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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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    Heroes Happen Here - Windows Server 2008


    We've been talking about it for quite some time - and the beta and trial versions of the new 2008 products have been floating around on the web. The official launch event for all of the products - Windows Server 2008, Visual Studio 2008 and SQL Server 2008 - is happening on March 19th, and will be followed by a series of technical roadshows around the country.

    In WIndows Server 2008 there are new web tools, virtualisation technologies, security enhancements and management utilities to help save time, reduce costs and provide a solid foundation for your IT infrastructure. If you'd like to find out more - or download a trial of the products - to help with your ICT planning going forward, then click across to our Heroes Happen Here website, which has all of the latest information, downloads and links to more detailed product information.

  • FE blog

    Microsoft's CRM system launch


    Dynamics CRM Launch

    I've noticed how the use of CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems have been growing rapidly in education. I have traditionally thought about "students" rather than "customers", but the changes that have happened in the FE sector over the last few years, and an increasing focus on business customers (through things like 'Train to Gain'), have meant that sophisticated customer management techniques are vital to support the continuing development of your business. And after all, building a relationship with an existing customer is a lot less expensive than finding new ones every year.

    The Microsoft Dynamics CRM system version 4, is being launched on 31st January, at our main offices in Reading, with a follow up launch at The Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh on 26th February. The event will give you a chance to see how the CRM system is developing, and an opportunity to hear a customer talking about how it is being used within their business. (I notice the General Manager for Dynamics CRM worldwide will be there, so a chance to ask some deep questions about our strategy too!).

    Use these links to find out more about the event, and register to attend, in London on 31st January or Edinburgh on 26th February.

    A customer case study within education

    You may also be interested in reading about how one of our customers is using Microsoft Dynamics CRM. The case study is just over a year old, and examines the issues that the DfES wanted to tackle when they implemented a pilot CRM system in their Corporate Services and Development Directorate. You can read more about it on our worldwide Case Studies website.

  • FE blog

    Preview - Mac Office 2008


    Around a year ago, Microsoft issued a press release announcing its intent to deliver Office 2008 for Mac.  Well, it seems that we're now even closer and there is a preview article on Computerworld with quotations from the Microsoft Mac Business Unit here.

    For a more detailed overview of what's under the bonnet on Mac Office 2008 then please visit this site.  It has some great graphics of the new release plus access to the Mactopia newsletter.

    The official release for Mac Office 2008 will be/was at Macworld where you can join in if you're lucky enough to be over there.

    I know of one university that has been on the beta for Mac Office 2008 and is ready to start installing the final release once they're able to get hold of it.  IMHO one of the main features of this new release is that it is all about re-connecting users with the power of Office.  As well as this, there are some significant updates to the components in the suite which should impress.

    I'm not a Mac user but I look forward to having a tour of Mac Office 2008 with friends that are, and I'm sure they'll give me their opinion of the new version.

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