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January, 2008 - FE blog - Site Home - MSDN Blogs
The FE Blog
News and views from the Microsoft UK Education Team
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January, 2008

  • FE blog

    Collaboration - do we need fresh ideas?


    MicroSpeak1At today's College Principals' Meeting, I came across a new word "ideation" - which a colleague used on one of his slides. I'm not sure if it's a 'real' world, or one that sounded good when it went on a slide. It reminded me of my first few months when I joined Microsoft - there were all kinds of acronyms and new words that I had never come across before.

    Some it makes perfect sense - when you're trying to describe a complex international business like Microsoft, in a fast moving market like IT, then it is inevitable that you'll end up using acronyms quite a bit, if only to shorten sentences and save breath. But take it one step further - put Microsoft, IT, international AND education into the mix, and you've got a world where whole conversations can be made up entirely of acronyms. And become completely unintelligible to anybody walking past the door of the room!

    Which inspired me to another cartoon - perhaps the first of many, many, many that I could do on the same thing.

    Anyway, enough about the language barrier.

    How did "ideation" get into a discussion?

    IdeationIt came up on this slide - which was in the middle of a discussion about how collaboration takes place, and where ICT supports it. Nick Umney's story was about the fact that 'knowledge workers' (there's another one of those Micro-Speak phrases) tend to spend all of their time in the upper quadrants - living in the world of ideas, discussions and acquiring information. And IT people spend their lives the lower quadrants - the processes of documenting and publishing, and the process of driving processes.

    Which led to the point that sometimes it is difficult for the IT people to see eye to eye with some of the others within a college, because they tend to be trying to pin down the detail, whereas others may want to be more 'creative' with their thinking

    Imagine the downhill spiral the user specification meeting would take if an IT project team had been asked to create a Wiki:

    IT Team: "What do you want it to do?"

    User: "Publish information to people"

    IT Team: "What information do you want to publish and to whom?"

    User: "Anything, to anybody"

    That's the kind of challenge we're facing today with some of the collaborative technologies available. They could allow all kinds of flexible collaboration, and the boundaries aren't well defined, in fact in many cases we're only scratching the surface of what they can do. Which makes it difficult to get users engaged within the college to use them across the organisation - because each person or team may want to use them in different ways.

    What we need are some good role models - some excellent practice which can be held up for others to share, across or between institutions.

  • FE blog

    Talking with College Principals


    We held a briefing today for a small group of college principals, following on from a focus group meeting we held last year. The aim of the day was to share some of our work and thoughts on how technology could support the learning and business processes of an FE college, and to allow the principals to tell us more about the way that we can support FE colleges.

    One of today's issues is that there are commonly islands of separate data - virtual learning environment, student records systems, financial systems, quality management systems - which are not properly joined together. There was broad agreement that this situation has to be addressed in order to move into a different way of supporting learning and running the business of FE. Although there have historically been models of how to do this, broadly shared across the sector, we're still along way away from achieving them.

    Phil Allen, one of my technical colleagues, talked about the need to create that common platform, and how we can support that using the Microsoft Learning Gateway framework - which can allow the creation of a portal to bring together your MIS, VLE, email, calendar, collaboration, live communications services, and other applications - and then deliver them to students and staff.

    One of the immediate discussion questions was about how it could support flexible access - for example:

    • Access from mobile browser devices, such as mobile phones and the new style of browser-based sub-notebooks like RM's Asus Minibooks (which will be available with Windows soon too)
    • Access from other places, like the workplace.
    • How to support a mix of delivery models for the things which sit inside the portal - whether the service (eg emails) is run by the college internally, or delivered as a service from the outside.

    What came out was that there are already examples of other education institutions addressing some of the issues raise. For example, the Shireland Collegiate Academy use the Microsoft Learning Gateway, and are providing mobile phone access for their students, and planning to give their students an O2 phone with free Internet access to the portal. And one of the core principles of the Learning Gateway is that web parts can be used to deliver virtually any information, from any connected system - today there are over 60 UK education software providers who have been building web parts to allow you to bring their system and data into the portal.

    But linking those systems together in a portal is step one. The next step is to find ways to link that data together for the users within your college who need a joined up picture.

    Nick Umney, who has been working with the NHS to build models of integrated data, demonstrated what can be done (screen shots to follow). The key is that the Business Intelligence features within the Learning Gateway allow you to build data models querying across multiple data sources, including different SQL databases. Nick showed us the "NHS Dashboard" that had been built in conjunction with some NHS Trust leaders, as an example of what's possible.

    image It started with a management scorecard - looking at all of the key indices which are used to manage a typical Trust. Starting with the scorecard, you can dig deeper into the data. In the example that Nick used, he kept going down from "Patient Services", to see which departments are missing targets, to dig further to see which Consultants are responsible for the most data outliers (ie "If I want to intervene, who do I target?")

    image Another example linked in geospatial data, plotting infection data on a hospital site map to find out where actions need taking to reduce infections and manage risk.

    One of the attractive features of what Nick showed us was that it seamlessly moved between browsing information on a web portal, to digging down into the data using Excel and other Office applications - so that users are using the systems that are familiar to them, rather than having to learn a new system.

    This stimulated a further discussion about whether this involved additional expense. Does trying to link the data together bring additional cost? Do the systems needed to deliver this cost more? And what does it cost to create a single view of the data across multiple systems?

    There was a 'less good news', and a 'good news' answer, to these questions:

    • Firstly, the less good news - the real cost of joining your data together is time (and sometimes sweat and tears) - firstly to get the different people who "own" the data to recognise the value of joining it up, and then getting them to put the effort in to see how it can be joined up - which might mean some individuals losing a little control over 'their' data (eg who's system is the single point of truth of a student's address, or name, or class list).
    • And now, the good news - you've probably already got the licences you need to cover most of the components we used in our demonstration - most colleges license their software from us using the Campus Agreement, which covers the majority of things you need - like SharePoint (and most of the other elements of the Learning Gateway).

    The slides used are available below.

    You can read more about general Business Insight strategy on our main website.

  • FE blog

    Microsoft CRM event for public sector customers


    A few weeks ago I extended the invitation to the launch of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0, which is in Reading tomorrow. Now, news reaches me of the follow-on event, with specific content from and for Public Sector organisations, from health, government and education.

    This is event is designed to introduce Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0, a new customer relationship management solution that opens up vast opportunities for local and regional government organisations. On 7th March, we're giving you an opportunity to discover more for yourself at the Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0 Public Sector Launch. You will also be able to hear from organisations already using it within the public sector. Although this won't include education organisations, you'll be able to hear about its use to connect up with service users as well as conventional customers.

    New features of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0 include simplified workflow and up-to-the-minute reporting, as well as multi-language and currency capabilities.

    Follow this link to find out more, and register.

  • FE blog

    Live Meeting - Collaborative Campus


    My colleague Matt sends details of a Live Meeting event he's hosting online next month:

    Microsoft Collaborative Campus Presentation

    On Tuesday 26th February at 9.30am we will be running a Live Meeting presentation to discuss the Microsoft Collaborative Campus as a way to connect students in a way that provides access to a vast breadth of online services such as mail, file storage and social networking capability.  The presentation will be relevant to technical decision makers who are currently responsible for providing these sorts of services to students, and to business decision makers who are interested in understanding how technology can underpin these scenarios for students and staff.  To request details for the meeting, and a URL to join the presentation, please email FE News

  • FE blog

    Partners in Learning programme relaunched


    For the last 5 years we have been running a programme, called Partners in Learning, to extend and expand the development of learning, and especially the ways that ICT can support learning in schools. Globally this programme has invested £125 million into projects run in partnership with governments, and government education agencies. In the UK, we have invested £3m, and have been working in partnership with organisations such as the Training Development Agency for Schools (TDA), Futurelab, Childnet and Becta.

    As these first projects head towards their conclusion, the next stage of Partners in Learning was announced by Bill Gates at the European Government Leader's Forum last week. This is a further investment of £120m over the next 5 years, and over the next few months we'll be developing the UK programme plan, again in partnership with government and education agencies.

    The next five years

    There are three streams for the PiL programme going forward:

    • Innovative Schools, which is a programme to help schools to move beyond the limits of the classroom and traditional learning models. The Innovative Schools programme assists 12 schools worldwide by providing intellectual property, technology expertise, experiential knowledge, and the support of the Microsoft community. We work with them to inspire big thinking and discover best practices. Through our shared experiences and goals, we are creating models that any school, any system, can use in the future, to prepare children for success in the 21st century. The Innovative Schools worldwide include Bowring Community Sports College in Knowsley.
      There's plenty of information on the Innovative Schools programme on our global education website, and a short video on Bowring's involvement with Innovative Schools.

    • Innovative Teachers, which enables teachers to connect across the UK, or globally, through the Innovative Teachers Forums and Innovative Teachers Network. It gives you the opportunity to network within a global community interested in education focused on 21st century learning, and be recognised for your efforts to prepare students to become productive 21st century citizens.
      The Innovative Teachers programme is described on our global education website, or you can hop straight over to register for the Innovative Teachers Network.

    • And finally, Innovative Students, which is a programme specifically designed to support government purchasing of PCs for students. Microsoft has developed the Microsoft Student Innovation Suite for governments seeking to improve students' access to PCs and transform education, and offers reduced price software directly to governments where they are providing access to PCs for underprivileged households.
      You can read more about this programme here.

    And the last 5 years?

    Since 2003, the Microsoft Partners in Learning programme in the UK, has reached over 2.4 million students, as well as providing training materials and resources to around 134,000 teachers, in the UK alone. This amounts to a UK investment of £3 million to date. Through working in partnership with organisations such as the Training Development Agency for Schools (TDA), Futurelab, Childnet and Becta, the focus in the UK has been on building teacher confidence to integrate technology into the learning environment, as well as providing training that has helped foster the innovative use of technology in schools.

    As Steve Beswick, Director of Education for Microsoft UK, explains

    “Technology underpins the key developments and policy directives that will affect UK education over the next five years. Whether it’s providing the kind of world-class education outlined in the Children’s Plan or ensuring that young people leave education with the skills that equip them for life and work in the world today, ICT is playing an increasing role in the learning environment.

    “Microsoft realises that technology alone is not sufficient for true education reform. We need to ensure that teachers and students are confident in using ICT if they are to reap the full benefits. It’s also about inspiring schools to think more creatively about how technology can make learning more exciting and relevant for the 21st Century”

    Partners in Learning initiatives in the UK have included:

    • The Gateway Project – a ‘virtual’ school environment created to allow schools in England, France and Spain to work collaboratively on a shared curriculum. Developed in partnership with the TDA to support the teaching of modern foreign languages (MFL) in primary schools. The programme also helps support teachers’ continued professional development (CPD) around technology integration into teaching.

    • Enquiring Minds – a £1 million joint research and development programme led by Futurelab aimed at developing ways in which schools can develop curriculum and learning methods appropriate for the needs of young people in 21st Century. The programme aims to place students at the centre of their own education, encouraging more personalised and enquiry-based learning, in line with recommendations made in the Gilbert Review of teaching. Browse the Enquiring Minds website for more information on the programme, and find out how you can get involved.

    • Know IT All – resources for trainee and practicing teachers, developed in conjunction with Childnet, the TDA and Becta, to support educators in dealing with e-safety issues in the school environment. The initiative helps teachers to better support and educate children around a wide range of e-safety issues in line with the Government’s ‘Every Child Matters’ programme. Take a look at the resources available on the Know IT All website, which also includes resources for parents.

    Stephen Sayers, Director of Operations and Planning at Futurelab, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to innovation in education, comments: "Microsoft Partners in Learning has been of vital importance in supporting the Enquiring Minds programme of research. Without their resources and support, it would not have been possible to bring the outcomes of this ground-breaking research to such a wide audience of teachers.”

    Tim Tarrant, Head of ICT at the TDA, adds: "Since 2005, Partners in Learning has provided the TDA with new opportunities to have a positive impact on schools in the UK and abroad. Microsoft's support for our jointly funded projects has been a great asset, as has the ICT expertise it has also enabled us to access."

  • FE blog

    Windows Server 2008 - Launch Invitation



    The launch team have just released the link to be able to sign up for the Windows Server 2008 launch event (actually, it's also the Visual Studio 2008 and SQL Server 2008 launch too). This is going to be held on the 19th March, at the ICC in Birmingham. The event is going to feature both Microsoft and external speakers - and I've heard that plans are afoot to have a university on the launch stage!

    Register now – places are extremely limited

    URL: http://www.microsoft.com/uk/heroeshappenhere/events.mspx

    There are two agendas - one for "IT Professionals" and the other for developers, so choose carefully! (Otherwise, like me at IT Forum, you could end up in the wrong room, with somebody using more unintelligible acronyms than your ears can cope with)

    There will be breakout sessions, hands-on labs ready for you to work directly with the products, an Expo area where you’ll be able to see the latest trends in hardware, application development and systems integration, and Ask the Experts where our technical teams will be on hand to answer all your questions.

  • FE blog

    Ultimate Steal Update - PayPal


    There are some new changes to the the Ultimate Steal website (Office 2007 Ultimate for students with an .ac.uk email address, for £38.95, only available online). One of the most significant is that we now accept PayPal (and since we switched that on, it appears to be a popular method).

    When students buy their new laptops, it appears they normally do it with Dad's credit card (in what one parent described to me as "the last big present" - they wish!). Once they're spending their own money, it appears that PayPal is more popular.

    Another reason to tell your students about the Ultimate Steal

  • FE blog

    Is your data at risk?


    2008 hasn't really started any better than 2007 finished - a laptop is stolen from the boot of a car, containing 600,000 personal data records - heaping data disaster upon data disaster. Reality says that laptops will be stolen, even when we think they are secure. I've had a laptop stolen from a hotel room, as have many friends and colleagues, and I know of friends and colleagues who've had laptops stolen from cars, or worse*

    While it's wise to do everything to avoid theft (I always use a Kensington lock on my laptop in hotels now), the other important step is to minimise the impact of the loss. According to the BBC news report "Teachers put pupil data at risk", which was prompted by research by RM, teachers in nearly half of England's primary schools back up pupil data on CDs and memory sticks, which they then take out of school. The survey of 933 schools found only 1% of respondents were encrypting the data. And I'm pretty sure that you'll have the same - is there a member of the management team in your college who takes home a complete copy of your student database each night on their laptop?

    So what can you do to avoid becoming the next headline?

    The information that I wrote last October on data security is still accurate today, and contains an action plan, but here's a very quick reminder of two ends of the scale:

    • It should be absolutely non-negotiable that anybody using a laptop for work (and which probably have some personal data on it) should always have to type in a password at logon. Do all of your college laptops conform? Do all laptops used by staff in college conform, even if they are not college owned? Has anybody 'tweaked' the system to avoid having to type their password in every time. I know it's a pain (I will admit that I used TweakUI to automatically log on to my home PC, but changed that a couple of years ago when I realised what would happen if my computer was stolen) but it's an important basic step.
    • At the other end of the scale, if you have staff taking home personal data which it would embarrass you to lose, then use encryption of one kind of another.

      imageIf it's a spreadsheet or document file, encrypt the file. (Under the "Prepare - Document for Distribution" menu in Office 2007") 

      If it's a complex database, or series of data files, then you should consider encrypting the whole file storage system, stopping people from easily accessing the data. Windows Vista Enterprise Edition (which is the version you normally licence in education) has BitLocker built in, which allows you to ensure that all files are encrypted (without it becoming a hassle for your users - see Russell's video).

    This is potentially quite a boring subject (and can be quite dry, as I discovered researching this), but the alternative to doing nothing is that you go through quite an 'exciting' time, like HMRC.

    We've been through it ourselves - to read our Trustworthy Computing web site for more about our security journey.

    * Worse: One friend took his laptop into a supermarket (to avoid leaving it in his boot) and had it stolen from his trolley. Or so he thought. When the security staff at the supermarket watched the CCTV tapes, to help him find the thief, it appeared he'd walked in with an empty trolley. So where was the laptop? On the roof of his car...  
    Before you laugh to hard, I bet you've heard of people leaving phones on the roof of their car, and driving off...

  • FE blog

    Executive Briefing - Performance Management


    Government Header

    My colleague in the Government team, Ian McKenzie, runs a series of Executive Briefings in conjunction with Microsoft partners. Each briefing covers a specific hot topic within central and local government, and looks at how particular government departments have applied Microsoft's products and services as part of their answer.

    Executive Briefing: A New Era for Performance Management in the Public Sector

    Thursday January 31st, 2008 – London Microsoft & IMGROUP

    Next week, Ian's running an Executive Briefing on Performance Management in London, and I thought it would be of interest to some colleges and universities. The issues faced in education are often similar - forecasting, planning, budgeting, financial consolidation and performance analysis - however the methodology for cracking these problems can be different when compared to other parts of the public sector. When I looked at the agenda for this briefing, I thought that there would be some value for you in hearing how  central government tackled it - in this case, Nick Manton from the Home Office.

    If you are interested in finding out more about the event, on Thursday 31st January, then find out more details here.

  • FE blog

    IE7 update coming your way - automatically...


    This isn't specific to education, and I'm sure that if you need to know things like this, you'll automatically be registered to our update and security blogs, but for the network managers out there, here's a quick note:

    Windows Update will automatically deploy Internet Explorer 7 next month, if you are using Windows Server Update Services (WSUS). If you don't want it to, then read more here.

    If you're not a network manager, or you are using Windows Vista, or you don't know what WSUS is, then ignore this - it isn't going to affect you...

    Although this is the kind of generic technical stuff I try to leave off this blog, because I'd rather be talking about education, I am aware that sometimes holidays\play havoc with your information timescales. This update will come out in half-term for most schools, and I know that's when a lot of staff in education take holidays, so you may need to get things sorted before then.

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