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

    Do you know what software you're using?


    Why on earth I'm writing this on Monday morning, I have absolutely no idea. It's bad enough that it's Monday morning. But writing about licensing? Am I mad?

    (Well maybe - watch the comments flow from my colleagues!)

    The reason to write about this now, at the beginning of term, is that it's the beginning of the summer term. You may have just finished a few ICT projects, while school was quiet. And you've got a few months ahead before the summer - when the BIG ICT projects tend to go ahead (in these days of 24x7 learning, there's still a quieter period for most schools in the summer holidays).

    Many schools don't know how much and what software, they are using on their school computers. Now, that's a sweeping generalisation, which I'm sure has just prompted dozens of "Yes I Do", but look at your extended estate of computers. For example, do you know what software teachers might have installed on the laptops you gave them under "Laptops for Teachers", or pupils under the "Computers for Pupils" scheme? Once you've handed them over, do you know whether they're downloading this and that, installing a few extra things they think will be useful? And through that, turning your best-laid-licensing-plans into dust? And on top of that, are you sure that you're licensed correctly? You may be over/under-licensed thanks to the activities of your staff/pupils.

    So what can you do about it?

    You may remember a while ago I wrote about Parago, which is a web-based software suite which allows you to monitor hardware and software changes to a PC, whether they are in school or at home.

    Tim Roots at IT Vision, has introduced a special offer for readers of the blog, of 50% off prices for the subscription service for the first year*. Normally, an annual site licence would cost a secondary school £850, so this blog offer would save you £425. For primary schools, the offer makes the site licence a more affordable £125 a year. More from Tim...

    Parago® is a low cost Internet based asset management system developed in conjunction with schools and authorities and is now used in approximately 1000 schools. Through an easy process of downloading from the web the Parago® Agent discovers the specification of your PCs and all installed software. This includes PCs out of school and it even updates you when new software is installed. This gives you the ability to manage your school's software by identifying what is licensed and most importantly what you really need.. saving you money! What's more, Parago® enables you to manage all your other school assets in the same database.

    If you want to know more about Parago, then take a look at the website. If you want to find out more about the offer, then drop an email to Tim at IT Vision. (Don't change the subject line - it'll ensure that you can get the blog-reader discount)

    But isn't this somebody else's problem

    Well, no. At the end of the day, the school (and ultimately the governors) are responsible for proper licensing of the ICT system at the school. Both local authorities and Becta provide advice to schools about licensing. On the IT Vision website, there's an excellent article about Software Asset Management, which has some of those views. The quote that caught my eye was about the Computers for Pupils (CfP) scheme:

    FirstquotesStephen Lucey, executive director of Becta explained to IT Vision: “Your particular concerns of licence issues with regards to CfP are well made. As the device is actually owned by the school the licence issues are the responsibility of the school. Your concerns have been taken on board, and as a result the Local Authority guidance, in respect of CfP, is currently being updated to reflect this and a nuEndquotesmber of other areas of interest including topics such as Internet safety."

    And taking a local authority perspective, the article quoted Andy Jackson, from the Children, Young People and Families Directorate of Birmingham Local authority 

    FirstquotesSchools have a Duty of Care to know what software is on every school owned computer. Expecting a school to carry out a regular manual audit on every PC, especially on student and teacher laptops is unrealistic. Parago was a cost effective solution to our problem under our Computers for Pupils (CfP)/ UsEndquoteser Home Access (UHA) initiative.

    * Aha, you say. There's an asterisk - so there's small print. The offer is limited to the first 1,000 schools that apply only, using the MSP1000 code on the email subject line

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    SharePoint Education Showcase 21st May



    My colleague Mark has confirmed the full list of SharePoint education partners that will be participating in the free event at our main offices in Reading on 21st May.

    Over the last few years more and more software and data partners have been integrating their systems into the SharePoint/Learning Gateway system. What that means is that you can use a single web portal to bring together lots of different ICT systems and data within your school - rather than having disconnected systems. This makes life easier for your students, as well as extending the availability of information within and outside of the school walls.

    The confirmed list of 23 partners taking part in the event includes most of the names you'll have heard of, as well as some you won't. So it is an ideal time to get the information you need for your long-term planning, as well as making the right contacts as you think about your summer ICT plans.

    1. Nisai Virtual Academy

    2. MicroLibrarian Systems – Eclipse

    3. RM – Kaleidos Learning Platform

    4. Hunterstone/ER4L – eLibrarian and Content Server

    5. Scholaris Learning Gateway

    6. Etech – StudyWiz

    7. Parabola Marking Records

    8. Business Insights Group – Student Billing

    9. ITWorx – Catalyst Provisioning (MLG)

    10. LP+ Learning Gateway

    11. Arc – Vitaelity ePortfolio

    12. NetMedia Education – MyClasses

    13. eLearningForce – SharePoint LMS

    14. Fronter VLE

    15. WinVision – Digital Portfolio

    16. Core Education – Talmos Primary

    17. Cambridge University Press – Global Grid for Learning

    18. Morse - Wisdom

    19. eCopy

    20. Digi-Link – Revelation

    21. K2 – K2 Workflow

    22. Houghton Mifflin – Learning Village

    23. Visual Software – SIF Agent Wizard and Zone Integration Server

    The agenda also includes updates from us, including some long-range thinking about where effective data analysis might be able to support your wider learning goals. I'd think that if you're an ICT person in school, and you came along with the Deputy Head responsible for Assessment/Curriculum, then you're going to leave with some helpful ideas for the future - and it would be a very active conversation on the drive home!

    This term's SharePoint Showcase is on the 21st May, starting at 9:00 and finishing at 4:30. Book your free place on our Events website

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Creating engaging learning content


    An international colleague sent me some information on resources create by Deutsche World, the German equivalent of BBC World Service, which are short video snippets to support science teaching.

    With a cartoon Einstein to guide students through the principles, they are simple to use and understand. You can see all 12 videos here

    They're worth mentioning for two reasons:

    1. You might have a science teacher colleague who'd value the link (E=mc2 in under 2 minutes? When is your thumb bigger than a house in 1 min 43 seconds?)
    2. It is a good example of how publishers are starting to use the new Silverlight system to create more interactive and engaging multimedia resources.


    My favourite UK Silverlight example is the Films for Learning website, where students can share their own videos. It has tremendous potential to grow and develop into a useful teaching resource, as well as a good way to engage learners


    My favourite video is "A Rough Guide to the Brain", made by the author of the book of the same name.


    You can see more examples of how Silverlight is being used on the main Silverlight showcase

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Low cost laptops for schools


    Yesterday, I wrote about the different products that are creeping out into the market, which offer the chance to change your model for ICT provision in school, and to make a rapid shift to ICT-enabled teaching and learning for all pupils. Later on, one of my colleagues came and asked me for a bit of advice - basically, how do you choose - what are the compromises that have to be made when choosing different options.

    So, in case you have the same question, here's my quick-and-simple take on the choices & compromises today:

    Choosing a low-cost laptop



    Screen Size



    Larger, high resolution (eg above 8” and 1024x768)

    Easier to read & don’t lose all of the screen to menus

    Battery life reduce

    Smaller, lower resolution

    Longer battery life

    Okay for web surfing

    Not a replacement for a full PC/laptop

    Battery Life



    High capacity battery

    4 hours is enough to provide use for a whole school day (assuming it is not on all the time!)

    Weighs more – can students carry it always?

    Lower capacity battery

    More practical to carry everywhere, because of weight

    Need to allow students to recharge battery during day

    Operating Systems




    Fast boot

    Cheapest (no operating system cost)

    Doesn’t match pupil experience at home/school

    More difficult for school to manage holistically

    Windows XP

    Familiar, and fits your existing ICT infrastructure.

    Allows you to manage security and software holistically

    Not the latest version, and may not match what students have at home.

    Windows Vista

    Matches home PC and gives pupils the most up-to-date experience

    Requires more powerful laptop

    This isn't intended to be an exhaustive list - it's just the list from the top of my head today.

    Even as I look at it now, I can see how it can be improved - for example I say "Fast boot" as a Pro for Linux, but then I never switch off my laptop running Vista - I just use sleep mode all the time, whenever I move between meetings, or take it away from my desk. This means I can start it back up almost instantly, and it comes back in the same state I left it. So it means if I've started an email, I can finish it later, but can switch off my laptop in the meantime as I carry it around. It also means I don't leave it switched on, draining the battery, when I'm not using it, because it only takes a few seconds to reboot.

    What do you think?

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Ultra-low cost laptops


    The market for ultra-low-cost laptops is continuing to move forwards. At the point when the Asus EeePC/Asus RM miniBook were released, it created a buzz in education. Basically it was easy to see how it would be possible to imagine that every student could have a device, which is cheap, light and small enough for them to have available all of the time.

    In the UK we've had government targets in schools for quite a while, to reduce the number of pupils per computer - in schools, eight or nine years ago we had 10-12 pupils per computer, now we're down to around four pupils per computer. In most schools this has been through adding more fixed computers, not just in ICT suites, but also in classrooms and study areas. In some schools this has also involved mobile trolleys of laptops - so take the computers to the pupils, not the reverse.

    When you've got a laptop that costs less than £250, suddenly it seems possible to make a huge leap - to providing a laptop for every student, and through that changing the delivery model of resources. (Did you know, the average secondary school produces 2,000,000 photocopies a year? You can stop doing that if you can assume every pupil has a laptop). But the first miniBook release was only the thin end of the wedge. What's happened since then?

    RM miniBook

    The miniBook is a small format, 0.9KG laptop with a 7" 800x480 screen, with a battery life of 2-3 hours.

    RM launched the first Windows XP version of the RM miniBook/Asus EeePC in January (with a higher specification - 8Gb storage and 1Gb RAM - and a higher price - £269).

    Last month they launched the lower-cost Windows XP miniBook, at £225 (with 4GB solid-state hard drive, and 512MB of RAM).

    Read the specifications and other details here

    HP 2133 miniNote from RM

    RM have now launched the HP 2133 miniNote, a higher specification notebook, running Windows XP Pro/Windows Vista Business, with a 8.9" screen running at 1280x768 and weighing in at 1.3Kg (1.5Kg with a 4 hour battery), which costs £385.

    Intel's new Atom processor

    At the Intel Developer Forum, in Shanghai, there was a lot of focus on the new Atom processor, a new chip that helps to reduce power consumption, and is a building block for low-cost, ultra-portable devices. There were some new designs on display there - one from MSI got a lot of coverage (see right), because it was claimed to have a 6-hour battery life and a 10-inch screen.

    And there's more coming...

    It's clear that we're still in the early days of lower cost, more portable laptops, and we'll see more product launches over the next few months. In fact, by the time we get to the summer holidays, the choice for laptops for individual students is going to be even bigger. So now's the time to be thinking about your strategy for the future, and considering how that will allow you to take your school forward.

    So what does this all mean?

    In the past, it's been unlikely that the majority of schools would be able to, or want to, give a laptop to every one of their pupils. It wasn't just because of cost, but also because of size and weight, as well as battery life. The new laptops are reducing size and weight, and some are even addressing the battery life issue.

    I think by this time next year, it will be possible to have a strategy of reducing the number of PCs fixed to desks, and rapidly getting to a 1:1 PC:Pupil ratio. And if you can do that, how would it change your learning model? And what contribution could that make to achievement by your pupils?

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Multi-lingual SharePoint anybody?


    SharePoint, which is at the heart of the Learning Gateway, is an effective multi-lingual platform and has a range of multi-lingual features including Language Interface Packs (LIPs), translation workflow and language switching capabilities.

    Correctly configuring and deploying these capabilities can be technically complex, but Draig Technology, a Gold Certified Partner from Wales has specialised in this area and has an extensive range of multilingual support templates and components that simplify multilingual configuration. They've completed a number of projects, and showed me some screen shots from them. I couldn't reproduce them here, but I thought I could share the bi-lingual sheep from the WLB website Draig built.

    Originally developed around specific bilingual requirements in Wales for switching between English and Welsh languages, it works equally well for multiple languages in a multilingual environment. It consists of:

    • User Interface Enhancements: Enabling the SharePoint user interface to be switched between LIPs, creation of new LIPs (e.g. Welsh, Irish, etc.) to extend the set currently offered by Microsoft and an extended switcher component to unify the switching of webparts, content, LIPs, data and other user facing language sensitive resources;
    • Enhanced Web Controls: Extending the capability of the standard SharePoint web controls to switch the user interface text, enable multilingual data entry (with displayed data switched along with the interface) and functional enhancements specific to each type of control. For instance document libraries are enhanced to manage and link multiple versions of each document – one in each language;
    • Translation and Publication Workflows: Building on the out-of-the-box translation workflow and extending it to content editing and configurable to reflect a range of publication rules such as simultaneous, deferred and optional publication for content for each language;
    • A range of other functional and configuration improvements from variations set up through to search scope that enables multiple languages to be supported effectively and efficiently.

    Draig can provide a full implementation of SharePoint in bilingual and multilingual environments, provide multilingual design, support and consultancy or license their component suite to partners or SharePoint users to provide enhanced multilingual capabilities for new and existing implementations. They're running two events next month, where you can find out more

    Cardiff - 13th May 2008, 9.30 -12:30 - Quality Hotel, Tongwynlais

    Bangor - 15th May 2008, 9.30 - 12:30 - Centre for Advanced Software Technology (Technium CAST)

    More information can be obtained by emailing Draig at or contact Richard Sheppard on 0870 2200512.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Design IT Competition - time to vote


    DesignIT Over the last three months we’ve invited people to submit their designs for computer systems that demonstrate creativity as well as tackling real social, human interest problems experienced by charities large and small: such as contributing to the battle to reduce carbon emissions; bringing conservation closer to the people that use technology; opening channels of communication for abused and vulnerable children and identifying new opportunities for disabled people. We've reduced the entries down to five finalists - all of whom are addressing real issues in an innovative way. Everything from "The Lean Green Wind-Powered IT Machine" to St Basils "Virtual Rucksack" for supporting homeless young people.

    Now it's your chance to vote to turn one of these into reality - take a look at all of the entries, and cast your vote by the end of Friday.

    You can see the short listed entries and vote for your favourite here

    The winner will work with a team of technical architects to turn their idea into reality. Of course, they are all worthy winners. And in the world of "Every Child Matters", I don't want to influence your vote at all, but did I mention St Basils?

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Free Project 2007 Seminars


    Driving Successful Projects with Microsoft Office Project 2007

    I hope that you're not like me - I'm a pretty awful project manager, because I record all of my deadlines, actions and projects in a 101 different places. On my various "To Do" lists, I'm sure I've written "Create Single To Do List". And I look at colleagues with amazing project management skills, and think "I wish I could work like that..." But I don't.

    If you're the kind of person that gets involved in longer-term projects (aah, that'll include this summer's network upgrades!), or you have colleagues in school who do, do you/they use Microsoft Project? With the release of Office 2007, you may not be up-to-date with the latest capabilities, and how it can be used to support any kind of project work. We're putting on a run of free, half day seminars on Driving Successful Projects using Microsoft Office Project 2007. The interactive seminar will combine slide and hands-on presentations addressing:

    • Drivers for Successful Project Management
    • How to work with your teams most effectively and share information
    • Understanding your stakeholders
    • How to use Microsoft Office Project 2007 for successful project delivery

    An academic licence for a single user in a school is typically under £40, so it isn't even going to break the bank.

    Driving Successful Projects with Microsoft Office Project 2007

    Date April 9th, April 18th, May 14th, June 10th

    Time: 14:00 – 17:00

    Location: Microsoft, Cardinal Place, London or Microsoft, Thames Valley Park, Reading


    ·       What’s new with Project 2007

    ·       Get Productive quickly with Project initiation and management 

          o Quick Start Guide

          o Templates

          o Tools

    ·         Effective Sharing and Communication of Project Information

          o Leveraging predefined reports

          o Charts and diagrams

          o Project views through Microsoft Office programmes

    ·       Understanding and controlling Project variables 

          o Issues source tracking

          o Understanding the impact of change

          o Assigning and controlling cost

    ·       Moving to Enterprise-wide Project Management

    Click or Call Now to Register!

    Apr  9th - London - Telephone # 0870 166 6680 ref 9610

    Apr 18th - Reading - Telephone number is 0870 166 6680 ref 9608

    May 14thLondon  - Telephone # 0870 166 6680 ref 9609

    Jun 10thReading - Telephone # 0870 166 6680 ref 9613

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    East Sussex - Harnessing Whole School Technology Conference


    I went to the seaside today - or at least, I went near the sea. According to my satnav I was within a few hundred yards, but I stopped short of it when I arrived at the Kings Centre in Eastbourne, venue of the East Sussex local authority's "Harnessing Whole School Technology" conference. As somebody who lives near Banbury, Oxfordshire, a trip to the seaside seems exciting - for a start it's at almost 2 hours to the nearest stretch of coast, and now that it's summer (or at least Summer Time), it seemed fitting.

    The conference, organised by Viv Reed and her team at the council, had a mix of external and local presenters - some of the schools sharing their stories of success, along with some of the ICT providers, and a few external keynotes. For me, it was a shakey start - the wireless router I was connected to didn't appear to be connected to anything else (!), and because of the projector setup, my laptop was at one end of the conference room, and I was at the other end (with my mouse!). But fortunately it all worked in the end. And because it was April Fool's Day, I thought I'd drop in some of the funny videos I have seen in the last year (and that makes it two conferences in a row when I haven't been able to use my UK version of the Shift Happens presentation - I'm starting to wean myself off my own video!)

    Here's the main presentation
    (If you're reading this in your RSS reader, you'll have to read the article in your web browser to see the presentation download)

    The Microsoft Surface videos are all available at the Surface website (I'm not going to point you to the version I used - you'll have to hone your YouTube skills!)

    And the astounding Microsoft WYSP Project video is available on the IT Showcase website.

    And finally, the BSF Showcase (and lots of info on our BSF work) is on our main UK Education website (you can see the short showcase video via this link)

    Hope you enjoyed your All Fools Day like me.

    (Oh yes, and for the April Fool that wasn't - the Microsoft-branded USB Mug Warmers - I've still got some on my desk, so if you were in the audience, and you drop me an email, I'll send you one. While stocks last. Photo may not match product. Colour choice may be restricted. Warning - Hot Drinks may stay hot on this device.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Microsoft Math - fixing panics


    It's a long time since I was in the Maths classroom, but that fear of simultaneous equations can still cause a sensation of panic whenever I think about them. And when I walk into a classroom and see a scientific graphic calculator, it nearly brings me out in a rash. (I have to admit that the Maths curriculum wasn't one of my high points).

    Over time, things have come along to make life easier for non-maths-specialists (what did the generation before mine do without Excel?) - and Microsoft Maths is one such thing. In a nutshell, it's there to help advanced GCSE & A-Level students with their work, and can help to demystify some of the problem solving that students face. We include it in the software package called Microsoft Student (which I saw on the shelves of Staples recently), and schools can buy bulk licences from their normal software supplier.

    But you wouldn't buy a bit of software without knowing what it does, would you? Here's some help

    • There's a new site where you can walk through a complete demonstration of the software, including its use as scientific calculator, graphing calculator, equation solver and triangle solver. All running in Silverlight here.
    • And even better, I've got a dozen free full-licence disks for Microsoft Math (as our trans-atlantic cousins call it) sitting on my desk for the first people to email me

    Have a math-tastic Monday!

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