

    -

    1

    See post

    Save students money II

    -

    -

    1

    See post

    Save money on upgrades

    £12,800

    £3,200

    2

    See post

    Save your old computers

    £10,000

    £3,000

    2

    See post

    Save your software budget

    £1,000

    £300

    1

    See post

    GRAND TOTAL

    £398,800

    £100,000

     

     

    • For Secondary schools I assumed 1,000 pupils, 400 computers and 13 servers.
      The ‘average’ secondary school would have 860 pupils and 300 computers.

    • For Primary schools I assumed 100 computers and 4 servers.
      The ‘average’ primary school would have 240 pupils and 50 computers.




  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Home Access – tell your parents NOW

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    I read earlier in the week that Becta have had more than 180,000 enquiries for the Home Access programme, and have sent out 132,000 application forms for the free grant.

    Quick summary: Disadvantaged children (think: who qualify for Free School Meals) in KS2 and KS3 can get a free computer and broadband connection, fully funded by a Home Access grant card. Parents apply for the grant on 0333 200 1004 , receive a special Barclaycard, and can then go and spend it on specific approved computers with specific approved suppliers. And it’s England only.

    There are only 270,000 computers/grants available, and the scheme is allocating them on a first-come, first-served basis, so if you’ve not yet sent anything out to your parents yet, then now’s the time to get moving. If it keeps going at this rate, all the grants will be gone by the middle of March.

    Where to get more details on Home Access 



    A word of advice for your parents: Each supplier chooses what computer they supply. Whilst some are providing free computers with Windows 7 and Microsoft Office, some others are providing computers with only Windows XP and Open Office. My recommendation is to send your parents to one of the following suppliers:

    • Comet – because they are the only ones where you can go into the store, see their range, and take it away with you that day.
      And every Comet computer has Windows 7 and Microsoft Office 2007, as well as the Home Learning Package, which includes theDigital Literacy Curriculum

    • XMA/T-Mobile – because you can place your order in their high-street T-Mobile shops, and they’ll deliver to you at home within 10 days. 
      And every XMA computer has Windows 7 and Microsoft Office 2007, as well as the Home Learning Package, which includes the Digital Literacy Curriculum

    • Misco – because they’re the only supplier currently with a desktop. You can only order from Misco over the phone, although you can find details of the products online.
      And every Misco computer has Windows 7 and Microsoft Office 2007, as well as the
      Home Learning Package, which includes the Digital Literacy Curriculum 

    Act now

    I know it’s nearly half-term, but I’d recommend getting something out right now to the children who qualify for free school meals, urging their parents to call the grant line (0333 200 1004) to register for the application form. Before they run out of grants.



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