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

    Kodu for PC – a teacher’s tutorial


    Kodu for PC is a (free) visual programming language which was launched earlier this year. In the past it’s been available for Xbox, but now there’s a PC version, and it gives you another way of developing programming skills in your students. And as it uses games as the core, it helps to keep your students focused for longer. (More on Kodu for PC here)

    Stuart Ridout, who’s head of ICT at Stantonbury Campus School recorded a tutorial on it, and popped it up onto YouTube. Although you can plug an Xbox controller into your PC, his tutorial is recorded just using the keyboard and mouse, so anybody can do it once they’ve downloaded Kodu. And all in under 8 minutes from blank screen to a simple game.

    Stuart Ridout’s Kodu tutorial

    If you can’t see the video above, then use this link

    Once you’ve seen it, you may also be interested in his next two videos – as he started to re-create something like PacMan, in 3D, in Kodu – see Part One and Part Two.

    And for further inspiration from Stuart, take a look at his “Visualising revision help” poster – an absolutely brilliant idea and something I’d like to see on my fridge at home when the GCSE years arrive in the Fleming household.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Saving money by doing IT differently?


    imageI’ve just finished reading a story in Computing about the Co-op saving money on IT, when they cut their Microsoft licensing bills by at least £1.5 million, by changing the way that they implemented technology. Having written so much about cost-saving recently (including the “Stop buying so much software” post) it grabbed me straight away. Although it is a commercial organisation (and therefore they don’t get the same kind of discounts that education does – typically our Academic licences get discounted by 80% from the full commercial licences), I immediately saw parallels to the education system.

    In the case of the Co-op, they have 800 individual pharmacy stores, with individual IT systems. And in each store, an SQL server running their back-end systems. And they have made their saving by centralising the whole thing – having a mega SQL Server 2008 running at head office. The £1.5m saving quoted is actually only the starting point, as they’ve also cut half a million already off hardware upgrade and maintenance costs, and there’s also savings in other Microsoft licence costs too.

    Although at a school level it’s not possible to get a similar economy of scale, the article might give you some ideas (especially if you’re thinking about school federations). At a national or local authority level there’s definitely some ideas that would be relevant to education.

    The immediate parallel for education is the way that many schools in authorities have their own individual MIS databases, which is an almost exact parallel of the Co-op story. Although the parallel obviously breaks down when you compare the independence that individual schools are given, compared to the centralisation possible in a distributed business.

    Read the full article "Co-op cuts Microsoft licensing bills by £1.5m" on

    imageQuickly find all the other "Money Saving Tips" on this blog

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Are you ready to deploy Windows 7? Need a bit more help?


    Thanks to Rich from Bechtle, I know where you can get some help. Rich has just blogged about the Windows 7 Deployment Learning Portal on his Software Ruminations blog.

    Windows 7 Deployment – the Learning Portal

    We spend almost $10 billion a year on research and development, and so each time we release a new product, there’s new things it can do. And a lot of the R&D spend is focused on making IT easier. If you’re running a reasonably big IT system (as most education IT systems are), then one of the things that has been a hassle is deploying new versions of software, and managing the complex IT networks that are out there.

    When we developed Windows 7, the engineers spent quite a bit of time working out how to make the deployment process easier, and building tools to help that process. That’s good. The downside is that things have changed. If the last time you rolled out a new operating system was when you deployed Windows XP, then you’ll find that it has (a) got much easier and (b) changed the steps you take. All those previous tools – like Ghost and other specific deployment applications – may no longer be the best, quickest, cheapest and easiest way to deploy Windows.

    And the Windows 7 Deployment Learning Portal takes some of the pain out of getting yourself up to date. Instead of dumping all of the information onto you, it allows you to take a series of mini-tests:

    • Preparing for deployment
    • Configuring an image
    • Migration
    • Compatibility testing
    • Deployment Methods

    At the end of each test, you get a mark, and links to specific TechNet pages relating to the topic – so that you only need to read the stuff you don’t know, not waste time sifting through the stuff you already know. And the links point you towards things like articles, How-To guides, Step-by-Step procedures etc.

    And there’s an incentive too – the first 150 people to pass get a free MCITP (Microsoft Certified IT Professional) self-study guide, and the first 500 get a voucher for a free certification exam – so that you can get a new qualification for your CV/annual performance review.

    imageGo to the Windows 7 Deployment Learning Portal

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    When too much security means less security


    In December, my local BBC News station showed an interview with a head teacher, who’d had to crawl across a sloping playground, covered in black ice, to send out a text to let parents know the school was closed. Which surprised me because he was using one of the systems that allows you to send out the message from a website. And it made me realise that the school had a security problem. Why? I’ll explain later…

    There’s no doubt that information security – whether that’s us as individuals keeping an eye on our own personal information, or the huge amounts of other people’s personal information that seems to flood our systems/inboxes – is a hot issue at the moment. According to the Information Commissioner’s Office:

    • There are new stricter penalties faced by organisations for losing/disclosing personal data - fines up to £500,000
    • In the last two years, 800 data security breaches were reported to the ICO
    • One quarter of data security breaches were the result of mistakes
    • One third were the result of theft, often of an unencrypted portable device

    And since January, the ICO has reported on loss/disclosure of sensitive personal data by a wide range of public sector organisations, including Highland, Warwickshire, St Albans City and Lancashire Councils, the Southampton University Hospitals NHS Trust, and even the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.

    The Becta Data Handling Security Guidance continues to be updated on actions for schools to comply with the Data Protection Act – including more clarity on what constitutes ‘sensitive personal data’, which now includes individuals’ ethnic origin, as well as a range of SEN information. (The jist of the advice is that it would be unwise for ‘sensitive personal data’ to leave the school - eg on a SMT laptop/USB stick/printed report - except in the most exceptionally secure circumstances).

    Lock everything down?

    So there’s no doubt that improved security systems (eg encrypting every staff laptop with Windows BitLocker) makes things more security, and gives you less to worry about. But there is definitely a point where more security measures, and especially the imposition of these onto staff who don’t buy in, can actually lead to lower security.

    I read an excellent article “Please do not change your password” on the Boston Globe which carefully works through the argument. You should read it yourself in full (unlike most ‘IT security’ articles, it’s an easy read) but here’s some of the things I took out of it:

    • Asking users to regularly change online passwords may not make any difference to security
    • Users still write passwords down and stick them on or in their desks
    • All too often, users are being asked to take too many security steps, where they don’t see the value
    • Noncompliance with security systems may be a problem caused by the experts, not the users, because security professionals aren’t always justifying their recommendations with a sound case to users or others
    • ‘Bullet-proof’ passwords should be the first line defence, and ‘one-time’ measures the next step – like anti-virus and anti-spyware protection (with automatic updates)

    And it left me wondering “Which is more secure – a different password on every website/system, or a small password series which I can remember, with unique ones on the really important websites, like my bank?”. At least I don’t need to write down the second option!

    If you want to know how your users think, then the comments on the article provide a great starting point to understand the range of views. I sympathised with ‘aldopignotti’, who wrote “We have to change our passwords every three months, which isn't a big deal EXCEPT we have three separate systems with three different set of rules. Also, there are six other systems that don't use network passwords so if I want to have one corporate password, I have to change it in nine different places.”

    So next time you’re thinking about enhancing your network security, maybe making security easier for your users would be the biggest improvement to your system security.

    Back to the head teacher at the beginning of this story. How did I know the school had a security problem? The reason was that the head had to leave the comfort of his home, and his broadband connection, to travel to school through snow that closed all the schools in his county, and then crawl on his hands and knees across a treacherous playground. So that he could log on to a website. Why? Simple – the password was written on a piece of paper pinned on the notice board in the school office. (And what’s the betting that some of their other system passwords were stored in the same way?)

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Problem solving with ICT – the language barrier solved?


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

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

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

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

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

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Home Access Suppliers 2010 – recommended Home Access suppliers


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

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

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

    What makes the Home Access Suppliers different?

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

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

    The Home Access computer choices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      • Microsoft UK Schools blog

        Chemistry Add-In for Word 2007/2010


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

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

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

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

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

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

      • Microsoft UK Schools blog

        How the Office Add-In for Moodle works


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

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

      • Microsoft UK Schools blog

        Becta Home Access Scheme – free computers going fast


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

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

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

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

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

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

        Time for a final parental reminder

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

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

      • Microsoft UK Schools blog

        More Moodle advice – The Moodle on SharePoint white paper


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

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

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

        How do you install Moodle on SharePoint?

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

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

        imageQuickly find all the other Moodle posts on this blog

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