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

    What Photosynths would help your teaching?

    • 2 Comments

    How about something to help your teaching colleagues. Now that you know what Photosynth can do, are there any places that you’d really like a Photosynth of, to use in a lesson?

    I’m currently sitting at a desk between the marketing managers for Health and Government, and I’d be happy to ask them to get one of their customers to create a synth. But what would be useful? What other types of Photosynth would you want? Although I don’t know them all, I bet I could find somebody in Microsoft who deals with organisations that would have interesting buildings or locations for Photosynthing.

    Here’s some ideas:

    Add your thoughts by adding a comment, or dropping me an email, and I’ll see if I can get some going…

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Creating my first Photosynth

    • 6 Comments

    Today, I’m in London, and inspired by Alan’s IT Suite Photosynth yesterday, I thought I’d have a go. And I am astounded at how easy it turned out to be.

    image

    I took my photos of Westminster Cathedral, which is right outside of our office. Just before you say “But that’s not Westminster”, then re-read the last sentence. It’s the Roman Catholic Westminster Cathedral, not Westminster Abbey.

    Before I first worked in Victoria Street, I had no idea that this impressive building was a few hundreds yards from the Abbey. It is well described on its website: “Westminster Cathedral is one of the greatest secrets of London; people heading down Victoria Street on the well-trodden route to more famous sites are astonished to come across a piazza opening up the view to an extraordinary facade of towers, balconies and domes.”

    Anyway, I stood in front of it, and kept taking photos – 103 of them – including close ups of the statuary, and the left hand-side of the building, and then loaded them into the Photosynth software. I didn’t have to tag them, or arrange them, or shoot in any particular order – it did all of the work. And after about an hour (analysis, upload and display time, I guess) that was it – a 3D model of the cathedral was made.

    You can see a snapshot of a part of it on the right, and you can see my whole synth here.

    I tried a few tricks, to see how they would work:

    • Walking in the left-hand door, and you can too, but the lighting made it impossible to take photos inside - LINK
    • A close up of the notice board by the door – LINK spot the bargain!
    • And a view around the side, with a close up of the mosaic over the door – LINK

    I was astounded at the “3D dot” model it created, as it is an amazing trick from a few photos!

    Have a go at Photosynth yourself. I think this whole model took less than 30 minutes of my time (plus the background uploading)!

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Getting all Synthy in Essex

    • 0 Comments

    image

    Alan Richards sent me the link to his Photosynth, taken in one of the IT suites at his school - West Hatch High School in Essex. For being the first to tackle my competition, he wins the first goody bag. There’s another goody bag waiting for the best entry by the end of the month.

    Two things I noticed about Alan’s IT suite:

    1. Lovely view (and I hadn’t realised there were so many trees in Essex!)
    2. Better solution than bars on the windows – just put the IT room on the 4/5th floor!

    Take a look for yourself on the Photosynth site. And then have a go yourself – see this post.

    I’m going to try one myself tomorrow – I’m central London so I’ll go and find a nice old building to photograph. A lesson I’ll take from Alan’s example is to take enough overlapping photographs, to see if I can achieve his “100% synthy” level)

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Churchend Primary School goes virtual

    • 0 Comments

    Churchend
    John Hardstaff, from entrustIT, dropped me a line to let me know about the changes that Churchend Primary School, in Berkshire, have made to their ICT system recently. The first quote from Nic Allen, the school’s ICT Co-ordinator was so typical of the low-level frustrations experienced by some schools:

    FirstquotesIf ICT is to be a key resource then it must just work - without the reliability and consistency problemsEndquotes

    With their permission, here’s the complete story from the team at entrustIT, and Churchend:

    A new approach to ICT at Churchend Primary School

    FirstquotesChurchend is a leading primary school in Reading, Berkshire. It is a medium sized primary with approximately 60 KS1 and 150 KS2 pupils. The school has recently been awarded National Support School status.

    In the summer of 2007, in response to problems the school was experiencing with reliability of their ICT, Churchend decided to undertake a root and branch review of ICT provision. While the staff at Churchend felt confident using IT and had the necessary skills, the systems often let them down. In particular, the ICT equipment was perceived to be unreliable, inconsistent and problem resolution was slow. These challenges were undermining the enthusiasm of both staff and pupils to use the ICT at Churchend.

    Churchend set out on a path to maximise the benefit from ICT usage across the school. As Nic Allen, Churchend’s ICT coordinator says, “If ICT is to be a key resource then it must just work - without the reliability and consistency problems”. Access to ICT needed to be dramatically improved, particularly in the classroom, to give pupils the opportunity to use it in the majority of lessons.

    The school began to explore alternative means of achieving reliable ICT provision, which would also allow a step change in availability of resources and enable pupils to use the school's suite of software from home.

    Eventually, the school chose to pilot entrustIT’s Education Desktop hosted IT solution. This is a fully managed IT solution for schools, specifically designed to address the major challenges in school  ICT.

    The system provides 24x7 access to a school’s ICT infrastructure for both staff and pupils - whether working in school or from home. In school, the system allows the school to increase the PC to pupil ratio, usually without any corresponding increase in funding, and to increase the availability of ICT services by reducing the amount of downtime and maintenance.

    The entrustIT solution provides:

    • support for pupils, teaching staff and administration staff - including provision for remote connection from any internet enabled location (e.g. from home) with full access to the school’s IT
    • secure data management, disaster recovery and malicious threat protection
    • full email server capabilities and diary management / scheduling
    • shared drives and folders and central storage of school data
    • management and support service releasing school staff and budget from IT management issues
    • centralised deployment, licensing and management of software
    • managed internet access, protecting pupils from unsavoury content and securing online communities from outside contact.

    And the verdict? “The system has greatly improved the way that the teachers work and the children have thoroughly enjoyed working on the desktop at home” says Allen. “The children can access their school environment from home and many regularly communicate with each other using the emailing service. The teachers can prepare and place the work in a shared folder that all children can access and can use SharePoint so that the children can click through to web sites rather than have to type in lengthy web addresses.”

    Now, ICT is reliable and consistent – so much so that IT has become ubiquitous across the entire curriculum – and Churchend have decided to roll out the system across the whole school.Endquotes

    Churchend school are talking at entrustIT’s free seminar here at the Reading Microsoft Campus on 25th September from 9:30am-2:30pm. Email Bonami to register for a free place, or look here to find out more about the event.

    You can find out more about the entrustIT products and services on their website

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Exploring photos in 3D

    • 3 Comments

    How do you keep one step ahead of your students? When they are used to living in a multimedia rich world, are you finding it increasingly difficult to grab them and engage them? I know that I find my own children don’t want to sit through a 300 photograph slide show any more….but I’ve found a way to fool them. Read on…

    imageclip_image002First there was the holiday snapshot, and then my parents bought a slide projector. Well, it all went downhill from there for a while. But then things brightened up with video cameras. For a little while things seemed to get better. And then I started to get tired of some of the boring holiday videos (How much ‘BuffetCam’ can you stand?)

    So here’s a way to get students to (a) watch a 300 photo slideshow and (b) become immersed in creating their own.

    It’s Photosynth – something I’ve written about before – which allows you to build a 3D model of a place or object from static photographs. I’ve found I can while away half an hour easily, exploring somebody else’s model of St Marks Square, Stonehenge or even a Ferrari 575 Superamerica.

    While writing this, I discovered that the website had fallen over, simply through getting too much traffic, so if the same happens again, then watch this video of Blaise Aguera demonstrating it whilst you’re waiting for service to be resumed!

    And now Photosynth has been fully released, it gets better. You can use Photosynth to turn regular digital photos into a three-dimensional, 360-degree model. And you can then share your synth with others – who can walk in your shoes through the same place. The technology does the hard work – reconstructing the scene or object from your flat photos – by looking for similarities between images, and using it to estimate the shape of the space/object, and work out the original camera position.

    To create your own synth sign in to http://photosynth.com, download the synther application and viewer. And start building.


    image

    Which must be what Rick did – he’s obviously proud of his shed, as he’s built a complete model of the outside, and you can walk into the inside and look around. Take a look at the Rick’s Shed synth to see what I mean!

    And so, here’s my challenge

    I know that many of you will have been busy changing things in your IT systems this summer, and some of you will be the proud owners of new servers, networks and equipment. I’ve also been busy over the summer – building up my stocks of goodies. And I’m prepared to give away a bag of goodies – including a handful of 4GB memory sticks and a little pile of software boxes, for the best synth of either your server room or your school atrium*. Grab your cameras, build the synth, and then post the URL as a comment (and email me too).

    You can even embed a Photosynth object onto a web page – so you could introduce potential students to your school on your website.

    * Atrium – yes, I know, only the shiny new schools have them, but every time I see a plan for a new school it has an atrium on the plans, so if you’ve got one, flaunt it! Oh, I bet there should be some small print here about the rules. So here goes. I decide. I send the goody bag. Humour gets bonus points. Unlike with my kids, my decision is final.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Computer Weekly Blog Awards – somehow, I’ve won

    • 3 Comments

    Well, I’m going to have to take this blogging habit more seriously, now that I’m playing with the grown-ups!

    CW Blog Awards
    Public Sector IT
    IT Blog Awards
    When ComputerWeekly ran it’s IT Blog Awards 2008, I was surprised and pleased that this blog made it into the Nominations for the Public Sector Blog of 2008. And even more pleased when it made it into the shortlist of 8. But you could have knocked me over with a feather when the results were announced yesterday evening – I’d won the Public Sector category in the ComputerWeekly.com IT Blog Awards 2008!

    I’m not the only one to have made it onto the winning podium from Microsoft – Steve Clayton (Geek in Disguise), Jason Langridge (Mr. Mobile) and Mike Taulty ("Bits and Bytes")won, with Steve getting a special mention from the judges. I’ve long respected both Steve’s and Jason’s blogs (sorry, but Mike's technical content goes whooshing over my head), as they provide a constant stream of interesting stories, and I’m honoured to be in their company.

    So I get a nice badge to put on the blog, and I suddenly feel the pressure of expectations on my shoulders! Thanks to anybody who voted for me – I know it wasn’t my Mum, as she doesn’t ‘do online’

    I’ve been able to rest a little from blogging over the summer, whilst you’ve all been (a) enjoying the break from school and (b) busy with updating your IT systems when the students aren’t around. But I guess it all goes back to normal at the end of next week, so I’ve got an interesting pile of things to tell you about.

    Oh, and for many of you, good luck tomorrow with the GCSE A-Level results! (Thanks for the correction John)

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Visual Software: SIF ‘Special Offer’ Initiative

    • 0 Comments

    (I go away for a day or two, and Mark jumps in and helpfully adds to the blog. But Mark, gave you a US telephone number to call on this. I know we’re in the world of Skype and virtual telephony, but schools have traditionally been nervous about dialling an 0870 number – let alone a US one! And so, with Mark’s permission, I’ve played with his post…Ray)

    We got a note from Robert Hutchinson of Visual Software last week, offering a special deal to schools who are interested in exploring SIF – the Schools Interoperability Framework. SIF is a mechanism, originally created in the US, to allow different ICT systems in the school to talk with each other. For example, for the software that stores the attendance register to swap data with your MIS system which has your main student database. In the US, schools’ MIS data is distributed across different applications, databases and systems – unlike in the UK where most schools have a core MIS database, with only a few examples of disconnected systems (off the top of my head, it has historically been attendance and assessment data).

    However, with the growth of Learning Platforms in schools, there has been a growing need for a standard way for different applications to share student data. And that’s where SIF comes in, and there are increasing numbers of organisations looking at it – Becta, for example, see it as a route to share data within the school, and also between the school and the local authority.

    You may be interested in SIF. You may want to improve the flow of data between your learning platform, email system, MIS system, assessment system etc. But what do you do to get started? Traditionally it has been complex, and expensive, to implement SIF – and you’ve been in the hands of your MIS provider, as you wait for them to create a SIF client. And that’s where Robert Hutchinson comes in – a SIF product that costs £75 so that you can experiment with SIF, which can turn CSV files into SIF files (and cleverly manages the day-to-day changes of data). Here’s what Robert has to say…

    FirstquotesAt Visual Software, we’ve seen how SIF can benefit a school system, the efficiency of single schools and even trickle down to improving the daily life of individual students. Through its ability to connect disparate systems that were never originally intended to work together, it introduces new levels of efficiency never experienced before, trading information instantly instead of overnight. We also understand that this is a large undertaking for many institutions and for others it may not be possible yet because a SIF agent may not be available yet for their MIS system or for the provider of other critical data. So, having a subscribing application without a provider is not very useful – like a having swimming pool with no water.

    Visual Software has a product in its product line called ZIUP – it was designed for applications that only have an ability to generate CSV files. It looks at today’s CSV file, compares it against yesterday’s file and generates SIF messages corresponding to the differences. If it gets requests, it responds to them as a SIF agent normally would (actually, this is an enhancement over the US version of the ZIUP product). It’s not as robust as a real MIS agent (a real agent would generate events in real time, be able to test conditions and would be able to subscribe to events), but it is something to get things going.

    This product normally retails for £1,000. During this offer, we are offering this for £75 per school as an incentive for them to “try out SIF” (this will only last until the end of 2008; then the price will go back up).

    Additionally, if a Local Authority purchases other products from us and purchases these copies for the schools, we will credit back the ZIUP copies if and when the schools replace them with MIS SIF agents from the MIS vendors.

    Support for this version of the software will be primarily via our web site and through user communities on the site. Configurations will be the same for all users of a given MIS, so configurations of ZIUP for these will be available for download from the ZIUP web site, making installation and setup simple.Endquotes

    For more information please contact Robert Hutchison, who’s President of Visual Software, via his email address: rchutch@visualsi.com

    You can find out more about Visual Software’s solutions on their website (and if you’ve heard of SIF and want to know more, take a look at the Wikipedia article)

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Where will your laptops be this summer?

    • 2 Comments

    DatasecurityAccording to recent research, 900-1000 laptops go missing every week at Heathrow ... that is 52,000 a year. Worldwide, 800,000 laptops are lost or stolen at airports every year.

    Even more incredibly, the survey also reveals that many travellers fail to take any steps to protect the information contained on their laptops. Nearly 60 per cent of the British respondents admitted that they did not protect confidential information, while more than half said that they did not back up data.

    I’m getting used to surveys quoting wild statistics, and have become partially immune to them. But in this research, the fact that made me sit up and pay attention was: ‘42 percent of British travellers said that their computer went missing after they asked another passenger to keep an eye on it’.

    I really want to believe that the research is not accurate but I suspect it is an indication of how lax people can be with laptops - whether at airports, stations, motorway service areas (or classrooms?). It also reinforces the main challenge with achieving effective information security – people. Every public and commercial sector organisation now has security policies, procedures and technology in place but people do seem to persist in being either careless or too trusting when it comes to being vigilant when using laptops and network-enabled PDAs when travelling – and they are increasingly carrying data that you don’t want to lose.

    Do you know what data is on your school laptops? Do you know where they are going to be this summer, and are any of your staff planning to take them on their holidays? Perhaps it’s time to drop them a friendly note of advice before they leave the country!

    A final reminder - we are running a free Microsoft Security Symposium for the Public Sector on September 16th in London. You can review the symposium programme here and register online ... and, if you do attend, we promise to make sure you do not leave your laptop behind...

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    A Virtual Desktop?

    • 0 Comments

    clip_image002

    entrustIT is a Microsoft Gold partner, based in Hampshire, who have introduced a model of managing ICT in schools which helps primary schools to cope with the challenge of providing a flexible ICT system, without having to have IT technicians on tap 24 hours a day. In a nutshell, it is a service where you run software remotely – at entrustIT’s data centre – which means that you have a lot less IT to manage at your school.

    entrustIT & Microsoft are hosting a free seminar for Primary schools next term at our offices in Reading, with a local primary school talking about their experience of using the entrustIT Education Desktop system. The seminar is on 25th September.

    Jeff Dodd, entrustIT’s Managing Director, sent me some more information:

    FirstquotesThe entrustIT Education Desktop is a virtual ICT solution developed for Schools that brings a new level of reliability, stability and consistency to IT for schools. The system addresses the major challenges that limit the exploitation of IT in the classroom. It enables you to:

      • Take advantage of the latest advances in education technology. Spend less time troubleshooting and more on what matters – engaging and motivating your students to reach their full potential.
      • Increase the PC to student ratio to make lessons more accessible and interactive than ever before.
      • Communicate beyond the limits of the classroom. By providing 24x7 access to ICT teachers and students can share information and work together anytime, anywhere and with anyone.

    The Education desktop provides a platform for the integration of ICT into the curriculum and an ideal platform for the delivery of future initiatives.Endquotes

    The seminar will be useful for both ICT Co-ordinators and head teachers of primary schools

    When and Where?

    25 September 2008 from 9:30 am to 2:30 pm, at the Microsoft Campus in Reading.

    Agenda

    • 09.30 Registration & Coffee
    • 10.00 Introduction and Welcome (entrustIT)
    • 10.15 Market Background and Roadmap (Microsoft)
    • 11:00 Break
    • 11.15 Demonstration - entrustIT Schools Desktop (entrustIT)
    • 12.15 Lunch
    • 13.15 Case Study – Churchend Primary School, Reading (entrustIT and School)
    • 13.45 Benefits, Pricing and Next Steps (entrustIT)
    • 14.30 Q&A and Close

    To register for the event, drop an email to my colleague Bonami, who’ll add you to the list, and send you venue confirmation details.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Microsoft’s Information Security Symposium Event

    • 3 Comments

    The steam roller of Information Security continues to run down the hill towards education. Becta’s in the driving seat, and they haven’t really started the engine. By the time the new term begins, there will be new guidance on what you should be doing (read my previous posts on this blog). So it is absolutely timely to think about half a day aside to attend the free Microsoft Security Symposium for the Public Sector on Tuesday September 16th at our London offices near Victoria station.

    If you’ve not heard about new Government guidelines for Information Security, then sit down before you read this website or the specific Mandatory Mininimum Measures from the Cabinet Office (yes, it does apply to schools, and that is what Becta’s advice is being developed to address)

    image

    Effective use of information is absolutely central to the challenges facing Government today – whether in improving health, tackling child poverty or protecting the public from crime and terrorism.  Those in public service need to keep that information secure in order to build public confidence.  This is essential to underpin greater data sharing to deliver personalised services and make us more effective.”

    Sir Gus O’Donnell, Cabinet Secretary
    Foreword to Cabinet Office Report – Data Handling Procedures in Government, June 2008

    Managing information risk today means looking even further into the future. Increasingly, mobile and distributed technologies require new forms of monitoring and data protection.  Internet-based applications and services that store and process valuable information need new levels of responsibility on the part of management and users.  Regulations against leakage will only be met through unprecedented levels of security awareness and information expertise on the part of users.

    Recent reviews by the Cabinet Office (Data Handling Procedures in Government - June 2008) and the Information Commissioner (Data Sharing Review – July 2008) are a clear indication of how seriously Government takes the challenges of information security. 

    The Microsoft Security Symposium for the Public Sector on Tuesday September 16th at the Microsoft Campus in Reading will focus on the unique challenges that all Public Sector organisations need to address to protect citizen data and sensitive information more effectively.  Our Security Symposium takes a holistic view of information governance and security by examining the people, process AND technology components of effective organisational security.

    You’ll have the opportunity to hear from a range of security experts including:

    • Roger Styles, Head, Central Sponsor for Information Assurance (CSIA), Cabinet Office
    • CESG (they're the approval agency for technology that meets Government’s security requirements)
    • Jacques Erasmus, Director of Malware Research, Prevx
    • Ed Gibson, Microsoft UK’s Chief Security Advisor
    • Tony Neate, Managing Director, Get Safe Online

    The event is open to all IT, security and information governance and compliance in education. The content will be most applicable to whoever is responsible for data use in school (typically, one of the leadership team) as well as the Network Manager who’s likely to be the hero of the hour (when they help solve the leadership headache)

    You can review the full agenda, which runs from 9.30-1.15, and reserve your place here:

    ONLINE: http://msevents.microsoft.com/CUI/EventDetail.aspx?EventID=1032383169&Culture=en-GB

    PHONE: 0870 166 6680 (Event reference: 3169)

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