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

  • FE blog

    DreamSpark - Free software for your students



    I guess this will be pretty big news on the Internet. And if I've timed this right - and you're reading this just after I've blogged it - then you're one of the first to find out.


    We have launched a programme called "Microsoft DreamSpark", which allows university and college students to download a range of free development and design software resources to help them in their studies. The suites available include Visual Studio (described as "the Swiss Army knife of computer programming"), which is the kind of toolset which can help you programme everything from a computer, to a mobile phone, or a web page. It also includes the major applications in the Expression design suite - including Expression Web, Expression Blend, Expression Design & Expression Media. And for development work, there's also SQL Server & Windows Server.

    From today, these are available to more than 6.5 million FE & HE students. Last year's survey co-sponsored with Intellect, the British Computer Society, and The City University, London demonstrated that the "Knowledge Economy" (is that a Microsoft-ism?) is the fastest growing part of the UK economy, and there's a real need to ensure that students have the chance to get the technical skills they may need to operate within it.

    Whilst it's easy to think that this will only be of interest to technical students, there's plenty of other areas affected - things like design, where digital design is one of the fastest growing areas; and the ability to manipulate and analyse masses of data seems to spread across most subjects.

    Students don't need to get additional validation or accreditation from their university or college to do this download - they can download as long as they have an Athens ID (that's pretty standard for all university students and most college students) or an ISIC card.  (For more on student verification, take a look at Ed's blog)

    There's more about this on Channel 8, and you can also read the press releases on PressPass

    At the moment, this is available in 10 countries, including the UK.

  • FE blog

    Coventry's web-based voting with SharePoint


    You're probably already familiar with SharePoint, and some of its capabilities to support communication and collaboration for both students and staff. But what never ceases to amaze me are the other uses that people find for it in education.

    Coventry University has 17,000 students, and has recently moved from a paper-based campus voting system (with long-winded hand counting of ballots) to an electronic one based on SharePoint. It makes sense to them, because their Active Directory contains all of their student community, and it also appeals to students, who seem to love anything web-based. Not only does Coventry save £1,000 per vote, but they also make it possible for students to vote over the web - increasing participation.

    You're not going to have the same needs in an FE college, but one of the things it points to is another way of using technology to engage more with your students. It's an issue which comes up regularly when talking to colleges - with the student base being particularly fickle, and changing rapidly.

    We've published a full case study on our global case studies database.

    The case study left me wondering - just how many elections does a university run?

  • FE blog

    Windows Server 2008 roadshow


    The TechNet roadshows are coming soon - in April and May the team will be on their way around the country, talking about (and showing) lots more of Windows Server 2008 and the other products launched this week. I know that the launch event in Birmingham in March was filled up very quickly, and there were a number of you that couldn't get a place.

    So here's your second chance. The roadshow will be heavy on demos and light on PowerPoint (you don't hear that every day at Microsoft). We'll look at various scenarios, such as managing Windows Server 2008 and how Windows Server 2008 works alongside Windows Vista. There will be  opportunity to meet the Microsoft Community, user groups and Most Valued Professionals, as well as experts with top technical information and real-world scenarios.

    Places really are limited so register now:

    22 April 2008, Cardiff

    24 April 2008, London

    30 April 2008, Manchester

    12 May 2008, Glasgow

    15 May 2008, Newcastle

  • FE blog

    Free stuff for Moodlers


    I'm over in the US this week, with a number of our educational IT partners, and have heard about some of the things happening here that may be of interest to UK FE colleges. One of them, {Open Source} Heroes Happen Here, is for those who are using or developing Open Source applications which also link to Microsoft technology. And there's a free offer to American customers that you can also sign up for.

    I immediately thought about all of the college Moodle users - often running it on top of a Microsoft platform - either Windows Server or SQL Server. With new versions of both due this year, then you might want to start evaluating how the new features in Windows Server 2008 can enhance your system. This is also interesting to all of you running Moodle on SharePoint.

    In the US, there's an offer for a free 'Hero Hack Pack' - it's only being promoted over here in the US, but the web site will accept requests from the UK, so sign up quick while you still can, and get your own copy.

    You sign up on this webpage - and they'll send you a pack with a free evaluation copy of Windows Server 2008 and Visual Studio 2008, along with a 'Getting Started' guide on integration between open source and Microsoft technologies.

    Go to www.opensourcehero.com and click the 'Order the Hero Hack Pack' button in the middle of the page.

    ps In US parlance, the web site celebrates individuals who are doing amazing work with open source and Microsoft technology - like Steve Bjorg of California ('tis he, on the right) who, the site tells us "warmly embraces the term recreational programming".
  • FE blog

    SkyDrive - 5GB of free storage


    I like SkyDrive. Before it was invented, I used to have to load any files I wanted to share onto an FTP site somewhere, and then write clunky links to them. Now, I just drag my files onto my SkyDrive, and then provide a nice graphical link to them, like this:

    But up until now, it's been called Windows Live SkyDrive Beta. I've just received an email telling me that it's been officially released, and the size has been increased to 5GB of free storage!

    Anybody can get a SkyDrive, as it's free - just sign up for it using your Windows Live/Passport ID, and you too can have 5GB of file storage online, with file storage areas for private, shared and public files. Gone are the days of moving files between home and work with a USB drive (which inevitably got lost somewhere between the two places).


    Imagine - all of your students currently carrying their data around on a USB memory stick (and busily plugging them into USB ports all around your campus), could be using this. What would it cost you to give every one of your students 5GB of Internet-accessible storage on your network?

    We include SkyDrive in our Live @ Edu service, which means that you could automatically provide accounts to all of your students, linked to their college email address.

    More info on SkyDrive


  • FE blog

    Live Meeting next week - Collaborative Campus


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

    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

    How robust does a laptop for education have to be?


    Imagine. You're designing a laptop specifically for use in education. How robust do you have to make it?


    Is this robust enough? The engineers at RM took theirs into the car park, and then drove cars over one, to see how much abuse it could survive. Three cars later (and car number 2 definitely looks like the one that should inflict most damage) it is still up and running. And just to prove it isn't a trick, they take it back into the office and plug it into a monitor too, to show it's still alive and well.

    Pretty impressive. Might also match up to some of the abuse a student might cause a laptop.

    Perhaps their "laptop drop" game isn't just for fun!

    I know this isn't just an overnight wonder either. In 2003, I took a career break and went around the world with my family (4 people, 3 backpacks, 2 grown ups, 1 year - and a Tablet PC). For a year I had a Tablet PC in my backpack, and it took some pretty bad treatment - I even dropped it on the street one day, when I was carrying it in my hands, without a case. Somehow it made it through all of that, allowing me to write a website about our trip for our relatives and friends, and (more importantly) for my children to use it to keep up to date with their school work.

    The Tablet managed to make it round a dozen countries, travelled at least 1,000 miles strapped to the tops of buses in my rucksack, on some very bumpy and dusty Asian roads, and was hauled through inhospitable conditions. That Tablet was made by RM, so I know that they've been making pretty robust mobile PCs for quite a while now!


  • FE blog

    RM Asus Minibook news


    A short snippet - the Windows XP version of the RM Asus minibook (also known as the Asus eeePC) was announced at BETT 2008, with availability scheduled for April.

    Well the RM website is now accepting orders for them. It comes with a decent specification - 8GB of storage and 1GB of RAM - meaning that there'll be enough space for students work. People considering the original version (4GB of storage and 512MB of RAM) see that as a "browser only" device for students, whereas with Windows etc, it becomes a full-blown (albeit mini-size) student laptop.

    More details and specifications on the RM website.

  • FE blog

    Accessible Technology - A guide for education


    We have recently published a worldwide guide which provides information about accessibility and accessible technology resources, to help teachers ensure that all students have equal access to learning with technology.

    For teachers new to accessibility and working with students with disabilities, accessibility can seem overwhelming. To help teach students with all types of abilities, this guide includes information about accessibility and how to successfully and more simply bring it into the classroom.

    This guide provides
    • An understanding of accessibility and how it impacts the classroom
    • Definitions of impairment types and technology solutions for each type of impairment
    • Guidance on choosing accessible technology solutions
    • Resources for more information

     Download the guide directly

    For more resources, take a look at the accessibility tutorials on our main web site.

  • FE blog

    Making it easier for people to talk to each other


    Word has reached me of a series of "Communication on Demand" executive briefing events hosted by Eurodata, a Microsoft partner in London. The idea is that with unified communications, you can reduce telecommunications costs and increase productivity - and take away some of the frustrations of trying to successfully connect to other people. Although it used to be something that was for "big" establishments only, it's now the kind of thing that's within the reach of everybody, and there are a number of colleges taking steps in this direction. If you're considering bringing your telecomms and IT infrastructure together, then this event could help you to define your strategy.

    The half-day agenda includes sessions with titles like "Confusion or Convergence?", "Bridging the gap between telephony and computing" and "Seeing is Believing". The aim is to help you understand some of the options for unified communications, and how the Microsoft software solutions fit into an overall telecomms picture.

    You can find more details, and register for the events here, being held in London on 27th March and 24th April.

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