website stats
Microsoft UK Schools blog - Site Home - MSDN Blogs
The UK Schools Blog
News and views from the Microsoft UK Education Team
Home    index of content      about this blog     rss feed     email us     our website

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Power BI in Education - What is it and what can it do for me?


    Following on from our recent blog post on Power BI within Office 365 Education, we have had a number of questions via both the blog and Twitter seeking some additional information on how Power BI can help you take advantage of the data within your institution, big and small.

    For those that missed our previous post, Power BI for Office 365 is a collection of features and services that enable you to visualise data, share discoveries and collaborate in intuitive new ways. Power BI works seamlessly with Excel and allows you to create compelling content, data models and visualisations and then share and collaborate around those insights with your colleagues, teams and study groups.

    More specifically, features within Power BI that extend the data-specific capabilities of Excel 2013 include the following:

    Analyse data with Excel: Easily discover and access public and corporate data

    Power Query, a feature of Excel, enables you to more easily discover, combine, and transform data from multiple data sources with the familiarity of Excel

    • Search both public and institutional data
    • Clean and transform data for ease of analysis
    • Merge data from multiple sources


    Visualize and explore

    Power View and Power Map, features of Excel, allow you to create interactive data visualizations to explore and uncover insights and present findings.

    • Bring your data to life with interactive data visualizations
    • Add depth with 3D geospatial analysis
    • Tell stories with interactive data views and tours

    Create powerful data models

    Power Pivot, a feature of Excel, provides powerful analytical modelling. Data is processed in-memory allowing you to work quickly with data volumes in excess of 100 million rows, in split second times.

    • Create relationships, custom measures, hierarchies, KPI’s
    • Analyse data quickly with in-memory processing

    Share and Collaborate with Power BI for Office 365

    Enable anyone to quickly create a collaborative BI site to share data and insights with Power BI.

    • Create Power BI sites to share data and reports
    • View and explore live reports up to 250MB in size

    Keep reports up to date with data refresh

    Keep your reports up to date by scheduling when the data should refresh. The Data Management Gateway allows reports that have been saved to the cloud to connect back to on-premises data sources to refresh data.

    • Scheduled data refresh for your reports
    • Connect cloud based report to on-premises data

    Manage data queries for the team

    With Power BI people can share not only workbooks but also the queries they create using Power Query in Excel. This allows members of the team to build and manage data queries for others to use when creating their own reports.

    • Create and share queries using Power Query in Excel
    • Manage and monitor query usage in Power BI

    Maintain a Data Catalog of searchable data

    Your IT departments can now use the Data Catalog feature of Power BI to make it easier for everyone to find and connect to corporate data. Searching for data with Power Query in Excel will return accessible corporate data.

    • Enable data search for IT managed corporate data
    • Enable data search for data queries saved to Power BI
    • Track data usage across your organization

    Ask questions of your data in natural language

    With the Q&A feature of Power BI people can type questions they have of the data in natural language. The system will interpret the question and present answers in the form of interactive visualizations.


    Stay connected with mobile access to your reports

    Mobile access to reports in Power BI is provided through new HTML5 support and through the Power BI mobile app.

    • Navigate and explore browser based reports in HTML5
    • Access your favourite reports in the Power BI mobile app

    To learn more, and request a free trial, visit out Power BI microsite for more information.

    Additionally, if you are looking to get up and running our 'Getting Started Guide' can be viewed/downloaded below.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Accelerate your Insights Live Event – featuring Power BI for Office 365


    Accelerate your Insights

    How data and insights are driving innovation

    All organisations are seeing huge opportunities to use data and insights to create a virtuous engagement cycle with their customers and stakeholders, delivering improved customer value propositions and operational excellence.

    In order to achieve these goals, employees require powerful and easy to use tools to enable them to discover and use insights to make effective decisions, customers want to use personalised, high performance and convenient online services and IT requires a secure, scalable and comprehensive information platform.


    Want to learn more? Join us to see how to drive real-time business, from apps to insights, through a deeper look into the comprehensive in-memory technologies in Microsoft SQL Server 2014, Power BI for Office 365, SQL Server Parallel Data Warehouse, and Windows Azure HDInsight.


    Attending this one-day event will allow you to get a running start on understanding the extensive innovations we’re delivering around data that will empower your business with the tools you need to quickly uncover business insights and make smarter business decisions.

    Morning Agenda 9:00 – 12:30

    9:00 – 9:45 Registration and Breakfast

    9:45 – 10:45   Keynote, Quentin Clark CVP Data Platform Group

    Rafal Lukawiecki – Project Botteceli
    Dan Sommer – Gartner Research Director

    11:15 – 12:30, Customer Case Study Sessions
    Jabil – Self Service BI in Manufacturing

    Afternoon Agenda 1:00 – 5:00


  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Anthony Salcito interviews the Microsoft in Education Pitch Competition Winners


    Anthony Salcito, Vice President Worldwide Public Sector Education at Microsoft, interviews the 3 School Leaders who won the Microsoft in Education Pitch Competition, at the Global Forum in Barcelona, Spain.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Power BI for students!


    The ultimate student challenge

    clip_image001For most lucky people, the beginning of April normally brings a bit of a bounce to the step with the prospect of a chocolate-filled Easter break, and just further round the corner, hazy scents of mown Summer lawns and barbeques wafting in the warm air. However, for poor students all over the UK, this time of year is about as welcoming as a cold cup of tea. April only means one thing: dissertation deadline!

    With my year at Microsoft now approaching its last leg, daunting emails from my academic tutor have been creeping into my inbox regarding dissertation topics for next year. What to write about? How to make a thorough analysis? How to find and analyse my own original primary data?

    Well, the answers, certainly for the last two questions on my mind, became apparent last week when I was introduced to Power BI for Office 365 in Education.

    The answer is Power BI

    Power BI is a sensational tool which is used by academic institutions to unlock useful data to help, for example, improve student retention through better engaging with students. Essentially, institutions like businesses use Power BI in education to find trends in data to better their processes. However, I think Power BI could equally be of incredible value to students, particularly in carrying out data research and interpretation for a thesis, dissertation or school project. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Power BI, in a nut shell, it runs on Office 365 apps Excel and SharePoint, offering a familiar environment for educators and students to find data, track and illustrate trends, which can then easily be shared.

    clip_image002        clip_image003

    The gooey centre

    Plunging into the core features of Power BI, I'll illustrate those which I think would make Power BI an invaluable student tool. First of all, Power Query is a feature which allows students to find data sources both internally and externally which can then be manipulated. One of the most challenging things for students is gathering good primary and secondary data for serious reports, which is why Power Query bedazzled me when it was demoed to me.

    STEP 1) Source data - To illustrate, if a student was researching trends in eating habits amongst teenagers in the UK, they would type their request in the 'Search box' and Power Query would enable them to gather data from anywhere, for example external government websites, whereupon the data would automatically be slotted into Excel. This would save students oodles of laborious data entry time!

    STEP 2) Manipulate data - with the data safely slotted in Excel, the student can then go on to edit the categories and filters, moulding the data in line with their dissertation aims.

    STEP 3) Analyse data - Once categorised appropriately, the student can figure out trends for their analysis. They can use another Power BI feature Power Q&A to type in a natural language query against the data to explore trends. To highlight, the student could type "what percentage of 13-15 year olds prefer fast food?" and the data would reveal an answer: ex it was found that 62% of teenagers in the UK between the ages of 13 and 15 prefer eating fast food.

    STEP 4) Illustrate data - Once the student has found some interesting trends, they can use Power View to illustrate their data with charts and visual graphs. The beauty of Power View is that once graphs or charts have been drawn, say the student wants to pinpoint the trends of one demographic against another, they can click on one demographic within an illustration, for example the orange demographic of the pie chart below (see Image 1), which will then filter the data specification in all the other illustrations (see Image 2).


    Power View Image 1


    Power View Image 2

    Power Map

    I want to flag one final feature, Power Map which would light up any presentation or report with a geographic data illustration. Power Map beautifully plots your data on an interactive 3D global map, perfect for presenting 3D tours of your location-based data. I can imagine this being a really useful feature for students who have found geographical trends on data. Returning to our UK food example, a power map would clearly illustrate which cities in the UK have the highest percentage of fast-food consumption amongst 13-15 year olds in the UK.


    Make your students more employable!

    What's more, being proficient in Power BI would set up students with highly desirable analytical skills for the increasingly competitive job market. Anything to get them ahead of the game in my opinion would set your institution apart. A recent survey has disclosed that this year alone, there is a 33% increase in applications for graduate schemes, with hundreds of thousands of students applying for jobs each year. This is highly competitive and students are thus looking to differentiate themselves from their peers in as many ways as possible.

    To help you understand how useful skills in Power BI could be for graduating students to employers, I'll give you a glimpse into how it is used in business. Power BI is used by organisations in a business context to find and manipulate data to improve the way they run their business through spotting trends. To illustrate, online clothes retailers would use Power BI to calculate trends in their cavernous pool of user data, such as what styles individuals are prone to purchasing, and then use that information to flag each individual browser with targeted shopping suggestions which would hopefully increase their revenues.

    Just imagine how impressed an employer (particularly for analytical roles) would be if the candidate was able to talk in an interview about their own practical experience and understanding of analytical enterprise-grade software, Power BI!

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Introducing Windows Phone 8.1


    Last week Microsoft staged BUILD event in the tech epicentre of the earth, San Francisco, where all Microsoft developers congregated to talk about the future of the Windows platform.


    At the very heart of the announcements was one exciting piece of news, the Windows phone update to Windows Phone 8.1! Those of you who have previously been using a Windows phone will know that its beauty lies in its malleable personal design, which enables you to choose your favourite apps and tiles, colour schemes, layout and photos for your start screen. This has been great for educational purposes, as teachers and students have been able to pin any important Office 365 documents to their start screen for easy access, to edit or check work on the go. For example, students might want to access notes on the way to an exam, for that final revision push.

    So what's different about the new Windows Phone 8.1 update?

    It's all about being even more customizable to your personal preferences. There are many new features but I'm going to pick out a selection for you today. For more info, take a look at the Windows Phone blog.

    1. Third Column

    The Windows phone now has a third column, enabling all Windows phone users, no matter the size of your phone, to have even more personalised tiles on your start screen. This could be really useful for educators and students who want to be able to quickly access a larger variety of apps for working and having fun on the go. Just think, in an instant touch a student could be Skyping their friends, to reading their maths notes, to calling mum, to checking out their Asos app for that dress they need for Saturday's party!


    2. Start Background

    I love the new Start Background feature - it enables you to choose your favourite picture which runs through all of your tiles. A nice little feature for educators during a stressful class or exam time, to quickly glance at their phone and take themselves back to that peaceful Summer afternoon sipping an aromatic red on the beach in South of France.clip_image004

    3. Lock screen

    The lock screen can now ingeniously be personalised. You can download an app which will enable you to choose between a wide range of interesting "Lock Screen Themes" which will instantly differentiate your phone from anyone else's. Just think how useful this could be for helping students to avoid losing their expensive phones. How many times have you heard students whimpering "Miss/Sir, I left my phone on the bus"? As the Windows phone 8.1 enables you to instantly differentiate your phone lock screen, they would easily be able to inform the bus driver of their phone's personalised distinguishing feature, helping them to retrieve it. Likewise, on a school trip, there would be no problem with students going home with the right phone.

    4. Cortana!

    You're probably asking yourself, what on earth is Cortana? Well the real question is Who is Cortana. Cortana is "the world's first truly personal assistant" who was inspired by the breath-taking digital assistant of Master Chief on Halo. Who knew the Microsoft Windows developers had such a romantic side!

    Powered by Bing, Cortana is the only digital assistant that gets to know you, builds a relationship that you can trust, and gets better over time by asking questions based on your behaviour and checking in with you before she assumes you’re interested in something. She detects and monitors the stuff you care about, looks out for you throughout the day, and helps filter out the noise so you can focus on what matters to you.

    When will Cortana reveal herself?

    The second half of 2014! So hold tight to get yourself your very own personal teacher's/student’s assistant.

    Let's take a closerclip_image005 look at Cortana

    In Windows Phone 8.1, you get to Cortana by either a Live Tile on your Start screen or by pressing the search button on your device. This will take you to Cortana Home. To interact with Cortana, you can either speak or type—if you’re in a school meeting, just type and Cortana won’t talk out loud, embarrassing you in front of your head teacher and colleagues. But if you ask her a spoken question, she’ll answer verbally and even carry on a natural conversation. Fabulous for that lonely drive home :)

    Once she’s learned a bit about you, Cortana’s home populates with information that is curated just for you. You’ll see things like flight information she’s found from your email confirmations, weather, the latest news, and even traffic information once she learns your commute routine, such as from work and home.

    What’s more, because Cortana is powered by Bing, some of the interests in Cortana’s Notebook will light up on when you sign in on the web. will give you and your students access to the things Cortana tracks for you, like students' UCAS application status - a nail-biting time!


    The Windows developers have also designed Cortana to be able to interact with 3rd Party Apps installed on your phone. You can ask Cortana to help you or your entire class make a video call in Skype in the Classroom, help students look up relevant news articles to research for an essay, look up a news feed on Facebook when you're driving or send a tweet using the Twitter app.

    And finally, Cortana isn’t just a dry computer returning search results. Just as she has in the game Halo, Windows Phone’s Cortana has a bit of personality. But you and your students will have to talk to her yourself to see what I mean by that. Or… I bet you’ll be able to find some videos on the web pretty soon to see what I mean.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Working together, achieving together – How Tibshelf Community School’s technology came to embody its educational mission – Part Two


    Selecting an ICT partner - Why Stone?

    • · Innovative cloud technologies
    • · Proven on-premise solutions
    • · Committed staff
    • · Proven specialist in the UK education field

    Tibshelf invited suppliers to tender for the school’s ICT requirements, at the centre of which was the notion of ‘infrastructure first’. Priorities were:

    • · Infrastructure
    • · Single consistent user experience
    • · Anytime, anywhere
    • · BYOD
    • · Future-proofing
    • · Interactivity in the classroom

    Brian explains: “For us it was all about the infrastructure. Our consultation ignited this vision of a single consistent user experience, delivered anytime and anywhere regardless of device. We knew the foundation for this utopia was the network and the wireless. We were not at all concerned initially with what hangs off the end of that. We wanted it to work like a tap. You just turn it on and it works. In fact, due to the strong BYOD element, and with an uncertain view of future budgets, our tender was written around not providing any devices at all.

    “Our priorities also involved a level of future-proofing, providing a scalable platform on which to adapt to future curriculum requirements and changes in technology.”

    Mark explains: “Audio visual was a big area for us. Ten year old interactive whiteboards do not move premises easily and our projectors were all due for replacement as they had been stretched beyond use.”

    Once interested parties had sent back their tender responses, as Mark points out responses were varied:

    “At one end of the scale, we had an education ICT business recommending we did it the same way every other school they supplied did it. On the other end of the spectrum, we had another organisation claiming if we adopted their cloud only ICT infrastructure model we could be up and running within 10 minutes.

    “Stone Group sat nicely in the middle with a good blend of innovative cloud technologies with proven on-premise solutions. It was all underpinned by a healthy dose of innovation, while still giving us comfort that it was not so far on the cutting edge that support would be impacted.

    “Stone Group’s people also proved themselves committed to what we wanted to do from the very outset. Some competitors were new in the education market and this presented unnecessary risk to the project as a whole as Stone were proven specialists in the UK education field.”

    The solution - Hardware:

    • · Eight digital signage screens
    • · Two C-touch interactive displays
    • · Interactive touch boards in each classroom
    • · Over 40 whiteboards with eBeam interactive technology
    • · Lenovo Ultrabooks


    • · Microsoft server technology
    • · Microsoft Hyper-V private cloud
    • · Intel WiDi technology
    • · Unified Windows 8.1 across all devices

    With tight construction deadlines, Stone as the ICT partner had to begin work before construction on the school had finished.

    Once budget was in place, things moved extremely quickly. Between the £14.9m funding being confirmed from Derbyshire County Council and the school opening to pupils was only 20 months.

    Once Stone had been appointed, to ensure that pedagogy would be at the heart of the new ICT solution, the school once again engaged relevant stakeholders – governors, teachers, admin staff and pupils.

    Brian explains: “During the second consultation, some of our faculty used it as an opportunity to introduce new techniques in the classroom. For example, one of our ICT teachers rotated his class around so that desks were facing away from the teacher. Chairs swivelled to front-of-room lecture style delivery, then when working on-task the pupils would turn 180 degrees – giving the teacher full visibility of each individual learner’s grasp of the subject matter. Double projection boards also allowed students to see lesson content regardless of their orientation.”

    In PE, there are two C-Touch interactive large format displays. These are used in conjunction with touch screen devices to allow GCSE students to critically analyse performance and technique as conducive with Active Participant research.

    Eight Digital signage screens adorn the walls throughout the school. Equipped with the latest Smart Signage Platform, the Samsung screens are powered by system-on-chip – meaning no PC players are required to power the screens. Management and administration is again undertaken from both within the school and anywhere with an internet connection using the cloud-based SignageLive solution.

    Interactivity came in the form of interactive touch boards in each classroom, with eBeam Edges providing touch screen functionality for over 40 interactive white boards. Classes are inherently interactive while helping to keep costs down when compared with native touch-screen displays.

    All teachers are equipped with the latest convertible Lenovo Ultrabooks, adding to the touch screen interactive capabilities. Access to the projectors powering the interactive touchscreens are all wireless, using the very latest Intel Wireless Delivery (WiDi) technology. Using this technology, we hope to see teachers presenting from anywhere in the room, giving students the ability to interact directly with the boards without moving from their seats.

    Streamline network management

    The school’s server infrastructure is based on the latest Microsoft technology and includes:

    • · Windows Server 2012 R2 as the backbone – 4 Hyper-V hosts, 7 physical servers, 40 virtual servers in all powered by Hyper-V private cloud
    • · Unified Windows 8.1 across multiple smartphone, PC and tablet platforms – Windows Server 2012 R2 remote access and Virtual Desktop Infrastructure functionality
    • · DirectAccess through Microsoft’s server platform – gives teachers and admin staff across the school seamless three-factor authenticated remote access

    Mark explains: “With the Microsoft backbone, we now have resilience in the infrastructure that we’ve never had before. We now have high availability as standard, with failover in case of an issue. Crucially this means our pupils, teachers and admin staff are non-the-wiser in the event of a malfunction on one of our physical servers.”

    “The benefits for Tibshelf are tangible and have been far reaching.” Mark explains: “We knew we had it nailed when we looked at the network logs and saw we had pupils logged into the school’s systems on Christmas Day!”

    Consultation on the school’s BYOD scheme illustrates that in excess of 95% of the school’s students will use the BYOD provision.

    Bearing in mind the school’s desire to future proof and ensure the latest technology was underpinning academic ambition, Windows 8.1 was standardised across all PC technology. Likewise, the VDI solution ensures that a consistent Windows 8.1 experience is available even on other tablet and smartphone operating systems.

    Training and engagement

    Putting in a new ICT infrastructure has required a change in behaviours for many teachers and staff, in order to mirror the innovation in the classroom.

    End-user training sessions delivered by Stone started before the school’s move and continue to be part of the school’s commitment to CPD. For end users, sessions are focused on helping to familiarise all the faculty with Windows 8.1 and ensure that the nuances between each teacher’s pedagogical approaches can be accommodated. From a technical perspective, Tibshelf’s internal ICT support staff engage with Stone’s infrastructure specialists to ensure that they are fully abreast of the latest technology developments. This enables their staff to get the most out of the systems for the whole school’s benefit.

    Formal end user training has been supplemented by peer-led learning. Mark explains: “Functionality such as the ability to add custom tiles pointing to specific folders and creating a bespoke user interface, is something that has spread from teacher-to-teacher. Word of mouth has enabled best practice to spread quicker than that of our formal training.”

    Tibshelf is an early adopter of Microsoft’s Student Advantage programme, and will be giving all pupils within the school and up to 5 members of their family a free copy of Office 365 ProPlus to use on both BYOD devices and those used in the home.

    Integral ICT

    ICT within the school has gone from being difficult to introduce into lessons at all, due to a lack of provision, to now being integral to the vast majority of curriculum delivery. Mark explains: “As a network manager, during lessons I used to be able to wander freely around the building undertaking administration tasks. Now I get accosted on every corner as learning has truly gone beyond the four walls of the classroom at Tibshelf. Pupils are outside lessons, capturing content on digital devices and using the core infrastructure we have provided to further their personal development.”

    Already offering a supreme level of support to the school, Mark’s network management team has benefited from new network management tools. Microsoft System Centre Service Manager 2012 R2 monitors the network and provides alerts, meaning the school’s internal helpdesk offers ITIL compliant processes.

    Impero Classroom Management is deployed across the school’s estate, combining network management, desktop management and classroom management in one single consolidated solution.

    Technical Overview

    Core Infrastructure/networking

    • · Cat6 cabling throughout the school
    • · 10Gb Fibre connectivity
    • · HP Procurve Switching
    • · Meraki Cloud Managed Wireless

    Server infrastructure & storage

    • · 7 high specification Stone Servers optimised for virtualisation
    • · Huawei OceanStor S5500T storage

    End User Devices

    • · Over 250 x Stone NT310 notebooks with 8 laptop charging trolleys.
    • · 75 Touch screen Lenovo Ultrabooks for all teachers
    • · 2 x 30 Stone Ultra Small Form Factor Desktop PCs

    Audio Visual

    • · 8 x Samsung MD40C digital signage screens with centralised Signagelive cloud management.
    • · In the auditorium, stepped seating. They have full audio visual stack, including 2 x projection to provide the ultimate in backdrop flexibility.
  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Office 365 for iPad video


    In response to our blogs this week reviewing Office 365 for iPads in Education, we’d like to share with you a nifty video which captures the features in a nutshell!

    See for yourself how familiar apps, Word, PowerPoint and Excel look and function on an iPad to enable collaborative editing and creation of docs at school.

    For more information on the full Office 365 Education experience and associated licensing requirements of Office 365 for Ipads in schools, have a look at the flyer below.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Learning at the edge of chaos


    By Aimee Riordan, March 20, 2014

    Imagine a school without walls, textbooks or teachers, where children are inspired to learn by their own sense of wonder. That’s what Sugata Mitra dreamt when he first placed a computer into a hole in a wall in a Kalkaji, Delhi slum.

    In doing so, Mitra, now a professor of Educational Technology at Newcastle University, discovered something extraordinary: Without any outside instruction, the students used the computer, and its connection to the Internet, to teach themselves about the world around them.

    What’s more, they taught each other.

    Fifteen years later, Mitra is embarking on an ambitious mission to bring the School in the Cloud and the Self Organized Learning Environment (SOLE) to students around the world. And he’s using Microsoft technology to make it happen.

    Mitra won the 2013 TED Prize, from the nonprofit devoted to cultivating ideas about Technology, Education and Design. This week, at a TED conference in Vancouver, B.C., he’s announcing the opening of five School in the Cloud labs in India and the United Kingdom and launching the accompanying digital platform, made possible by Microsoft, which enables anyone anywhere to host cloud-based learning.


    The man behind the social cloud watches Sugata Mitra, watches a self organised
    learning environment on Skype.

    Mitra calls self-organized education “learning at the edge of chaos.”

    “There is a space in between the complete order and the complete chaos, where something strange happens, the kind of environment that causes dust devils to form,” he says. “When you look at children learning by themselves, it’s so non-intuitive. It struck me that if you create a chaotic learning environment with children, a situation with just the right amount of chaos, you get spontaneous order.”

    Mitra recalls a SOLE session in the UK where he wrote a quadratic equation on the board and asked the students, none of whom had ever been exposed to algebra, to answer this: What is the value of “x”?

    “They came back 15 minutes later and said, ‘That is algebra. That’s a quadratic equation. And x doesn’t have one value. It has two.’ That coming from 12-year-olds was too much for me.”

    While we think of traditional learning happening over months or years, in self-organized learning, it happens in minutes, Mitra explains. “When children work in groups in the presence of the Internet, SOLE acts as a lens, a magnifier of intellect.”

    imageThe School in the Cloud is a unique Microsoft effort, not only because of its groundbreaking philosophy, but also because of its reach. With Skype, Office, Azure, Bing, Xbox, Surface and OEM partners, the project touches nearly every corner of the company.

    Wendy Norman, director of social good at Skype, calls it an unprecedented cross collaboration.

    “Many areas of the company are reaching out as they hear about this and wanting to be a part of it,” she says. “This is truly one of the largest One Microsoft deployments around social good.”

    Students use Skype to connect with each other and with retired teacher volunteers the children call “Skype Grannies.” They employ Bing for search and Office products like PowerPoint to help them distill and present what they learn. Ultimately, Xbox or Surface, with Skype built in, may house the entire experience.

    Mitra says he uses Windows because students like the operating system and find it intuitively easy to learn. He adds that Skype was a natural fit because of its video presentation capabilities.

    School in the Cloud fits squarely within the mission of YouthSpark, Microsoft’s corporate citizenship initiative, says Akhtar Badshah, senior director, citizenship and public affairs at Microsoft.

    It’s another example of how technology can transform lives.

    “This is a great partnership that allows us to bring our resources and our technology to a platform that may have global impact,” Badshah says, adding that the School in the Cloud will likely evolve in ways we can’t yet imagine.

    It could become a tool to teach children the basics of programming, for example. “Not about just writing code, but fundamentally changing the way people learn,” he says.

    Microsoft funded construction of the platform: a website intended to connect and extend the community. It features information about how to get started and guidance for asking the big questions while searching the Internet. “This is what children want,” says Skype’s Norman. “They want to solve big problems. They don’t want to be talked to. They want to be a part of it.”

    School in the Cloud is a great equalizer, she adds. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in the richest area of the world or the poorest. Children can still gain value.”

    Cloud-based learning may be the only classroom for a student in rural India. While, in an American city, it might enable an after-school program to offer more than just playtime in an open gym.

    “This is taking the simplest thing about children, that insatiable curiosity, and bringing it to life,” Norman says.

    imageAmy Dickinson has seen this happen first hand. She’s head of design, technology and art at the UK’s George Stephenson High School, home to the first School in the Cloud lab.

    There, the children “have the opportunity to use SOLE to develop their collaboration skills, independent learning styles and give them the love of learning and curiosity they need to be successful in school and beyond,” she says.

    Dickinson adds that students are much more engaged when they are allowed to be in control.

    “It’s unique. It’s simple. It’s for the kids by the kids,” she says. “It allows them to explore, share information, and there is no threat of failure. They motivate each other.”

    Suneeta Kulkarni, the India-based research director for the School in the Cloud Project, agrees that allowing children to discover an idea and arrive at their own conclusions is a “tremendous motivating factor.”

    Kulkarni says the broader impact of the School in the Cloud initiative will likely be seen 5, 10 or 15 years down the road, but she notes that there is already anecdotal evidence of the approach’s success.

    One student, who participated in a 2008-2009 SOLE in Hyderabad, India and continued to be mentored by a Skype Granny, is now studying medicine in the Philippines.

    “And it’s not just a question of what he’s studying,” Kulkari says, “But the way it has impacted his orientation, the way he learned to see life and the acceptance he now has for many different cultures and ways of thinking.”

    Sugata Mitra in front of one of the newest School in the Cloud labs in Korakati, India.

    Sugata Mitra in front of one of the newest School in the Cloud labs in Korakati, India.

    The UK- and India-based schools in the cloud are part of a three-year research project during which data will be collected on reading comprehension, ability to search the Internet and overall problem-solving skills.

    As the results become known, Mitra hopes governments will be inspired to fund more of these brick-and-mortar extensions that bring self-organized learning to remote areas of the world.

    In the meantime, anyone with an Internet connection can conduct a SOLE using the platform released this week. Its availability is uniquely in step with an evolving theory of how children learn.

    “As we continue to drive education forward, we're going to see the learning environment evolve from a physical location to an anywhere, anytime experience,” says Anthony Salcito, vice president of worldwide education at Microsoft. “A cloud-based school is one example of how we're taking that step beyond the classroom, into an environment where students can learn the 21st-century skills that will be critical to their success."

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Working together, achieving together – How Tibshelf Community School’s technology came to embody its educational mission – Part One


    •    £14.9m new school project completed in record time with ICT infrastructure at its heart
    •    Over 95% of school’s pupils expected to use BYOD provision
    •    Tibshelf Community School is a state secondary school in Derbyshire, educating 787 pupils between years 7 to 11
    •    A vital learning hub for a number of villages in the surrounding area

    Tibshelf Community School, Derbyshire serves a disparate community of nine villages spread widely across the districts of Bolsover and North-East Derbyshire. The school’s mission is ‘Working Together, Achieving Together’ in recognition of its collaborative culture. This collaborative culture is the nucleus of everything, including the school’s next generation ICT infrastructure.

    “Stone Group has been very committed to making it work for us. They have consistently gone above and beyond what was expected from our new-build project. We really wanted inspiration and an injection of fresh ideas and Stone has given us exactly that. Their collaboration with our building contractor has been exemplary and that is testament to the skilled people they have within the team. Stone is not the cheapest, but their ability to offer a total solution and service is second to none.” -  Brian Fischer, Assistant Headteacher

    The situation: outdated technology and a challenging site

    • · IT infrastructure grown sporadically since the 1980s
    • · All technology at ‘end of life’
    • · SAN 5+ yrs old, Servers 8+ years old
    • · Two Management Information Systems thanks to recent federations
    • · Just four IT suites for 750 pupils
    • · 95% of devices were desktops
    • · No WiFi due to Victorian construction of buildings

    In 2008, Tibshelf federated with another school six miles away that was underperforming and took on additional pupils at their legacy site on the High Street – a location which the school had resided in for over a hundred years.

    Brian Fischer, Assistant Headteacher explains: “Tibshelf Community School was Portakabin City for a couple of years. Our buildings were falling down, with leaks everywhere and plaster coming off the walls. We had prefabricated classrooms built for temporary use in the 1940s that were being held up by pit props! Teachers would look forward to lessons within the Portakabins as they were the best classrooms we had.”

    Four IT suites were formally structured, with 2 of the 4 being used primarily to teach ICT lessons, giving little opportunity for other faculties to access ICT. Owing to Victorian blue-brick buildings, WiFi within the school was not cost effective limiting options and proving a thorn in the side of ambitious teachers and network technicians.

    Lack of access to ICT was commented on by Ofsted, and was always raised as an issue during parent and pupil surveys. Brian gives an example of the issues: “Science teachers had a lot of creative ideas on how to use technology within lessons. They couldn’t get anywhere near any kit to book out, which meant integrating ICT into lessons was nigh on impossible.”

    The aftermath of Building Schools for the Future

    • · School was a casualty of the demise of the BSF programme
    • · Derbyshire County Council funded and approved new building project after BSF withdrawal
    • · IT budget was reduced by over 80% from original BSF £4m

    With oversubscribed pupils and inadequate school buildings that were falling down, the situation was less than ideal. Tibshelf was awarded priority on the Building Schools for the Future initiative in October 2006.

    Brian continues: “We had been patching everything on a needs-must basis, and that included ICT. We were already a couple of years behind as we weren’t spending anything in anticipation of the windfall BSF would provide our school. This made an already bad situation even worse. The ICT Support Team worked wonders with the little that they had but lack of any new equipment was hindering their progress.”

    However, Michael Gove announced in 2010 that the BSF programme was to cease, and Tibshelf’s situation became more critical.

    Brian explains: “We were extremely far down the line with the BSF project – two months away from diggers arriving on site. The Government put strict rules in place for the projects that could continue and we were only days away from meeting that threshold.”

    With no BSF project, federated pupils and crumbling facilities, the school worked up an alternative plan with Derbyshire County Council. A £14.9m building project was approved in September 2011 with money from the County Council that included £8m from other Derbyshire schools.

    Although the school new-build budget had been approved, the school’s ICT budget had been significantly impacted. With £4m earmarked through the initial BSF budget, the school had to put a strong case forward to secure funds in support of their classroom vision – eventually receiving less than 20% of the figure originally planned.

    It was not just budget that was short on supply. Schools rebuilt through the Derbyshire BSF programme historically had a period of 12 uninterrupted weeks after building had finished to install a new IT infrastructure. Time was also going to be in short supply when it came to improvements to IT, owing to construction deadlines that could not be changed.

    Building the next generation school

    • · Post BSF project changed in budget size and site footprint
    • · Collaborative classroom design with faculty staff
    • · Consultation pushed BYOD high up on the priority list

    Construction on the new-look Tibshelf Community School commenced in September 2012. Although the school had secured vital funds, the project scope had to be altered to accommodate vastly different economic circumstances. The post-BSF project budget was significantly less than it had been and meant the school’s footprint had to reduce by around 50%.

    “This made us re-look at the whole flow of the school in order to ensure we made effective and efficient use of every single square metre,” commented Brian. Tibshelf’s Senior Leadership Team consulted with teachers to answer the fundamental question – ‘What would you want in a new school?’ – and asked them to draw their ideal classroom, knowing this would put pedagogy at the heart of the new-look, accommodating for the different teaching styles of faculty staff.

    Ideas were smart and pupil-focused, for example, access to classrooms would be built outside under canopies as corridors took up vital indoor learning space – a result of the faculty’s desire for nothing to detract from the quality of the teaching environment.

    The school had the starting point of curriculum excellence. With Mark as network manager involved in all stages of this consultation, the role of technology as part of the overhaul to learning spaces was integral.

    A number of overarching themes became apparent:

    · The notion of anytime, anywhere teaching and learning. The Senior Leadership Team and governors wanted the same experience at home for all – students, teachers and admin staff should be just as productive out of school as they are in school

    · Personalised experience – to further the notion of anytime, anywhere, the faculty and students wanted to get the same experience whether working on a smartphone, PC or tablet

    Mark offers his perspective: “This meant that Any Device Learning went to the top of our strategic IT priorities. Considering where we had been with funding historically, our budget for the future and the drive from students and teachers – this made sense for us.”

    Read the second part of Tibshelf’s story here on Thursday 10th April as we discover how the school built an entirely new IT infrastructure and how ‘working together, achieving together’ became more than just a mantra.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Interactive Classrooms at Naace 2014


    Written by Mark Yorke, Managing Director, Tablet Academy

    It's just over a week now since the NAACE Conference at East Midlands Conference Centre where myself and my colleagues from the Tablet Academy had the pleasure of supporting Microsoft on their exhibition stand, plus the opportunity to lead a workshop on the benefits on Windows 8 tablets in education.

    The event was a great opportunity to catch up with colleagues, share ideas and meet teachers making use of technology in new and innovative ways. After a slow start and a few discussions I began to realise many people dismissed the Microsoft stand due to pre-conceived opinions like "It's Microsoft, I know what they do, they're all about the infrastructure and office..."

    I found this frustrating until we ran our hands-on workshop around 'Using Windows 8 tablets in the classroom'. For me these hands-on workshops make people realise that Windows 8 tablets do offer a complete solution for education, enabling teachers to use existing IT practices, software and resources whilst offering access to new Apps enabling changes in pedagogy.

    imageWithin the interactive workshop we only had time to cover the operating system, CreateBook (for producing eBooks) and Kodu (teaching the computing curriculum), but after the workshop and a keynote presentation from my business partner Steve Molyneux people could see why we were confident to recommend Windows 8 Tablets to schools.


    (Images:Screen shots from ebook creator CreateBook)

    A number of delegates taking part in the workshop introduced themselves afterwards as IT consultants supporting schools to embed the use of IT into the curriculum. Many confessed they had dismissed the Windows 8 Tablets but the workshop had now convinced them that actually there is more than one tablet solution on the market. One delegate even ordered a Toshiba Encore online as they walked out of the workshop, if that's not a result I don't know what is.

    Like many others I admit if you had asked me about using Windows 8 tablets in the classroom eight months ago I would have dismissed the idea, but since the new generation of tablets have entered the market including the Dell Venue Pro, or the Toshiba Encore, the market has definitely changed for the better. Schools should be sure they make an informed decision when purchasing tablets, it's now a competitive market.

    Thanks again to Graham, Anthony and the Microsoft team for the support and opportunity to be part of NAACE 2014. I'd also like to pass on a special thanks to Promethean for their support over the two days at the event, I enjoyed the ClassFlow demo and am looking forward to getting involved more in the future.

    Find out more about the Tablet Academy and their teacher training.


Page 1 of 167 (1,665 items) 12345»